Since there appears to be no guides to buyers of Art Deco lighting I am offering this in the hope it may be useful to those about to take their first
step to owning an icon of this fascinating period. Firstly, I must applaud the market place of Ebay, it is such a wonderful world wide arena which has brought many hitherto hard to find or near impossible to source items to just about everyone with a computer and it was in this spirit I entered the Ebay arena, looking for my first bargain.
However, bargains come at a price and at times can fall far from the bargain arena, verging on pure junk. Areas of concern can be: - description, age, height, quality, number, postal charges, insurance, proof of postage and last but not least is the communications you have with your buyer.
I have always been an avid fan of At Deco and until the concept of Ebay arrived, I had little or no knowledge of where to buy my treasures. After signing into Ebay I soon purchased my first chrome lamp.
When it arrived, I found it needed re wiring, the chrome was being attacked by rust and the weighted base was covered in what I can only describe as a filthy rag. But I had won the lamp for a very small price - so here lies the first lesson, cost is relative and you do get what you pay
for in this life.
Next was the lesson that original lamps are seldom (never say never) made from steel unless it is stainless steel although this is quite unusual. Usually lamps are constructed by using either brass or copper which does not rust. As the construction of lamps went into the 1940's and 50's, steel was used since it was cheaper, so rust can also be a strong indication of a lamps age.
Now to wiring: - I have purchased lamps that were described as having been re wired - but in reality had only been re wired for cosmetic reasons, leaving the original wire hidden within the unit, specifically either under the felt base or hidden within some embellishment of the lamps (or centre
light) features. Ask if the lamp has been fully re wired unless you are prepared to do the work yourself. That said, it may be prudent to ask
when was it re wired, since plastic or PVC covered wiring has been around for many years.
If the lamp has been originally wired using clear coated cable (invariably two core) and especially if it is a centre light, please remember that this
form of cable was prone to heat distress causing the outer cable to become brittle and discoloured and fail at the slightest stress was/is put on the wires. Again, originality is not always a good thing and beware those who say they are leaving the decision to re wire to the new owner - it may mean the fixture is difficult to route new wire and the seller has not tried or just plain given up, passing this sometime tricky and tedious job on to the new buyer.
Many reputable sellers (myself included) will declare that a lamp or fixture has been re chromed. This in itself is not a bad thing so long as the work has been completed to a high standard. Cries of originality I hear, but may I ask you to consider that owned a 1930's Bentley that had been lovingly restored but left with its original rusty bumpers, your pride and joy would look uncompleted and unloved. Some aging of chrome with the bloom of copper showing through can be very attractive, but there are limits. Re chroming is very expensive and may be the reason some Art Deco lamps are offered for sale in all brass or all copper, which usually means the seller has simply polished off all the chrome to leave the base
I remember a seller at a fair asking a ludicrous amount of money for a very poor condition chrome lamp that I was told had been used by Liberties store in London and still had the Liberties painted name on the base. It actually did have the logo on the base although the name was badly chipped with a lamp where the chrome was poor, the metal was badly dented and had a rusty base. As it was it was almost worthless, however with restoration and photography of the original name on the lamp, lovingly re created would give the lamp a new lease of life and provenance with the picture supplied giving the link and provenance.
The Last Suooer by Leonardo Da Vinci has had many refurbishments over the years to maintain its appearance. Some old vintage cars have had
most of the original structure replaced, buildings repaired with stone fashioned to the old pattern. Originality also comes at a price, however just ask yourself how long were these lamps made to last? How long was a car of the 1920's or 30's meant to last. Restoration is sometimes the only way to ensure these masterpieces remain for us to enjoy for many years to come.
Almost all Art Deco lamps have a weighted base. This is usually made from cast iron made into the shape of the base with areas left open for
centre rods, switches and wiring or indeed anything the manufacturer thinks may be attached to the base. Other weighted base material could be lead, steel disks and in some later (1940's) lamps even concrete can be found.
Since cast iron is the most common, it is this material I shall write about. Over the many years these lamps and fittings have been around, cast iron weights were subject to dampness, since central heating during the period was rare. It is therefore reasonable to suggest the bases would require
attention at some time.
The weighted base is what is under that (in my case filthy) coloured piece of cloth on the bottom of the lamp. It may have been replaced at some
time during its life after re wiring or purely because it has worn out. On some occasions, your lamp may have been at a car boot sale or an antique fair, outside and in the pouring rain, the seller ignorant to the damage that dampness will undoubtedly cause to the cast weight and the
material is in close proximity to.
A good lamp should have had the weight removed and wire scrubbed to remove all traces of rust and have the chrome (if that is the material) cover cleaned on the inside to prevent any reaction between cover and base. Due to the expansion of a cast iron weight due to excessive damp
causing considerable rusting has resulted in the total loss of a lamp because the chrome cover could not be removed.
If a lamp is advertised as having been fully re wired, I would suggest you ask your seller if they carried out the work and if so whether the cast iron weight had been cleaned. This is really no more than you would ask a watchmaker when offering a fully serviced watch, or even a second hand
washer, since no one wants to buy other peoples dirt. A well presented lamp will also have had the base re covered with green baize (or purple or maroon) matching the lamps original fit.
This leads on to a seller's description of uncleaned - Why? Something clean and shiny sells far easier than something grubby and soiled. What's
hidden beneath the grime? If in doubt ask and if there is nothing to hide then you may be on to your first bargain, but please remember that
condition is relative to the end price, or at least it should be.
Running through the centre of almost all chrome Art Deco lamp is a steel (for strength) rod, threaded at both ends to be able to secure it to the
base and to fit the bulb holder on the top. These also rust and sometimes the base nut, rod and cast iron base can become very corroded. On
occasions, these centre rods have to be replaced, again quite natural and professional. During restoration it is quite common to earth the lamp with an appropriate earth tag lying between nut, rod and cast base. However, if the cast base is not clean of rust and the centre rod is also rusty, how can an appropriate earth be made? What ever the method used a lamp must be earthed appropriately.
If a seller indicated they have re wired a lamp, they must have anchored the cable within the lamp to prevent the cable from being pulled from the
lamp by accident (tripping over the cable|) thus pulling the wires from a base switch or from the bulb holder. If you feel you are in doubt about
this, then it would save much time and frustration if you asked the seller this prior to bidding on their item.
It is also quite usual for the bulb holder to be replaced with a new chrome unit which has an earthing feature inside the holder itself. The only visible update would be the small protrusion under the bulb holder where the earth wire is secured by a small screw. I usually try to keep these at the back of the lamp so they are unseen when on display.
A gallery is usually fitted to bulb holder to allow for the fitment of a glass shade. Sometimes a hoop frame is used to enable a shade with a small
opening at the top to be secured using a chrome base plate and chrome finial, changing the bulb or turning a switched bulb holder on from
beneath the shade.
Some curved stem lamps have a goose neck or swivel top and are usually used as bedside or desk lamps. Some sellers will turn the swivel upright thus showing a much taller lamp. This may be purely ignorance on their part or indeed an intention to mislead. It can be generally agreed that if a shade has two holes (small top - larger bottom) it is specifically for either a centre or wall light or a goose neck bedside or desk lamp, therefore if a standard vertical chrome lamp has a shade that had a huge hole at the top, it is not fitted with and appropriate shade. This is not definitive, but as a rule of thumb, if it does not look right, then its not!
Since we have been lead to shades, it must be said that a good Art Deco glass shade can be the making of a mundane lamp so therefore the price
you pay should also reflect this. There are simply thousands of shades out there and in the main, if a seller discloses minor chipping to the rim
(that that sits inside the gallery, usually secured with three screws) that is quite normal as fair wear and tear. A chunk missing from the rim is not
acceptable unless disclosed. A cracked shade, in my opinion is worthless, unless I can personally live with it for its pure rarity. In some cases a
good quality shade can be the most expensive part of a lamp, regardless of the lamps design. In fact some shades can fetch hundreds of pounds
because of manufacturer, age, colour, shape, style etc.
Galleries are made from steel, or brass but rarely copper since the metal is not strong enough to hold the weight of a shade. They are invariably
bent or have a screw missing and most lamps have a new one fitted made to the old pattern. This in my view does not detract from a lamps value. In fact some original galleries can be quite crudely made with a mixture of one, two or three screws to secure the shade and also have a rather high rim or very low rim making the fixture of a nice shade almost impossible.
Round chrome bases are the most prolific and in an attempt to make a lamp look better than it is, it has been known for a seller to place
(typically) a chrome lady or other embellishment on the base. I cannot give a definitive answer for these and again ask you to consider whether
the lamp looks right, for if the figure (or what ever used) sits on the lip of the round base and is seated precariously on the edge, then it most likely
is not an original fit. Again, if you are not sure, then ask your seller before you bid!
I am personally very dubious about the Ballerina lamp, a small chrome figure of a girl on one foot with one arm in the air for I believe these to
have originally been candlesticks, converted to hold a bulb holder. Again, most of these lamps are advertised as requiring re wiring, but had they
been re wired you would see the wire travelling up the back of the figure which so detracts from the beauty of a lamp with hidden wiring.
The only chrome lady I know of that has her wire exposed is the Diana lamp, because she was cast from solid brass and is a tall significant piece.
How you search for Art Deco lamps will also greatly affect your results, and may also mean you might miss a bargain. To search for the words
Art Deco lamp is a good starting position although you must be aware that some sellers refer in the description to their lamp as Art Deco and go on to describe then as Art Deco Style! To follow on from this and generally speaking no genuine Art Deco lamp of the period is made from pewter and never cold cast bronze resin or any other form of resin, made to look like spelter. Collecting is an art and there really is no other way than to learn and to ask as many questions as you like. If a seller becomes resentful of your questions, they have something to hide. If you ask a question regarding age and the seller responds the item has been in the family for years or they bought it at an antique centre, does not give you assurances the item is genuine. Again, if the item does not feel right to you then pass it by for something will eventually come up that is quite clearly right for you.
Some lamps are very much like a painting, you should be buying it because you want to spend some of your life living with and appreciating
its beauty, not just because it is of intrinsic value, present or future.
Please take great care when viewing auctions with only one photograph or that have been taken at an unusual angle, for it is quite possible the seller is trying to hide or mask a deficiency. There is no harm in asking for other photos and if all is well you will probably receive them, but if not
then your alarm bells should begin to ring.
Now a word about private auctions: - I have been selling with private auctions for about two years, ever since an identical lamp I was selling
became available for sale in China. Winning bidders have also been offered second chance offers for a lamp I was selling, again from someone
spoofing to be me. There are many scams which I hope my actions will prevent new bidders from experiencing. Some sellers prefer to make their auctions private to prevent well wishers from pointing out the goods on offer are fake - a good example of this is any of the many fake up market watch sellers, with opening low bids who usually have a very low feedback score.
It is always wise to check a sellers feedback to see where that feedback comes from, since it is quite possible to make up a very good feedback
record by the purchase of small inexpensive goods, lulling the buyer into trusting a 100% feedback to await the buyer tempted to buy the bargain
of the century only to be sold either rubbish or not receiving anything at all.
I recommend anyone who is buying from Ebay to pay with Paypal. There are no fees for buyers although there is a small fee for sellers. However this small fee guarantees payment for the seller and gives buyer protection for the buyer. I (personally) would never buy from anyone who
will only accept cash or postal orders. It is interesting to note that Ebay does not allow sellers to charge their buyers with a Paypal fee for making
payments this way, although you can see this on many auctions. It is not fair, not ethical and is breaking Ebay rules. If this is in a seller's
description or payment details I suggest you challenge this before bidding or do not bit at all.
The same applies to packaging fees. We (the sellers) are offering our goods for sale in an auction, so what gives us the right to then charge you
a packaging fee. Any good quality on line market store would never charge you a packaging fee, so what gives an Ebay seller the right to
charge such a fee - the choice is yours, you are the customer, you are always right (well almost) and if you ask a seller a question it should be
answered in a timely and friendly fashion.
The very last word, if id does not feel right, then its not!
With best wishes (and intent)
Diomede Art Deco Lamps