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Shopping for Vintage Lamps

Lamps are a ridiculously common item to find at estate sales. And understandably so: who doesn’t need a little light in their lives?

Goth kids, I suppose...



But for the rest of us, we need our world illuminated so we can look deeply into the eyes of a loved one, comfortably read our favorite book, and avoid stubbing our toes on the coffee table when we sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night just to check on the chocolate cake we left on the know, just to make sure it’s still safe.

Thanks, lamps!

But let’s not limit ourselves. There’s a wide variety of lamps in the world, from old-timey to mid-century modern to contemporary. Of course, we can’t spotlight every single type of lamp or every shade design. From Tiffany glass to two-tiered starburst shades to crystal chandeliers, there’s a style to suit any home. And sure, you can find more traditional bases and shades in any store, but one of the fun things about estate sales are the interesting and, dare we say, kitschy items you can find. So let’s look at just a few of the snazzy styles available so you can make your best decision.

Oil lamps
Let’s start with the most analog of options. The humble oil lamp has been around for centuries. Though its size and shape have changed with the times, the basic premise of the oil lamp remains the same: every lamp requires a wick, fuel, a reservoir, and an air supply.

We had two in our house growing up, with clear bases and red oil. They were lit only in the event of a blackout (making every emergency a special occasion) I was certain then, and am pretty much still convinced now, that they were the height of class.

Fairy lamps
There are thousands of lamps out there that feature winged creatures on their bases and shades, decorating the rooms of young children and adults who just love whimsy, dang it. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Traditional fairy lamps were domed little numbers originally made popular in the late 1800s, and again in the mid-century, thanks to the Fenton Art Glass Company. They come in a variety of styles and colors, from clear to carnival. There’s not generally much to them: a cup for the candle, and the chimney—but what more do you need?

T.V. Lamps
With a soft, diffusing light meant to gently brighten a room and alleviate the risk of eye damage caused by new-fangled newly-popularized televisions, the T.V. lamp is a purely mid-century invention. You’ll find them in all sorts of kitschy shapes, most popularly cats (both wild and domesticated) and bird (ducks, swans, etc.)

Motion lamps
A relative of the T.V. lamp, in that it relies on diffused light to achieve its full effect, motion lamps were also popular almost exclusively in the mid-century. Powered by the heat from the light bulb, the illustrated lamp shade rotates, setting the image in motion. Clouds drift, water falls, and skiers ski, all thanks to the magic of thermodynamics.

Perhaps these lamps were a precursor to those musical lenticular television-toys so many of us had growing up.

Rain lamps
Admit it. When you first saw one of these, you immediately wanted to touch it.

And the second time you saw it—yup, still wanted to touch it.

Maybe by the fifth or sixth time the novelty finally wore off...but probably not.

I it water? It’s probably water, right? You should probably touch it and figure it out. Or maybe, when no one’s looking, just…*boop*...stick your tongue on it to find out.

It’s not water. It’s mineral oil. Don’t lick your rain lamp.

They can be a pain to clean, but the effect they have on a room’s ambiance is more than worth it. Choose a tabletop model rather than swag if you’re looking for something a little more manageable.

Lava lamps
You will never convince me that lava lamps aren’t cool.

They were cool in the 60s and 70s when they hit the market. They were cool when they were in my college dorm room an unspecified number of years later. And they’re cool now, when all the former hippies, beatnicks, and grunge kids are downsizing their lives and selling off the trappings of their youth, no matter how wicked-awesome they might be.

So get thee to an estate sale and find yourself a deal.

Spaghetti lamps
Made of spun lucite, spaghetti lamps are clearly a product of the 60s and 70s. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and even a few different shapes—though mostly globes and saucers. They’re more commonly swag, but tabletop styles are available.

Finding vintage spaghetti lamps isn’t an easy feat, so if you see one in the photos on EstateSales.NET, start planning your opening day strategy ASAP, so you can snatch it up first.

A good vintage lamp can brighten up a room and spark some illuminating conversation. Even if you’re not in the market for one, it never hurts to keep your eyes peeled when you’re estate sailing—you never know when you’ll find something you never knew you always wanted.

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