Lighting has always played an important role in people’s lives. Not long after we got past the basic utility of lighting, folks began to artistically accentuate and enhance the fixtures providing the light: first with ornamental candelabras and oil lamps and, after the invention of the light bulb, with amazing electric lamps.
The design of lamps is often a reflection of the ambitions, moods and cultural changes of the times. This was never more apparent than in the Atomic Age of the 1950s. With a growing middle class, new materials and the dawning of the space age, many lamps and lighting fixtures from this period echoed the futuristic and exuberant attitude of post-war America.
There were a host of American lighting companies after World War II but none more extravagant or iconic than The Majestic Lamp Company under the leadership of William “Sloppy” Garwood. Majestic lamps — with their sweeping, dramatic and futuristic designs — utilized fiberglass for their lamp shades, which had been commercially developed just before the war in 1938. This material was perfectly suited for the unique shapes and flamboyant design of Majestic’s shades.
Majestic ceased operation in 1963, but the lamps it produced are highly sought by collectors throughout the world. These lamps in original condition tend to be scarce and the demand high, which produces premium prices.
The use of fiberglass for shades — and even for body construction when coupled with wood and metal — was not solely used by Majestic, however. Many lamp manufacturers produced a huge variety of lamps targeted to the growing suburban market in mid-century United States. Materials like fiberglass, plywood and a host of metals were transformed into geometric and Space Age masterpieces of lighting design. As with many other products, World War II had produced a massive industrial capacity, which was used post-war to crank out a volume of consumer goods never before seen in history.
While mass produced, the variety and scope of lamp design in this period transformed the expectations and use of lighting in American households. This moved lamps far beyond their utilitarian use to becoming important design statements in the typical home.
Even the more traditional lamps of the mid-century period began to use color, shape and design in new ways. Pottery lamps, with flowing glazes of color and bold designs, inhabited side tables throughout the living rooms of America. Slender, Danish-inspired, sculptural lamps of walnut and brass provided lighting in an elegant way, enhancing the overall decor of the space.
Just as quickly as these trends came, they began to fade by the late 1960s. The ’70s saw some of the mod influences of popular culture give lamps another blast of design flair, but the excitement and futuristic look of the lamps from mid-century America had passed.
Today, these lamps are seeing a renewed interest for their unique look and design. While some of the more extravagant lamps are not suited for every space, many can add just the right amount of style, nostalgia and retro appeal to a room. We find a great many people are like us and have an affinity for unique lamps and lighting, with a deep appreciation for the design and quirkiness of mid-century pieces.
As a cautionary note, always check out the electrical portions of vintage lamps prior to using them. Worn or frayed cords and other electric components should always be replaced and, if done properly, will not negatively impact the value of your lamp. Quality vintage shops likely have already examined any lamps they have for sale, but it never hurts to ask.
Quirky, fun, playful and often dramatic, mid-century lamps are a great way to add some fabulous style into a room.
Oh, and by the way, they are great to read by, too.