© Arto Hanciogullari und T. Tsekyi Thür

Central Part between Base and Font

This part is very often the actual design and appearance determining component of a lamp. This is why there is a wide variety of shapes and materials. This part of table and salon lamps can best be studied in three major categories (Note: This classification of mine is based on my observation of what is offered on eBay and elsewhere for several years and has no scientific claim; everyone can make a different classification if necessary):

a. Lamps with a visible font: Lamps with a font mounted above the central part and completely visible from the outside. Lamps with a suspended font form a subgroup of these. I describe them in the next sub-chapter (see The Font).

b. Lamps with a hidden font: Lamps whose font is concealed in the central part and is therefore not or only partially visible from the outside.

c. Lamps without a separate font: Lamps in which the central part is both the lamp body and the font.

Lamps with a Visible Font

In this very common category, the font is always visible; it determines the appearance of a lamp even in simple lamps and thus sometimes takes on the design function of a decorative vase, which is otherwise rarely or never seen in this type of lamp. For this reason, the visibly attached font is referred to as a "vase" in some publications, although it does not look like a vase at all. The font is screwed or firmly cemented onto the central part, and is usually a rather decorative part of the lamp, as in this case it is often painted in colour, decorated with golden lines, crystal-cut or otherwise beautifully decorated.

The central part of the lamp, i.e. the part of the lamp between the base and the font, is the part of the lamp that determines the overall appearance. This part can be a column, a sculpture, a glass or metal vase or any other structure that connects the base and the font. In the case of small lamps, often only a connector made of a simple profiled brass is inserted between the base and the font. These lamps do not have a dedicated central section. Below is a simple classification of mine, which only considers the central part:

1. Short column: The font is separated from the base by a short, sometimes even only suggested column. The column can even be the extension of the base upwards. Sometimes there are also short, columnar marble parts, which are egg-shaped or vase-shaped.

2. Long column: The column is medium long, or very long and dominating. Usually made of brass sheet (plain, decorated, vertically ribbed or diagonally fluted), marble or alabaster, the long column gives the lamp a majestic appearance. More rarely, there are also columns made of painted porcelain, copper, cast zinc or even glass. The cross-section of the column is almost always round, very rarely square or polygonal. Column shape can be cylindrical, conical, tapering upwards or slightly convex, i.e. slightly wider in the middle section than at the top and bottom.

3. Multiple metal supports: 3 or 4 narrow, straight or curved metal supports, usually rising from the base upwards, in the form of stylized legs of animals or allegorical beings made of cast zinc or brass, which hold the font at the top. There are also decorative thin brass supports with striking Art Nouveau ornaments that take on the supporting role.

4. Sculpture: The main part of the lamp is a figurative sculpture, which is often made of cast zinc and looks like a real bronze figure due to its "patina" in brown tones. Sometimes there are also sculptures made of ceramics, porcelain and pressed glass. Figures often represent people or cherubs; but other subjects such as plants or animals also appear.

5. Vase: The function of a column is taken over here by a vase-like structure that can take on all possible forms (except the forms 1-4 classified above). The term "vase" covers all the central parts that are not vases in themselves, but whose shape is remotely reminiscent of a decoratively designed vase. The material can be glass, metal, ceramic or porcelain. Vase-like central parts made of cast zinc or glass are often formed from the base as one unit.


Some examples of short and long pillar lamps
From left: Short marble – short onyx marble, egg-shaped - extended base - pressed glass - marble - brass


Examples of other forms of central parts besides columns
From left: Classic tripod - multiple metal supports - glass vase - porcelain vase - female figure in cast zinc


The lamps with a visible font also include lamps whose central part is used to support a simple metal ring at the top. The font, the top part of which is slightly wider than the ring, is simply hung into this metal ring. This type of lamp is much more common in hanging lamps. Among the table lamps, the French tripod lamps are to be named, the middle part of which consists of three narrow metal bars that jointly support the metal ring at the top.


Lamps with a Hidden Font

In this very common type of lamp, the font is inserted into the so-called vase, i.e. a hollow vessel, which in many cases resembles a vase. This vessel can be made of different materials (glass, metal, ceramic or porcelain) with different decorations (colourful painting, relief embossing, ornamental cast metal). Thus the vase is the actual decorative element of the lamp. Mostly it is placed on a base, from which it is in some cases separated by a short, sometimes even only suggested column.

By far the most common type of vase is made of metal. The lamps of the “historicism” era, in particular, are made of cast zinc (= spelter), exuberantly decorated with cherubs, flowers, genre scenes and allegorical representations, sometimes with handles or other ornaments, and galvanically bronzed. Vases made of ornamentally embossed brass sheet are also very common. Vases made of other metals such as iron, copper, tin, or made of cast brass or bronze are much rarer.

Vases made of non-metallic materials consist of glass, ceramic or porcelain. There are many lamps whose vase or entire body, i.e. base and vase together, is made of glass. The glass is very often white or coloured, opaque milk glass, or transparent glass, almost always painted in colour. Another big class are vases made of stoneware/earthenware (for example the German "Majolica" lamps, the Japanese "Satsuma" vases), more rarely also of porcelain (the Japanese "Imari" vases, Chinese vases, Parisian porcelain). These vases are mostly hand painted. Special rarities are vases made of turned marble or carved alabaster.


Different vase shapes
From left: Cup shape - urn or vase shape - cylindrical shape - spherical shape


Of course, there are lamp vases that represent a combination of the shapes described above. There are no limiting restrictions.


Lamps without a Separate Font

Here you can usually find small to medium-sized lamps, the entire hollow body of which is both a vase and a font. In many cases, a separate base was not formed and the vase was designed in such a way that it also represents the kerosene/paraffin tank. The small energy-saving lamps or lamps for nurseries often belong to this category. These lamps are therefore quite simple in their construction, but that does not mean that they are less richly decorated, painted and ornate. The lamp body can be made of glass, ceramic, porcelain or metal. High-quality lamps have sometimes been fitted with a separate base made of cast brass. There is no other classification feature here other than the shape of the lamp itself.

1. "Valentin" lamps: These are typically French lamps, the body of which is remotely shaped like a female figure: it is broad at the bottom, a little narrower in the middle, and a little wider at the top. These lamps are mostly made of porcelain.

2. Sculpture lamps: These small lamps very often have the shape of a living being (animals, especially owls, dogs), a building (e.g. windmill, tower), an object (e.g. chest, stove, beer mug) or whatever else comes to mind. It is precisely this playfulness and freedom in shaping the lamp, paired with the small, cute, handy dimension, that these lamps are very popular with many lamp collectors. However, this also means that such lamps are still being produced today, mostly in cheesy form without any artistic claim. They usually consist of glass, porcelain or ceramic and are very often equipped with “economy” or “star” burners. (Note: I am not sure, if the German “Spar” and “Stern” burners do have some other specific English designations).

3. Non-figurative lamps: These small lamps again have classic shapes (vase-like, cylindrical, spherical, even cubic or rectangular) in contrast to figurative lamps; the rest is comparable. Like figural lamps, they form their own collection area (“miniature lamps”: a very popular and quite expensive collection area, especially in the USA). The most common material used is glass; but other materials such as brass, porcelain, etc. are also used.

4. Handle or finger lamps: Small, transportable lamps with a handle belong to this category, as they for the most part do without a moulded base and a dedicated font. Their body is designed in such a way that they can be placed on any flat surface.

5. Kitchen lamps: Kitchen lamps that can either be hung on the wall or placed on the table also belong to this category.

But you will always find lamps that are more of a mixture of the above-mentioned classes.


Examples of lamps without an additional font
From left: Handle lamp - Valentin lamp made of porcelain - ceramic lamp as sculpture - small nursery lamp