Antique floor lamps, or standard lamps, are an elegant and highly practical item in any home. They have been manufactured and perfected for over 100 years in a range of intriguing and elaborate styles. Genuine antique floor lamps can fetch a high price in auctions, and make a fantastic addition to your vintage-style sitting room.
Here, we will provide you with 3 guides: a guide to identifying antique floor lamps, a guide to valuing antique floor lamps, and finally a guide to buying antique floor lamps. Although there is a shortage of information, and a wealth of misinformation regarding antique floor lamps, it is worth persisting!
Whether you have inherited a treasure from a relative, or found a fascinating floor lamp at a yard sale, you will want to check out its provenance and maybe find out how much its worth. You have come to the right place! Join us to find out more about antique floor lamps…
Antique Floor Lamp Identification Guide
First, it should be noted that antique lamps are technically those produced more than 100 years ago. Lamps from between 20 and 100 years ago are classed as vintage.
Although there are fairly limited resources available when it comes to identifying an antique floor lamp, a good place to start could be by tracking down old catalog photos, lamp guides, and lamp reference books. You could also have a search for old museum photographs or specialist exhibitions in your quest to ID a lamp. Try comparing your floor lamp to the images you find, and you may be able to ascertain a rough date and possible manufacturer. Libraries can be good places to look for these resources. Check out this site for a useful identification chart and information.
There are a few other simple steps you can take in order to investigate the provenance of your floor lamp…
1. Manufacturer’s Mark
Have a careful look for any kind of mark left by the manufacturer. This could include words, letters, numbers, logos, or a combination of these. You might find a stamp or hallmark on a label, the lighting fixture, or embedded somewhere in the base of the lamp. But be warned, if you find a maker’s mark on the lampshade it may not be the original lampshade – these are commonly replaced over the years.
If you manage to find a mark, try to search for it online to find clues as to the lamp’s identity. Some popular manufacturers to look out for include:
- Handel Company
- Tiffany Studios
- Duffner and Kimberly
- Edward Miller and Company
- Dirk Van Erp Studio
They style of floor lamps can vary enormously, and some manufacturers produced lamps encompassing many different features. However, there are a few general categories to look out for, along with the typical style of shade you might find:
- Bridge arm lamps – these elegant lamps, also known as bridge lamps, are characterised by the downward shining angle of the lamp shade. This provides a direct source of illumination, making it perfect for reading or crafting activities.
These lamps are usually made from cast iron or painted brass with a matching base. Often the arms are highly elaborate and the bases are equally decorative. Victorian era lamps can be very unstable which caused more modern lamp manufacturers, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, to incorporate a weight into the lamps’ base.
- Shades: bell (these are usually colored white and covered with silk material. They flare out at base, resembling a bell), fringed (highly structured shades with visible seams and dangling tassles), mica (this is actually a mineral material which provides a dappled light effect. Most mica shades are amber colored or, more rarely, range from pale olive to cream).
- Diffuser lamps – unlike bridge arm lamps, diffuser lamps aim to light a large space, illuminating upwards onto the ceiling. They shine through a characteristic glass bowl. One of the most common, popular styles of diffuser lamp is a candelabra with 3 lights.
- Shades: bell, fringe, and mica. Fringe shades tend to be less severely pleated and more tapered compared to bridge arm fringe shades.
- Torchiere – this design was given a French name meaning a flaming torch. It also aims to illuminate a whole room indirectly, but is characterised by exposed lightbulbs which are designed to resemble live flames.
- Shades: bowl-shaped, funnel-shaped. Torchiere shades are usually made from glass and tend to be white or cream.
Many lamps sport embellishments and design features that make them easily identifiable. Look out for finials or patterns on bases made from rare and expensive materials including precious stones like jade, pink tourmaline and rose quartz, or other materials like bone and cinnabar.
4. Oil Or Electrics
Some of the oldest lamps will still bear their oil lamp accoutrements. If your lamp has these it is almost certainly an antique.
The wiring can give a clue to the provenance of a floor lamp although this can be misleading as wires are commonly replaced over the years for repair or safety purposes.
Wires wrapped in cotton usually indicate older lamps.
5. Antiques Forums
There are a wealth of useful antiques forums out there where both experts and amateur enthusiasts love to share antiques and help one another to identify their treasures. Try:
6. Ask An Expert
If all else fails, you can try to ask an antiques expert. See if there are any antiques shops or independent appraisers near you, so the expert can see the floor lamp in person. If this is not possible, you can try sending photos and detailed descriptions to someone offering online appraisal. Most antiques experts love to share their knowledge and have a keen interest in antique mysteries. Bear in mind you may have to pay for these services.
Antique Floor Lamp Valuation Guide
Something to bear in mind with antique lamps is that, unlike many antiques, you will not necessarily get a higher price for an older lamp. Because lamps are essentially electrical items, many parts have been replaced and rewired over the years, and the oldest lamps have become completely out-dated. This means really old lamps on sale have had a lot of restoration work done, or are being sold as decorative rather than functional pieces.
There are limited auction listings for antique floor lamps, so it is difficult to give a guide price for valuing these items. Similarly, the value of a lamp depends on how collectible it is, the manufacturer and the rarity. However, there are some simple steps you can take that will help you to assess the value of your floor lamp…
Look carefully at all parts of the lamp to assess any damage. Does the lamp work? Are any damages reparable? Will repairs damage the integrity and “genuineness” of the lamp?
Damage will lower the price of a lamp, but bad or hefty repair work will reduce the price further. Lamps in mint condition will typically fetch higher prices depending on their provenance and collectability.
Shades made of glass or mica mean the lamp is more likely to be antique, although bear in mind these may have been replaced.
In terms of the material of the arm and base, antique floor lamps are usually made from brass, bronze or cast iron. The look of the material can be misleading, as many lamps were painted metal, and some were painted to look like other metals such as gold.
One way to find out the material your lamp is made from is to scratch the underside of a hidden area on the lamp with just a fingernail at first, and then the tip of a screw or nail if the fingernail does not remove any paint or surface layer. What is underneath the paint or coating?
Wood and sometimes porcelain was also used in some of the oldest floor lamp designs. Generally, metal lamps tend to go for higher prices than wooden or porcelain ones usually because they survive the years of wear and tear better.
The rarity of a floor lamp will raise the price greatly, especially if it was made by a renowned lamp-maker. Those manufactured by Handel Company, Dirk Van Erp Studio and Tiffany Studios tend to fetch the highest prices at auction.
Limited edition floor lamps, and those made with unusual materials are also highly collectible.
4. Valuing Tips
You can get a great idea of the price of your item by searching for similar items on auction sites including the collectible lighting and lamps section of eBay, and a collection of interesting auction items on Collectors Weekly.
Antique Floor Lamp Buying Guide
Now your interest in antique floor lamps has been sparked, you might be wondering how to go about buying one? Perhaps you want to add to your collection? Or an antique floor lamp might finish off your sitting room perfectly? Follow these tips to make a successful purchase…
1. Do Your Research
Before buying an antique floor lamp it is a good idea to form a specific idea of what you would like. If you want something from a certain era in history, a lamp made from particular materials, or something from a renowned manufacturer, you need to build your knowledge to make sure you’re getting the real deal.
Familiarise yourself with characteristics of the lamp style you desire, and any give-away features, and get an idea of the rough cost of such an item before you buy anything.
2. Details, Details, Details
Whether buying online or at an antiques fair you should always go for items which include as much detail as possible. Details can include the maker or manufacturer, the condition of the item, any damage or faults, the materials it is made from, and key features such as unique finials or embellishments.
Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for more details such as extra close-ups if buying online, or a little more about the provenance of the lamp if buying in person. Purchasing an antique rocking chair from a reputable seller is highly recommended. Be aware, there is a lot of misinformation out there and it can be hard to track down a genuine antique lamp without a bit of hard graft.
3. Check Reputable Auction Sites
The standard lamp section of Love Antiques is a good place to look. This site is mainly focused on the European market, but prices are stated in GBP, EUR, and USD. The sellers on this site are antiques dealers, and it is connected with antiques fairs where buyers and sellers can go to exchange antiques.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for yard sales and second hand shops – you can find many interesting items for very low prices in these places. It can be very satisfying to find a rare item for a low price – think of all the potential under-valued antique floor lamps out there waiting for you!