First let us define antique floor lamp. Of course a floor lamp normally rests upon the floor as opposed to resting upon a table, the wall or the ceiling. The general definition of an antique means something from a bygone era. This places the term outside the legal arena and into common usage. “era” is general perceived and is defined as a long indefinite time period which also works out perfectly for this general definition. This general definition works perfectly since any identification of an “antique floor lamp” is fairly useless without some time period designation normally in the form of circa 1905 which literally means “about the year 1905”. So I will use the term antique floor lamp on this basis and often substitute it with the term vintage floor lamp. This discussion does not address modern reproductions of antique lamps which is another subject to itself.
More and more people are learning to appreciate the quality and styling of antique floor lamps especially as most of the ones being produced today are molded plastic and literally made to be thrown away. Most all floor lamp makers from the turn of the century made their lamps from heavy metals such as cast iron, brass, steel and cast zinc sometimes combined with marble, onyx, glass and stone. Our lamp shop regularly restores these antique floor lamps for resale as well as for our customers' own use. From our 30 years of experience it is clear that many of these antique floor lamps will last for hundreds of years. The electrical components, the fabric shades and the painted finishes often need restoration but most were made with such fine quality, that they are a much better value than brand new high end lamps that sell for many hundreds of dollars. You will find some other surprises about these collectible works of art below.
High quality, beauty and function were powerful influences on the makers of antique floor lamps. Many people are aware of their outstanding quality and beauty but completely surprised about the highly developed functional and technical characteristics. There are far too many examples to list here but I will mention a couple of the more important ones.
The brightest lamp that you can purchase today in any store was designed and made circa 1920. It is also the most versatile lamp that you can buy anywhere. Further it will outlast most any modern lamp that you can find at any price. This antique floor lamp is known by a numerous names such as: 6 Way Floor Lamp, Reflector Floor Lamp, and “JUNIOR”. The design begins with a heavy metal base sometimes highly decorated with an upright tubing leading up to a central electrical socket surrounded by 3 arm lights (4 lights total). The central light takes a 3 way bulb (low-medium-high) that is often a MOGUL size which is larger than a standard socket with higher wattage (100-200-300 watts). The three arm lights are controlled by a switch that can turn on separately just 1, 2 or all 3 of the arm lights. Further, many of these JUNIORS had a small light under the base which provided a very subtle night time floor light operated by a foot switch mounted on the side of the base. As if this were not enough, the central top socket is encased in a large metal cup which holds a white waffle patterned glass bowl that reflects light upward to bounce of the ceiling. A fabric or silk shade (also called JUNIOR shade) rests upon the glass reflector bowl to reflect light downward for reading. A single arm light can provide a simple night light or at it brightest setting, it can light up an entire room. There is no brighter lamp or more versatile lamp available anywhere today and it was designed and made nearly 100 years ago!
One of the best reading lamps in the world was also designed circa 1920. It has been highly imitated but it still remains unchallenged. The Bridge Arm Floor Lamp or Bridge Lamp has a typical floor lamp design with metal base and upright standard which can take the form of various types of decorated tubing, twisted iron rods, etc. At the top of the standard is a decorative cast metal arm with a graceful arc or curvature which ends with an electrical socket pointing downward and covered by a fabric or glass shade. This has the effect of offsetting the light by about 14-18″ from the upright standard at the same time lowering it so that it is closer to the reading material or work project. The result is an excellent reading lamp or work lamp which places the light bulb very near the task at hand. Many of these Bridge Arm Floor Lamps have convenient pull chains which hang below the bottom of the lamp shade for ease of operation.
Of course there are many other kinds of antique floor lamps such as torchiere, two light, curved arm, swing arm, etc. Even the oldest and most dilapidated of these well built heirlooms can be brought back to life with some scrubbing, sanding, painting, rewiring and sometimes soldering or welding.
If you want to buy a lamp that you can give to your grand kids, consider buying an antique floor lamp.
– Jim Hoyle