Antique Table Lamp Buying Guide

Like if this guide is helpful
Antique Table Lamp Buying Guide

Antique table lamps have a timeless appeal. They are attractive and functional and bring a sense of history to the home. There is no shortage of antique tables on the market, with pieces from many different eras and of varying designs. Because the choices are so wide, finding one for the home can be a difficult task. This buying guide will provide information about the history, types and styles of antique table lamps. It will also provide tips to assist the selection process, and instructions for care and maintenance after purchasing.

History of Antique Table Lamps

The first table lamps used oil, and date back thousands of years. Oil lamps were considered a safer alternative than candles for the bedside table, given their close proximity to flammable sheets or upholstery. By 1780, the ancient forms of oil lamps were replaced by the Argand-style oil lamp, which was an even safer alternative. Eventually kerosene superseded oil as the fuel of choice, and the kerosene lamp came into use from 1850. This continued until the advent of electric power. Once table lamps began to be powered by electricity, the types, styles and variety of lamps suddenly become limitless. Many of the styles created in the late 1800s and early 1900s are still popular today.

Discover Antique Table Lamps

Lamps have been around since the dawn of humanity. But the electric table lamp has only been around since Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity. It sparked a boom in the making of table lamps and lamp-making became an entirely new industry in itself.

That industry has since increased tenfold or more, and antique collectors today take great pride in acquiring lamps from the 1930s and before. Today, some of these antique table lamps grace well-to-do living rooms and bedrooms across the country. An antique table lamp is not only a great aesthetic addition to one's home, but it can also be a good financial investment.

Parts of Antique Table Lamps

There are nearly limitless variations of table lamp designs, but they can be broken into two essential groups: the oil and kerosene variety, and the electric variety.



Oil & Kerosene Table Lamps



May have a carved design and supports the remainder of the lamp.

Pouring hole

Oil is poured through this hole and transported to the fuel chamber.

Wick hole and nozzle

The lamp may have an opening or an extended nozzle where the wick extends to the chamber, is doused in oil, and then lit.


A lamp may include a handle, but this does not include every design. The handle shapes include triangles, crescents, or semi-oval.


Made of linen, flax, papyrus or other absorbent material, it is placed over the nozzle and runs down into the fuel chamber.


The coiled spiral-like structure of a lamp.

Font or Fuel chamber

Where the oil is poured to maintain the heat and lighting.


Shields the flame and focuses the light.

Electric Table Lamps



Supports the socket and shade.


Usually brass, the socket houses the on/off switch and wire assembly.


Turns the lamp on or off.


Supplies power to the lamp, runs from the socket through the base and into the wall.


Shields the bare bulb and focuses the light where desired.

Types of Antique Table Lamps

There are many different types and styles of antique table lamps. Below are some of the most popular.





Astral lamp

Kerosene lamp, tall with circular reservoir, uses Argand burner

Casts a brilliant light

Tall, so susceptible to toppling

Gone with the Wind lamp

Kerosene lamp, has a matching glass shade and font

Very beautiful, brings charm of American Old South to a room

Reproductions became popular in the 1970s

Slag Glass Panel lamp

Electric lamp with opaque coloured glass shade containing creamy streaks

Very suitable for a bedside table lamp

Popular from late 1800s to second world war

Rochester lamp

Glass and brass oil lamp in common use by students

Designed to push the light downwards for studying

Extremely popular even after electricity

Victorian lamp

Ornate base and shade

Solid construction

May be too gaudy for some room decors

Art Nouveau lamp


Multiple lights allow for different areas to be lit

This style came back into vogue in the 1990s

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Table Lamps

The sheer abundance of modern, mass-produced items can make one wistful for a time when decorative items were painstakingly made by master craftsmen. Purchasing an antique table lamp can certainly address this desire. It can also be a very sound investment, as most of these lamps can hold and increase their value over time. But first, it's important to acquire some information, because antique table lamps do span a broad spectrum of styles and designs. The key is to find one that suits the decor of its intended destination.


Some research is required before making a purchase. The more information you have, the more confident you will feel about your purchasing decision. Don't hesitate to ask the seller questions. Although there are photos available to view, there may be some features or faults that are not visible and would affect the end value of the lamp.


When you start to look for an antique table lamp it might seem like the selection is without limits. There are hundreds of different types available, from stained-glass Tiffany lamps to unique banker's lamps made of distinctive green Emeralite. There are also French, English, Chinese and Japanese table lamps, each with the inherent style of their homeland. You might want to coordinate the lamp with existing period furniture, or add it in as an eclectic piece in a modern setting. Once you narrow down the scope of your search, it will help you focus on the style you really want.


Original condition is an important factor among collectors. Restored items might look better, but in the antiques world, it's not always better to restore lamps to their original glory. Lamps, as with other antiques, should show some signs of age, although not so much as to affect its value.


Replacement bases are common on antique table lamps, usually because the original bases were damaged. If the work was done properly, then the lamp should hold its value. However, if the restoration has not been well, it could devalue the lamp. Investing in an antique lamp with a replacement base or shade is fine, although less preferable to original parts. Just ensure the replacement craftsmanship is up to standard.

How to Care for Antique Table Lamps

An antique table lamp requires careful attention and maintenance. Direct sunlight can easily damage some shades. If left untouched for too long, the vigorous cleaning needed to remove the dirt and grime could damage the integrity of the lamp and affect its value. Special care must be taken, especially with the shade, which is usually much more delicate than the base. In general, it is fine to soak a fabric shade, but plastic, fibreglass, parchment or laminate shades should never be submerged in water.

Base Cleaning Tip

* If the lampshade can be removed, do so before cleaning the base.

* Dust carefully with a slightly dampened cloth.

* Spray a light mist of water over intricate inlays or mouldings.

Fabric Shade Cleaning Tips

* Gently wipe inside and out with a dry cloth to remove dust and surface dirt.

* Put a few drops of laundry soap into a tub of warm water. Completely immerse the shade and use a cloth to scrub dirty areas.

* Rinse the shade with clean water and allow to dry. Certain areas of the fabric may need re-forming as it dries.

* Attach shade back onto base while slightly damp but no longer dripping, and switch on to help it dry faster.

Glass Shade Cleaning Tips

* Gently wipe inside and out with a dry cloth to remove dust and surface dirt

* Put a few drops of laundry soap into a tub of warm water. Completely immerse the shade and use a cloth to scrub dirty areas.

* Rinse the shade with clean water and allow it to dry on a soft, lint-free cloth.

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Table Lamps

Below are a few items that will assist in the care and maintenance of an antique table lamp.

* Scissors or a knife to trim the wick of oil lamps

* Extra shades, so that they can be alternated to quickly change the lamp's appearance and the light it casts

* Mild soaps or cleansers

* Soft cloths or brushes

Finding Antique Table Lamps on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique table lamp you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on the 'Antique Furniture', then 'Lamps' and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for an Antique Table Lamp on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for an antique table lamp. For example, to find an antique table lamp, type 'antique table lamp' into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay's Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antique table lamps with keywords. If you can't find the exact antique table lamp you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


With this guide, you can find an antique table lamp that will suit your home decor. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique table lamp safely and securely on eBay.

Have something to share? Create your own guide... Write a guide