Light up the room with vintage lamps

For collectors of all things mid-century modern to the 1960s, and 1970s, lamps define what it was all about. Quirky new shapes, materials and strange names add to the appeal. For example “streamlining” referred to sweeping curves. “Biomorphic” motifs resembled living organisms. Many don’t even look like the usual concept of traditional lamps, but eggs, mushrooms or twisted and tortured metal sculptures. In fact by the 1960s many were viewed as sculpture.

Industrial designers were at the forefront of the new lighting. They used the new materials such as chrome, plastic, and aluminum for bases and paper for shades. A popular motif used the artist Mondrians abstract squares and rectangular designs. Considered radical in the 1950s was the bubble lantern. It was designed by George Nelson for Herman Milles Company and made by spraying a cocoon of vinyl over metal ribs until the chemical formed a translucent spider web. Over the decades it was made in a wide range of organic forms that included ovoid, spherical and compressed.

In 1948 the sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) used a translucent plastic cylinder mounted on three slender wood supports to form a small table lamp and a floor lamp. These days his floor lamp, made in the 1960s with a rice paper shade can be dealer priced at over $5,000.

In the 1950s when the public interest was on space ships a “rocket ship” table lamp was produced in America by Stoffel. It was made of brass and mass produced.

The “artichoke” lamp was made in Denmark in 1948 by designer Poul Henningsen. Its cone shape featured copper leaves sprayed clear on top and pink underneath in imitation of the globe artichoke.

During the 1960s and 70s, it was the Italian designers who came up with the most unusual designs, adapting organic or Pop forms using colorful plastic. Vico Magistretti created the “Eclipse “lamp. It was a sphere on a circular pedestal and came in bright lacquer colors of bright red, orange, etc.

CLUES: A decade ago the mass produced versions could be found at garage sales and flea markets for a few dollars. Unless you get lucky these days they are dealer priced for several hundred dollars. The ceramic versions are still modestly priced.