Vintage TV Lamps
Vintage TV lamps are a type of American Kitsch. Lamps designed to be placed atop television sets were created following WWII, mainly during the fifties and early sixties. Their function was not especially practical, although they did produce a dim glow (labelled "indirect light" by those who believed watching television could damage your eyes), but decorative, and many designs were produced, from lurid candy floss-coloured flamingos, to London buses and Polynesian dancing girls.
During World War II, the American home front tightened its collective belt: make do and mend, waste not want not, anything to help the war effort - this was a period of thrift, austerity and shared sacrifice. After victory and peace was announced, however, the American public where ready for a bit of whimsy and on the look out for some fun.
During the 1950s, television became increasingly commonplace, becoming almost ubiquitous in America by about 1965. With fears of technological advancement compounded by a latent paranoia surrounding the Cold War, the belief that staring at a television set was terrible for your eyesight abounded. However, early television sets glowed with a very dull luminescence and were therefore best watched in the dark. They were also large and bulky – not to everyone’s taste – and often housed inside deep cabinets with ample surface space upon which to display ornaments. The television lamp was subsequently invented in order to assuage people’s fears about damaging their eye sight, as well as to add a decorative accent to what would have been a considerable, expensive and important purchase.
Many collectors of Vinateg TV lamps are attracted to the nostalgic value inherent in them – the idea that they belong to a simpler, more innocent time, when America really was apple pie and motherhood.
Others amass them as a "tacky treasure" or in celebration of bad or kitchy tastes.
TV lamps are not like normal lamps in that they do not have shades. Bulbs were placed inside the lamp in order to create a low, unflickering, ambient light, which would hardly have been strong enough to read by. TV lamps were created in hundreds of different designs. Animals, people and plants were popular but by no means the be all and end all: fruit, mermaids, clowns, seashells, wagon wheels, moons and stars, theatrical masks and even complete scenes were all also created. These outlandish designs tend to run the gamut between being hideously ugly and bizarrely wonderful.
Some TV lamps were designed with an integrated secondary function, such as a clock or a radio. TV lamps that were also designed to be used as planters were created, despite the risk involved come watering day.
TV lamps were made from both plaster and ceramic. Ceramic lamps are generally more highly coveted amongst collectors, although very rare plaster examples can and do achieve similar prices at auction.
At the height of production there was a real, mass demand for TV lamps and at least 100 different manufactures.
The TV lamp era lasted for approximately 10 years, during which time hundreds of thousands of lamps were sold across the United States of America.
The most popular TV lamp design at the time of manufacture was the panther, and, of those, the long, sleek, stalking panther that looks as if it is in the midst of stalking its prey. Its popularity is thought to personify increased interest in "the exotic" following WWII, and as air travel took hold of people's imaginations.
There currently exists a large vintage TV lamp collecting community in the US, which is thought to be growing. The hobby is much less common in the UK where TV lamps failed to take off.
TV lamps are marked by manufacturer. Movers and shakers in the TV lamp world include, Haeger Potteries, Silvestri, West Coast Pottery, Modern Art Products, Walter Wilson, Tele-Vision Clock Corp, Lane and Company, and Phil-Mar.
Texas Incorporated lamps are generally stamped Kron, since Howard Kron was the designer at the Bangs factory (Texans Inc. Bangs, Texas). TV lamps were actually only a small part of their production. They didn't restrict themselves just to lamps, they also made ashtrays, dishes, trays, but they called themselves a lamp company. The design they sold the most outrageous numbers a TV lamp featuring a Siamese cat with her Siamese kitten. Texas Inc sold over 30,000 of these cat lamps in a single year.
Unglazed chalkware or plaster lamps tend to be the most vulnerable to damage—chips in the plaster are common, as is flaking paint. Many of these lamps have had their electrical elements replaced or modernized, but an old Bakelite fixture indicates it was truly made in the ’50s.
William H. Hirsch Manufacturing Company, is known for his delightful animal lamps. Particularly sought after are his rooster-and-hen, duck couple, turkey, heron, and buffalo designs. Other popular makers include Maddux of California and Jacquelin Fine Vitrified China.
Vintage TV lamps are increasingly fashionable and the number of collectors is growing. Lamps can now be found in upmarket vintage furniture stores as well as at garage sales and online. Collector Mark Stevens recently told CW:"eBay has made the whole world a lot smaller because someone somewhere is posting the lamp you’re looking for on eBay. It’s also had an effect on the pricing because all of a sudden a treasured lamp is seen by a lot more people so that tends to make the price rise. But a TV lamp that is very common, when you see how many of them are on eBay, the price drops to nothing. Right now, if you want to make a profit selling a TV lamp on eBay, it better be something pretty out of the ordinary."
A 1950s Kron poodle and pug lamp brought $70 in 2011 at Phoebus Auction Gallery.
A vintage ceramic panther lamp/planter brought $6 in 2010 at Pioneer Auction Gallery.
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