#Tinkerbell #Approved #Antique #Fairy #Lamps #WorthPoint
With their soft glow and beautiful forms, antique fairy lamps are charming little collectibles that capture your imagination.
Designed in London in the 19th century and revived in the 1950s, these lamps come in many different designs, colors, shapes, and sizes. Peaking in popularity during the Victorian era, fairy lamps remain appealing today to collectors and fans of the cottagecore aesthetic.
AN ILLUMINATING HISTORY OF FAIRY LAMPS
Also known as fairy lights, fairy lamps are small candle-burning lamps. London designer George Miller Clarke was the earliest manufacturer of these, producing his first designs in 1844. In 1885, Clarke’s relative, candle manufacturer Samuel Clarke, filed patents in both Britain and the United States for his candle-burning “night lights.” He also named them fairy lamps, so-called for the little fairy embossed on the bottom of the earlier designs.
These small, decorative candleholders—glass or porcelain cups covered with a safety dome—were fueled by squat tallow candles. The base of the lamps had a bottom diameter of around two-and-one-half inches and a top diameter of about four inches; the dome or shade was generally four inches high, with a three-inch diameter at the bottom. Paper-wrapped candles were placed inside the lamp cups with a small amount of water in the bottom, which allowed the contained candle to burn from eight to eleven hours without supervision. This made fairy lamps safer than taper candles or oil lamps, as they had less risk of causing a fire, a common danger of the Victorian era.
Their usefulness, affordability, and beauty made fairy lamps hugely popular. They created a romantic ambiance in parlors and dining-room tables and were also used as night lights in nurseries. Queen Victoria was reportedly a big fan of fairy lamps and was rumored to have purchased more than 1,000.
Fairy lamps also came in two other sizes in addition to the original: wee, the smallest, and pyramid, the largest. Clarke later patented a “Cricklite” style of fairy lamp to compete with the more modern lighting of electricity and gas and keep up with changing Victorian tastes. Cricklites were pricier but provided more lighting, which made them useful for more significant gatherings and formal events.
NOTABLE FAIRY-LAMP MAKERS
Clarke’s Pyramid and Fairy Lamp Company in London granted licenses to renowned glass, pottery, and porcelain manufacturers in the United Kingdom, Europe, and United States to make lamps or parts for his company and other distributors. One of the top English firms that Clarke commissioned glass from was Thomas Webb & Sons, which made a variety of fairy lamps. In the United States, Mt. Washington Glass Company was one of the big producers.
Clarke’s fairy lamps were usually marked with one of his many trademarks on the base or candle cup. The most common ones include “S. CLARKE / FAIRY.PYRAMID,” “S. CLARKE’S / PATENT / TRADEMARK / FAIRY,” “CLARKE’S PATENT FAIRY LAMPS,” “S. CLARKE, PATENT, TRADE MARK, FAIRY,” “CLARKE’S PATENT CRICKLITE TRADEMARK,” and “CRICKLITE CLARKES TRADEMARK.”
As electricity became more commonplace in the 20th century, the need for fairy lamps dwindled. But they came back in the early 1950s when U.S. glass manufacturer Fenton developed new lines that included hobnail, electric models, and Mary Gregory styles.
A MYRIAD OF DESIGNS
Decorative art glass was at the height of popularity in the 1880s, and fairly lamps were manufactured in many art-glass styles. These ranged from Nailsea’s swirling stripes to glowing Burmese glass domes. Other materials included porcelain, peachblow, satin glass, crystal, cameo, lithophane, carnival glass, and Depression.
Plenty of figural fairy lamps were also produced in various forms, including snowmen, Santas, owls, dapper dogs, cats—and examples that combine all three faces of those animals—and one of my favorites: a werewolf (!). It’s called a “nursery lamp” but would no doubt give any poor child nightmares for days.
COLLECTING FAIRY LAMPS
Some fairy lamps can sell for thousands of dollars, especially scarce examples, hanging styles, and lamps with multiple candle holders. Many fall into the $500 to $1,000 price range, while a wide array of other nice examples can be found between $10 to $100, especially the lamps made by Fenton.
The best places to find fairy lamps are at antique stores, online markets, flea markets, and auctions. As with any collectible, buy what you like, but be mindful of the condition. It’s always best to avoid any that are scratched, cracked, chipped, or have other damage unless they are rare examples.
An excellent resource for learning more is the Fairy Lamp Club. The website has a wealth of information on Victorian and contemporary fairy lamps, detailed history of Clark’s designs, and reference information, including advertisements, catalogs, and price lists.
Because they are small, fairy lamps are meant to be displayed around your home to enjoy their warm glow. Though they may not give off much light compared to modern lighting, antique fairy lamps make up for it with the amount of magic they hold for collectors.
Adina K. Francis has been a writer and editor in the antiques and collectibles field for more than 20 years. She has a bit of an obsession with the Victorians and thinks that dogs are one of life’s greatest gifts.
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