At Christmas, my grandmother, Goby, set a light in their farmhouse window that faced up Dover Road. The gravel stretch between the main drag and their place marked the only entrance, and we could see the light and her smiling face as we drove in for the holiday.
Always ready to make a stranger — as well as family — feel welcome, she picked up the light idea from her mother. In 1800s South Dakota, where Goby was born, winters could be dark and stormy. Mary Graesser, Goby's mother, put an oil lamp in the window during storms in case someone was wandering lost. The light could save a life.
At this season of low light during our winter solstice, I thought it would be appropriate to study antique lamps and the cheering ambience they lend. There are many different types of old lamps, of course, but I'm focusing on metal-base, electric lamps with slag-glass shades, made from the late 1800s through the 1940s.
Slag glass originated in England during the late 1800s. It's that colorful, opaque glass swirled throughout with cream or caramel. To make slag glass, producers mixed the waste content of metal ores from iron-smelting plants with molten glass to create the marbling effect. Manufacturers fashioned lampshades from several glass panels and sometimes overlaid them with intricate, brass designs.
Well-known manufacturers are Bradley & Hubbard, Miller and Tiffany; however, there were numerous lesser-known names, and many are unmarked. Because these pieces are highly collectible, the market is flooded with good reproductions. If you want an original, it's best to buy from reputable dealers who know their stuff.
It's not unusual to pay $600 for a good, unnamed brand and $2,500 and up for quality names in good condition. When considering the investment, look closely for cracks in the glass panels and sections of missing or replaced solder or brass work.
Some recent examples I found include a sweet pair of Miller boudoir lamps with floral, brass overlay that sold for $745. A rather plain Arts and Crafts-era ceiling globe brought $800, and $2,425 was handed over for a Bradley & Hubbard Mission-style table lamp. I saw a breathtaking B&H Cherry Tree lamp with a large, brilliant, red shade from 1908 with a price tag of $3,295. No galloping Great Danes or rambunctious children allowed in the vicinity, please.
My brother, Alan, and sis-in-law, Danae, display a fine collection of antique lamps throughout their home in Phoenix, Ariz. When these cozy, old lamps are lit, the mood is set for propping up your feet and watching a good, old movie or reading a book. Life slows down a notch, and you feel as if you're in an oasis of good memories in the middle of a metropolitan desert.
When it's time to retire for the night, Alan makes the circuit, turning off each member, and he thoroughly enjoys the ritual. But there's always one light left burning.
Freelance writer Peggy Dover writes about antiques and the human stories behind them. She lives in Eagle Point. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.