cupid playing trumpet on antique oil lamp

I can’t resist sharing a couple pictures of one of my favourite funky objets d’art. When my grandfather bought an old farm, on the eve of the Great Depression, he found this antique lamp in the attic. When the homestead was sold and the contents dispersed, I grabbed the little Cupid.

We don’t know a thing about it, and it was in poor shape, the brass badly corroded, even back when it was first discovered in the attic — no wonder the previous owners left it behind! And then some nasty things involving fake-gold high-gloss spray-paint had happened to the lamp back in the 1960s, so I absolutely had to tone it down with a little judicious faux-finishing to return it to its original subdued beauty — it probably has no value as an antique at all by now. But I don’t care: it suits this old house, and it makes me smile.

I’ll bet there are a lot of collectible old lamps to be found in yard sales and flea markets, on sale for a song, that could be made into a real “conversation piece” — the perfect item for a mantel? — with just a little loving care.

Tips for Collecting Antique Lamps

Collectors are really getting into the market for antique lamps these days, and in many areas the prices are getting way out of line with the true value, which also means we need to keep a sharp eye out for reproductions getting passed off as the real deal. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good repro – indeed, sometimes a high-quality replica of a vintage Mid-Century or Art Deco piece can be just what you need to complete your decor, without the trouble of rewiring the fixture to bring it up to modern safety standards.  Just, we want to know what we’re paying for!

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Antique cherub oil lamp converted to electric

When we’re looking at older pieces – Victoriana or Edwardian gas lamps, perhaps, or early Americana lamps created to burn oil or kerosene – you will want to decide whether you’re shopping for a purely decorative object, or whether you want a lamp that will be functional.

This amusing cherub table lamp of mine, for example, was originally an oil lamp but it’s been discretely converted to use electricity with a tiny low-wattage bulb at top under the glass chimney, and the electrical cord running down inside, totally hidden until it emerges at the base.  If it’s your intention to convert an oil lamp to use electricity, there are plenty of lamp kits on the market to make it easy – your biggest challenge,  in most of these DIY projects, will be to figure out how to conceal the cord.

When you’re shopping for an antique lamp, take great care to check the glass shade or chimney for damage. Obviously, the glass is most often where damage to an antique lamp will turn up, too, as being the  most fragile part.  Scorches on the glass (for an old lamp that’s seen many years of use) are common, and not a big deal – most will clean off with care, and those blackening areas that can’t be removed will simply add character and authenticity. It’s the tiny almost-invisible cracks in the glass you’ll need to watch out for – very carefull run your fingertip lightly around the shade on the rim, to feel for cracks too small to see.  Hairline cracks and small chips may not affect the beauty of the piece, but they can compromise the strength of the shade and it can be incredibly difficult to find a good match for a replacement.


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