© Tsekyi Thür

Other Types of Lamps for Household Use

By "other types of lamps for household use", I mean lamps that were often used in households but were quite different in design from conventional table lamps. These are:

  Floor lamps
  Hanging lamps
  Student lamps / reading lamps
  Piano lamps
  Wall lamps
  Kitchen lamps


Especially the floor and hanging lamps do not appear in many collections, because they take up a lot of space due to their expansive dimensions. Yet hanging lamps in particular were on offer in very large numbers from all the well-known lamp manufacturers, every living and dining room demanded such a lamp after all.

 

Floor Lamps

Floor lamps are very tall lamps designed to be placed on the floor of a room, possibly to illuminate an armchair, a piano or the corner of a room. They are thus the predecessors of today's modern floor lamps, which are also used for the same purposes. Floor lamps were offered in all the countries mentioned above in Europe and in the USA. They were of course marketed with higher selling prices than the much smaller table lamps.

Here I would like to briefly point out a peculiarity of the designation of these lamps in English-speaking countries: In these countries, floor lamps are called "floor lamp", "standard lamp" and also "piano lamp". Especially the last name is somewhat misleading for us Germans. Floor lamps are called "piano lamps" in Great Britain and the USA (and probably also in other English-speaking countries) because they were often placed next to a piano to illuminate the keyboard. For this purpose, German lamp manufacturers invented the so-called (German) piano lamp, which is simply placed on the piano and illuminates the keyboard with its arm protruding from the side. In some German catalogues, this type of piano lamp is called a "pianino lamp". "Lampe de piano" in French, on the other hand, is the lamp body, which consists only of a small glass font with its special metal undermount and a small, usually 8- or 10-lines burner on it, and is simply inserted into the candle holders of the piano. This French variety of piano lamp is called a "peg lamp" in Britain. This type does not exist in Germany. So: one name "piano" and three completely different types of lamps...

Back to floor lamps. Floor lamps in continental Europe often consist of a central column of ribbed or somehow otherwise decorated brass. The column is held by three large legs of cast brass, usually of baroque design. At the top, the column carries a vase made of decoratively embossed brass, which contains the drop-in font inside, or even the font itself directly without any additional vase. Most of the elaborately and highly priced floor lamps also have a round or square table made of marble or onyx marble, which is fixed approximately in the middle of the floor lamp. Of course, pictures, vases, books, knick-knacks, etc., can be placed on this little table. These floor lamps with a table in the middle are called "guéridon" in France. British or American floor lamps are less often equipped with a table.

Some floor lamps also have a smaller pull-out column within their main column. If necessary, this additional column could be pulled out and fixed at the desired height with a screw. This was probably of some importance in the high rooms of the houses and villas of rich people. The floor lamps often had a wide silk shade with lace and velvet borders. These silk shades are great rarities today, as the material could not survive the many decades. But other, large Vesta or Rochester shades made of glass were also used.

 

Hanging Lamps

These lamps were among the most important types of lamps of all, because they were used not only in private households but also in all economically used rooms, e.g. in restaurants, factory halls, government offices, museums, theatres, etc.

The lamps for commercially used buildings were relatively simple, but very robustly constructed. They usually had a shade made of sheet metal enamelled white on the inside, which was placed in a simple hanging device. The kerosene/paraffin tank was suspended in a metal ring of this device. The height of the flame could be adjusted and the flame extinguished from below by means of special cords attached to the burner. For filling kerosene/paraffin or lighting the lamps, however, they had to be lifted down with a pulley.  The larger the room to be lit, the larger were the lamps, which were often equipped with 30- to 50-line burners.

The hanging lamps for private households, on the other hand, were much more decorative and handsomely built. Here, larger Rochester shades or tulip shades were used, which were sometimes painted. The more expensive lamps with adjustable heights hung in ornamental metal chains and had a counterweight so that the lamp could be pulled down quite conveniently and pushed back up again after filling and lighting. The counterweight with a heavy iron core was connected to the rest of the lamp's hanging mechanism by long chains. These chains were diverted via rollers in the uppermost part of the hanging device. If the lamp body was pulled downwards, the counterweight was pushed upwards. The weight of the counterweight was adjusted to the weight of the rest of the lamp to such an extent that the lamp could be left at any height without the lamp sliding down or even up. In general, the entire hanging arrangement was extremely decorative and the vases were often made of beautifully painted majolica or bronzed zinc castings. Some hanging lamps not only had a burner as a light source, but also 6 or more candles in additional candle holders.

 

 

Schematic representation of the height adjustment for hanging lamps
Left: Hanging lamp in any position
Right: Hanging lamp pulled down further

 

Explanation of the photo:

1 = Top rollers
2 = Pull chains
3 = Counterweight
4 = Smoke bell
5 = Burner, glass chimney and shade (here schematic a tulip shade)
6 = Attachment of the chain end
7 = Vase with support arms
8 = Pull knob

The largest contingent in this chapter consists of ten hanging lamps. These all actually hang in the rooms and corridors of our house and often attract all eyes when we have guests. I have tried to equip my hanging lamps with relatively large burners (mostly 20-lines) that have gallery lifters and extinguishers. The extinguisher is more of a luxurious addition; you can extinguish the flame without much effort by adjusting the wick wheel until the flame goes out. The raiser, on the other hand, is very important to be able to light the lamp without having to remove the glass chimney (and also the tulip shade, if the lamp has such a shade).

The French hanging lamps ("lampe à suspension") differ clearly from their German or Austrian sisters in two characteristics. While the hanging lamps from German-speaking countries had bronzed, cast-iron hangers, similar hangers of the French lamps are made of cast brass. The second feature is decisive: the lamp part of the French hanging lamps are themselves independent table lamps, which are placed on a corresponding platform of the hanging lamp. If necessary, these lamps can be removed from the hanging lamp and used as normal table lamps (then admittedly without a shade). This also makes it much easier to fill and light the lamp. On eBay France, there are still a lot of medium-sized hanging lamps of this kind; the corresponding hanging fixtures are, however, very rare.

In addition to these luxurious, high-end hanging lamps with adjustable heights, there are also simpler, smaller lamps whose kerosene/paraffin tanks (usually made of simple, white milk glass or sheet brass) are suspended in a simplified hanging device. The shades of these lamps were mostly unpainted Vesta shades. The hanging device consisted either of a chain system described above (with adjustable height) or of a "lyre" (sometimes called a "harp") designed in the shape of a pear, which held the font in a ring at the bottom (without height adjustment). Such simple hanging lamps used to hang by the millions in dining rooms and pubs. Today, they can still often be found in nostalgically furnished restaurants, but now in an electrified version.

Another variant of the hanging lamps without height adjustment had a so-called "fan-shaped shade" of considerable size. The fan-shaped shade consists of a correspondingly large, round metal frame made of iron, which is connected in a fan shape with further iron bars to a smaller, central ring. Appropriately cut, coloured, flat glass panes are then placed in these resulting conical surfaces. The hanging lamps with fan-shaped shades were usually hung in larger rooms and had larger burners (30-line and larger).

The hall lamps mainly consisted of a large glass shade. The small kerosene/paraffin tank including the corresponding burner (usually 8- or 10-line) and chimney is inside this shade, and is attached to a separate platform below the shade. The shade and this platform with the burner are connected by pull chains. The chains are guided over rollers on the upper hanging device (very similar to the hanging lamps, see above). If you now pull the lower platform with the knob downwards, the shade moves upwards and gives access to the font or the burner for lighting or extinguishing the flame or for filling the font.

 

Schematic representation of the use of hall lamps
Left: Hall lamp in normal hanging position
Right: Vase and base separated for lighting or extinguishing

 

Explanation of the photo:

1 = Top rollers
2 = Pull chains
3 = Fastening at the chain end
4 = Glass shade
5 = Bottom platform
6 = Pull knob
7 = Font, burner and glass chimney

Since the hall lamps do not have a corresponding counterweight, you have to constantly hold the pulled-down bottom platform with one hand, otherwise the heavy glass shade will inevitably slide back down to its normal position. This is a big difference to the hanging lamps with the counterweight. Admittedly, when the lamp is open, the font with the burner must first be removed in order to carry out the necessary work (lighting, filling, etc.) outside the hall lamp.

The hall lamps often hung in corridors and vestibules and had more the task of illuminating these often dark rooms with a relatively weak light. Some hall lamps even used only candles.

 

Student or Reading Lamps

Student lamps are special table lamps which, due to their unusual design, cast an almost shadow-free light on the table and are thus optimal lamps for intellectual (reading, writing, studying, etc.) and craft activities (sewing, darning, embroidering, painting, drawing, repairing, etc.) at home.

There are three different forms of student lamps, the common component of which is a strong support rod attached to a heavy, stable base. On this support rod, the coherent unit consisting of a kerosene/paraffin tank with burner and chimney is attached in such a way that it can be pushed up or down as desired (hence the German name "Schiebelampe" = sliding lamp). This unit can be fixed at any height with a screw. Most student lamps (with the exception of those by Peigniet-Changeur) also allow the unit to be rotated horizontally at will once locked in place.

The main difference between the three types mentioned above is the design of the font, or rather the shape of the fuel feed to the burner.

 

Schematic representation of the three main types of student lamps
A: Student lamp with a lateral container as a kerosene/paraffin tank
B: Student lamp with an ordinary font made of brass
C: Student lamp Vesta by W&W (or office lamp by Peigniet-Changeur); the support rod goes through the font

 

Explanation to the photo:

1 = Support rod or central post, with a knob for transporting the lamp
2 = Base of the support rod, almost always weighted with an iron weight
3 = Screw for fixing the height of the unit consisting of the font and the burner
4 = Burner (Argand burner with tubular wick or round burner with flat wick)
5 = Glass chimney
6 = Shade (usually a Vesta shade made of glass)
7 = Lateral kerosene/paraffin tank, connected to the burner by a tube
8 = Wick holder of the burner; supplied with kerosene/paraffin from the lateral tank
9 = Ordinary metal font
10 = Elongated-oval font enclosing the support rod

Type A is the oldest model of a student lamp. It actually goes back to Ami Argand (1780's!), from whom this type of oil lamp is attested. The laterally mounted container, which contains the actual font, is connected to the wick container of the burner by a thin tube. The fact that the entire content do not run to the burner at once and flood everything is due to the fact that the font is completely hermetically sealed at the top and as soon as a few drops of kerosene/paraffin (formerly oil) have run to the burner, a vacuum (negative pressure) is created in the virtually airless space above the kerosene/paraffin level. This negative pressure prevents more kerosene/paraffin from reaching the burner. When the kerosene/paraffin in the wick holder has been burnt to such an extent that the muzzle of the connecting tube is uncovered, air enters the font; the vacuum is reduced and as much kerosene/paraffin flows to the wick holder until the muzzle is again cut off from further air supply by the rising level of the kerosene/paraffin.

A very great advantage of this arrangement is the almost shadowless light that one has in the immediate vicinity of the lamp, because below the burner there is only a relatively narrow metal tube as a wick holder; the wide, voluminous tank is, after all, on the other side of the lamp. C.A. Kleemann from Erfurt was very early to apply the indisputable advantages of Argand's student lamp to kerosene/paraffin lamps. From the beginning of the 1860's, Kleemann's student lamps became the classic lamps of this type.

Type B is the typical student lamp of the later kerosene/paraffin era. This type uses an ordinary font under the burner instead of a lateral container. The advantage of this lamp is that all common burners could now be used. Due to their simple construction, these lamps should be much cheaper. Their disadvantage is the wider shadow that is now formed by the font under the burner. In addition, the base must be really heavy and cantilevered, because the lamp is now only loaded with weight on one side.

There are variants of type B with an appropriately dimensioned metal piece that is mounted like a container on the other side of the font to eliminate the problem of the one-sided shift of the centre of gravity. However, this piece has no other function. There are also electric lamps with this arrangement.

Type C is an interesting variation of type B in that the font is not round but elongated oval. The carrier rod then goes through the middle of this font. With this arrangement, the lateral shift of the centre of gravity has not been completely eliminated, but it has been reduced considerably. The most famous lamp of this type is the Vesta lamp made of heavy, relief-decorated cast brass by Wild & Wessel, thousands of which were used in Europe and the USA (in the USA it is called the "Harvard lamp" because of its frequent use at Harvard University). This lamp is still traded today at very high prices, although it turns up relatively often on eBay. However, the non-electrified examples offered with the very rare original Vesta shade are really scarce. For me, it is simply too expensive; therefore, there is no Vesta lamp in my collection.

A similar type C student lamp, sought after by collectors, is the one made by the French lampist Henri Peigniet-Changeur in Paris. In contrast to Wild & Wessel's Vesta lamp, which was made of heavy cast brass, Peigniet-Changeur built his famous office lamp ("lampe de travail") from an ornate font made of porcelain, which was attached to the central column at a variable height by a spring mechanism. These lamps appear exclusively on eBay France. There are hardly any examples with original shades left on the market. The most obvious technical difference to the other student lamps is the differently designed central post: it is not round, but square in cross-section, so that the font cannot simply be turned horizontally. In addition, this column has notches (similar to a toothed rack) on which the font can be firmly hooked with a spring lever. The height can therefore only be adjusted in steps.

There are also versions of both the Vesta lamp by Wild & Wessel and the office lamps by Peigniet-Changeur that have two burners. These double student lamps are really very rare and therefore also very expensive.

Briefly on nomenclature: In German-speaking countries, these lamps are usually called "Schiebelampen" (= sliding lamps). But other names such as "study lamp", "student lamp" or even "Goethe lamp" are also common. In the USA, where they have been much more widely marketed, they are called "student lamps". In Great Britain they are called "reading lamp".

The student lamps enjoy a higher reputation in the USA, because C.A. Kleemann introduced these lamps to the USA very early and marketed them successfully. The Americans then write Kleemann in a somewhat Americanised way as "Kleeman".  The Kleemann lamps have found many successors there; consequently, the range of such lamps on eBay USA is relatively broad, but with one sobering realisation: they are almost all electrified! I did manage to "land" a few non-electrified examples.

 

German Piano Lamps

I had already mentioned in the typical features of German lamps that German piano lamps are fundamentally different from the lamps used in other countries to illuminate a piano. This type of lamp is a purely German invention. German piano lamps have lamp bodies extra weighted by lead or iron inserts to hold the arm protruding from the side of the lamp, to which the burner and shade are attached. Piano lamps could illuminate the keyboard of a piano in this way when placed on a piano. Of course, they were also placed on secretaries for the same purpose.

 

Schematic representation of the German piano lamps
Left: Ordinary piano lamp with the burner arm above the keyboard
Right: Piano lamp additionally with two mirrors, but without shade

 

The high-quality piano lamps were additionally equipped with a concave mirror behind the burner and with a larger mirror that could be adjusted in its inclination beyond the burner arm. The light from the flame was focused by the concave mirror onto this second mirror, and from there it was directed downwards onto the piano keys.

The first, ordinary piano lamp absolutely needed a shade with a white inner colour, because only the inner surface of the shade reflected the light downwards. The second type of piano lamp did not need a shade to direct the light downwards, as this task was elegantly solved by means of a mirror. With this type, it was not even allowed to put on a shade, which would otherwise have reduced the light intensity.

This "non plus ultra" variety of German piano lamps with two mirrors is very rare. Completely preserved examples cost several hundred euros. Unfortunately, I don't have a single one of them.

 

Wall Lamps (Bracket Lamps)

These are lamps mounted on a room wall, attached to a bracket that is sometimes rotatable but often fixed. The remaining parts of the lamp are analogous to conventional table lamps, that is, they consist of a more or less ornate font on top of which the burner, chimney and shade are mounted. I have removed four wall lamps from the collection here, as I have successively replaced them with other, higher quality lamps.

 

Kitchen Lamps

Kitchen lamps should also be counted as wall lamps, because they usually hung on a wall in the kitchen. However, they were not permanently mounted on the wall, but simply hung on a nail. This meant that they could be removed from the wall and placed on a table if necessary, because their font always had a flat base. They were thus quite flexible in handling. Very often these lamps were very simple; they did not have to serve decorative purposes. They also had no shade, because the light from the burner should illuminate the work surfaces in the kitchen as unhindered as possible. To improve their light output, however, they often carried a light-reflecting disc behind their burner, which in simple lamps was made of brightly polished metal, in somewhat more expensive types of a mirror. My five kitchen lamps also had to clear out their space for higher-quality table lamps.

 

Corresponding Lamps in the Collection

In my collection there are 3 floor lamps, 10 hanging lamps (one of them as a hall lamp), 6 student lamps and 4 piano lamps. All of these lamps have already been introduced and described in the respective chapters of their countries of origin. I present them again here in two sub-chapters to show their common technical features:

1. Floor and Hanging Lamps
2. Student and Piano Lamps

My wall and kitchen lamps have had to vacate their places in favour of higher quality lamps. They have been sorted out of the regular collection.

Important: The lamps shown separately in the collective photos have differently enlarged photos; therefore they are not comparable visually in size.