© Tsekyi Thür

The Characteristics of Typical German Lamps

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Germany was the leader in burner manufacturing in continental Europe. German inventiveness and engineering had led to German kerosene/paraffin burners really dominating the market in continental Europe. There were also many lamp manufacturers in Germany who either made their own burners or sourced them from other burner manufacturers. In this context, it is important to emphasise that a lamp whose burner bears the mark of one company was not necessarily made by the same company. This makes the identification of lamp manufacturers enormously difficult. Only if you can find the lamp whose origin you want to find out in a catalogue of a lamp manufacturer, you have safely solved this task. Old catalogues of lamp manufacturers are rare, however; much has been lost forever due to the bombing of German cities during the Second World War.

Berlin was not only the capital of the German Empire, but also the capital of the German lamp industry. A significant lamp industry had settled in Berlin with thousands of workers. Besides Berlin, Erfurt, Leipzig, Neheim (today incorporated in Arnsberg in the Sauerland), to name but a few, had established themselves as important centres of lamp manufacture. German lamps and even more so German burners were exported to other countries, even as far as China. The burners that were destined for export, or sold to middlemen who distributed these burners under their own names, were sometimes marked with other logos. France seems to have been a major buyer of German burners. In particular, expensive and high-quality burners from Wild & Wessel (Vulkan, Central-Vulkan and Agni burners) were often provided with their own logos by well-known lamp dealers abroad (Robert & Vilette in Paris and Bordeaux; Catterson in London) and built into their lamps.

I would like to list some German companies in alphabetical order whose products were very well known. This list is of course never complete; there were simply far too many lamp and burner producers for that. Dates of foundation or closure are also often missing. These companies had their own signs or logos, which were almost always attached to the wick knob of the burner. Some companies even had several different logos, so that identification is sometimes a little difficult. On the German internet there were two websites that showed a lot of wick knob logos from different manufacturers (also from abroad). The collectors Gerhard Bruder (whose website was deleted in 2019 much to my regret) and Werner Pempel did an amazingly high-quality pioneering work here. I have often been to their sites to identify a burner I did not know. I hereby express my heartfelt thanks to these collectors.

 

Company Location
Arlt & Fricke
Brendel & Loewig (founded 1861)
Eckel & Glinicke
Ehrich & Graetz
Hecht, W.
Hirschhorn, Jacob
Holy, Carl  (founded 1863)
Kaiser & Gundlach
Kindermann, C. F.
Kray, Max
Müller, Otto
Quaadt & Hirschson
Rakenius, Carl
Schuster & Baer
Schwintzer & Gräff  (founded 1864)
Sommerfeld, Emil
Stobwasser  (founded 1763 in Braunschweig [= Brunswick], 1820 moved to Berlin)
Wild & Wessel  (1844-1903; 1903 taken over by Hugo Schneider, Leipzig)
Berlin
Kästner & Töbelmann
Kleemann, C. A.
Klöpfel, E. & Sohn
Stübgen, F. (founded 1843)
Erfurt
Schneider, Hugo (later HASAG; founded 1863)
Schubert & Sorge  (founded 1880)
Weikart, W.
Leipzig
Brökelmann, Jaeger & Busse
Gebrüder Wolff (founded 1833)
Wetzchewald & Wilmes
Neheim (today incorporated in Arnsberg)
Bünte & Remmler Frankfurt
Hoffmann, Friedrich (ULUM: Ueber Land und Meer; founded 1836) Sebnitz
Kneusel, Carl Zeulenroda
Meyer, Carl Hamburg
Riegermann, Albert Wuppertal
Thiel & Bardenheuer Ruhla
Wensel Soest

 

This large number of producers and dealers alone is an indication that there was a very wide range of kerosene/paraffin lamps in Germany, with different stylistic features and price levels. In addition to very luxurious, stately, certainly also very expensive ceremonial lamps made of porcelain, brass and glass, one could have all kinds of cheaper lamps made of majolica (earthenware), cast zinc or even simple sheet metal to choose from.

If one wants to describe the characteristic features of German lamps, one must inevitably refer to the lamps made in Germany that are still most commonly found today; and these are undoubtedly the zinc cast and majolica lamps with their plain vesta shades. The most typical German lamp shapes are compiled in two collective photos. They serve to illustrate what is told in the text.

 

Typical German lamps made of cast zinc, majolica and glass
Upper row, left photo: Lamps made of zinc casting with drop-in glass fonts
Upper row, right photo: Majolica lamps with drop-in glass fonts
Lower row, left photo: Glass lamps with drop-in glass fonts
Lower row, right photo: Glass lamps with permanently attached fonts

 

For me, a typical German lamp very often consists of a lamp body made of cast zinc. The kerosene/paraffin tank (usually made of a very plain, clear glass) is hidden inside the vase. The extraordinary casting ability of the zinc alloy (with additions of lead and antimony) and its low price have given rise to an astonishing variety of these lamps with elaborately decorated surfaces. They were not infrequently decorated with exuberant Historicist ornamentation. This style was very dominant in the years before the emerging Art Nouveau, i.e. around 1875 to 1895. One can find all kinds of early art styles such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Classicism here either in pure imprint or eclectically mixed together. Most of these lamps probably had a ball or Vesta shade.

Another very common type of German lamp consists of a painted majolica vase and a Vesta shade of white milk glass. The sublime beauty of the lamp is determined exclusively by the shape and painting of the majolica vase and the preferably metal base. In these lamps, too, the font of simple glass is inserted into the vase. Since the majolica vases came more into fashion in the Art Nouveau era, the painting often features stylistic or realistically rendered Art Nouveau floral motifs. Often there is also pure Art Nouveau ornamentation without any reference to any objects. The motifs are worked in relief and painted in one or more colours on an often dark background. These lamps often also had Vesta shades painted in matching colours and motifs, not infrequently in Art Nouveau shapes. Most of these shades have of course been lost; they are rare today. The base is often made of fine cast brass or also of a zinc alloy, but then refined with golden bronze paint.

In addition to the above-mentioned zinc cast and majolica lamps with drop-in glass fonts, there are also analogously constructed glass lamps whose entire lamp body consists of glass of the same type. Here, too, the font is only inserted, freely removable. These lamps often have a vase in the shape of a conical flute or an elongated urn. They are usually painted with enamel colours. They are more likely to belong to classicism and historicism.

Another German variant is made of coloured or only white milk glass with a visible font. The base, the vase and the font are made of mould-blown glass. Consequently, the tear-off hole can be seen under the foot, where the glassblower cut off the connection to the blowpipe after finishing the glass piece. The base and the vase, which at the same time takes on the function of a column, are "stepped" several times (= decoratively shaped in steps). The glass is often painted with small flowers and decorative lines. There are also variants where the base and the vase are of the same colour, whereas the font is made of a different, coloured transparent glass and is applied to the vase, i.e. fused on.

 

Other typical German lamp forms
Upper row, left photo: Base made of ornamental zinc casting, combined with a glass font
Upper row, right photo: Square zinc base in Art Nouveau style with a short column mostly of alabaster (middle lamp with glass; rare) and with attached glass font
Bottom row, left photo: left: Brass lamp in strict Art Nouveau/Art Déco; middle: porcelain lamp by Meissen; right: porcelain lamp with 3 cherubs by Schierholz
Bottom row, right photo: Two piano lamps; left with shade carrier for cardboard shades; right with shade holder for Vesta shades

 

A lamp form often encountered is the simple combination of a cast zinc base with a glass font set directly on top. The base is then very often decorated with rich, typically eclectic decoration of Historicism. The font is often made of clear, colourless glass, sometimes elaborately cut. If the glass is exceptionally painted, it is usually on opaque milk glass. A refinement of this style appeared in the Art Nouveau period, when the still ornamental, but now square base was combined with a short column of another material, preferably alabaster. This type seems to me to have been a design idea by Kästner & Töbelmann. The glass font set on this short column had abandoned the earlier restraint in favour of a colourful decoration in Art Nouveau style.

Another variant is made entirely of brass with "bronze" (most likely cast brass) or iron applications that give the lamp a pure German Jugendstil look. In my opinion, these lamps were only made in the last years of the Art Nouveau era, around 1910-1915, when the first efforts were made to abandon the floral and playful Art Nouveau ornamentation in favour of stylistically stricter lines and shapes, which later gave rise to the Art Déco style.

Of course, one cannot conclude the features of German lamps without including porcelain lamps. Germany was the country of the invention of European hard porcelain. As a result, there are also numerous porcelain lamps, but they have not developed a very concise style that is quite different from other lamps. At least the lamps of Meissen can be recognised quite well because of the omnipotent onion pattern. Schierholz in Plaue did develop an interesting type of lamp, with 2-3 cherubs, sometimes even animals, carrying a basket-like kerosene/paraffin font. These quite small lamps were probably also an export success.

The typical German kerosene/paraffin lamp (remember: I am always talking about table and salon lamps, which make up most of my collection, not the countless other types of lamps that also carry a kerosene/paraffin burner) wears a Vesta shade for me. Certainly there were exceptions; in particular, the stately-luxurious lamps of the Historicism era often came with elaborately designed shades, some of which were painted with flowers, butterflies, birds, putti and other allegorical creatures. However, these lamps, made for a financially potent clientele, are very rare today, as they were mostly destroyed in the bombed cities. If such a lamp is offered today complete with its original shade of the time, then one has to spend several hundred euros for it.

I must not conclude the characteristics of German lamps without pointing out two particular types of kerosene/paraffin lamps. The first type is the so-called “reading lamp” (also called “student lamp”), which is derived from Argand's oil lamps (called "Quinquet" in France after the erroneous assumption that Quinquet, as Argand's adversary, would have developed this lamp). This lamp differs from the common table lamps in its flexible suspension from a thin, supporting column. The entire lamp body can be moved on this column both in height and horizontally and fixed in the desired position. This made sliding lamps the ideal lamps not only for reading and writing purposes, but also for any kind of needlework at home. Higher quality types of reading/student lamps did not have their kerosene/paraffin tank underneath the burner, but on the other side of the column opposite the burner, as a Proustian reservoir, from which the necessary amount of kerosene/paraffin always reached the burner through a connecting tube. This avoided the formation of large shadows below the burner, which was the primary advantage of these lamps. And the reference to German lamps? To my knowledge, C.A. Kleemann in Erfurt was the first German manufacturer of this type of lamp, producing them in large numbers as kerosene/paraffin lamps and marketing them successfully across countries as far as the USA. Genuine Kleemann's sliding lamps are, however, quite rare in Germany; their wider distribution was in the USA. You will miss a German reading lamp in the above collective photos. The reason for this is that I do not own one. If you still want to see a copy of it, you can look at the American lamp L.147.

The second type is the so-called piano lamp; a purely German invention. These lamps have an off-centre design similar to the student lamps. An elongated arm protrudes from the kerosene/paraffin tank to the side. At the end of this arm, the burner is attached along with the chimney and shade. This arm also contains a tube for transporting the kerosene/paraffin from the tank to the burner. These lamps were placed on top of a piano in such a way that the arm with the burner protruded clearly from the upper edge of the piano and was thus able to illuminate the keyboard below. The lamp body including the font were weighted down with heavy lead or iron weights at the bottom of the base so that they could stand stably without the risk of tipping over.

 

Similarity of German and Austrian Lamps

A characteristic of the style features of these two countries that makes identification very difficult for us collectors is the fact that their lamps hardly differ from each other stylistically. In both countries, completely identical stylistic features have developed over the same periods of time. If one does not have clear clues such as catalogue pictures or producer logos on the lamps, it is initially impossible to assign a lamp to one of these two countries.

In my collection there are a large number of such lamps that are either German or Austrian, but a clue to attribution is completely missing. I have then presented these lamps in the chapter Lamps of Unknown Origin.

There are, of course, some ways to still be able to make a determination, even if they have a "soft" character. In economics, such indications would be called "soft facts".

A first possibility is that in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in contrast to the German Empire, there were only very few, large lamp producers. These were R. Ditmar and Gebr. Brünner in Vienna and Lámpa Gyár in Budapest. There are extensive lamp catalogues from these manufacturers from the period 1870 to 1925. If you do not find a lamp in these catalogues, then its origin is more likely to be in Germany. Of course, this possibility only helps those who have these catalogues at their disposal. In addition, R. Ditmar has marked most of his lamps with a company logo.

Another distinguishing feature can be the burner on the lamp. I have emphasised several times that the burner cannot be used to assign a lamp to a lamp producer. But it can at least help to determine the country of origin. If the burner is as dark and dirty as the lamp itself, it can be assumed that it was an original part of the lamp from the beginning. Since German burners were naturally used for German lamps, it can be assumed that an old lamp with an old German burner, which probably also dates from the same period as the lamp, is a German lamp. The same applies to Austrian lamps.

Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise that such auxiliary measures only serve to make a "feeling-based" determination of the country of origin, which, however, cannot be corroborated in the absence of other indications.

 

My Lamps from Germany

Despite the large number of lamp and burner manufacturers in Germany, one company stands out strongly from this mass: Wild & Wessel in Berlin. This company became a showpiece of the German lamp industry because of its extraordinarily high quality lamps in the upper price range. Because of their epoch-making, very high-quality burners, Wild & Wessel have conquered large market shares also outside of Germany. Therefore, I would like to present my lamps by Wild & Wessel in a separate subchapter.

I have described the remaining German lamps in my collection in three further subchapters. I have categorised them according to their dominant components. All of my 75 lamps from Germany are presented in the following four subchapters:

1. Lamps of Wild & Wessel
2. Lamps Made of Cast Zinc
3. Lamps Made of Majolica and Porcelain
4. Lamps Made of Glass and Metal