How to Buy an Antique Lamp

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How to Buy an Antique Lamp

An antique lamp can add a different feeling to a space by injecting some of the past into the present. When looking to purchase an antique lamp, for many consumers there is a shortage of authentic consumer information. The following buying guide will attempt to bridge this scarcity and look at several aspects of the antique lamp as a contemporary item to purchase. The following topics will be covered in the guide: a brief history of the lamp, discovering the antique lamp as a current product category, a look at the different types of antique lamps commonly sold on eBay, the different genres – or artistic epochs – of antique lamps, factors to consider when buying an antique lamp, and ways to best maintain an antique lamp if purchased. When these topics have been concluded our hope is that you as a consumer will have the resources to more confidently purchase an antique lamp.

History of the Antique Lamp

The history of the lamp is tied into the history of technology. Beyond just being an aesthetic piece of furnishing, the lamp’s capability to effectively provide light grew as mankind advanced along with science. The first lamps date back to 70,000 BC. Those lamps, or more accurately torches, were merely crude constructions that involved a hollow rock or shell stuffed with moss, or another flammable material, that was then doused with animal fat and ignited.  The ancient Greeks improved upon this around 700 BC, when they were the first civilization to move beyond torches and develop pottered earth ware lamps, or terra-cotta lamps.  

Different variations of pottered lamps were used the world over until technology allowed for definitive alternatives to replace them. Making use of the central burner, which could safely burn hot oils, Swiss Chemist Ami Argand created the first oil lamp with a glass chimney in 1783. This technology was quickly applied to larger cities. By the early 19th century, gas powered street lamps were common in major cities providing light on the streets at night time.

The next great innovation in lighting and lamps were electric light bulbs. Light bulbs were originally invented by Canadians Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans and were greatly improved upon by the famous American inventor Thomas Edison. Edison, through his ingenuity, would see electric light bulbs become the norm in all lamps. That paradigm shift from gas fuel to electricity would shape the look and functionality of lamps forever, turning them into the household item recognized today.

Discover Antique Lamps

All rooms require light, but the beauty of a lamp is that it also exists as a piece of interior decor. The range of antique lamps allows for a variety of different lamps, from different eras, to fill any space. There are lamps that truly are antique and require fuel to light them and lamps that have an older look but still use electricity. The varying range of aesthetic and functionality allows the consumer a rich choice to fit their own personal needs.

Styles of Antique Lamps

The following list of styles of lamps shows a few of the most common presently available on


Description/ Origin

Aspects of style

 Additional Considerations

Art Deco

A post World War One style. Celebrated 20th century technologies and materials.  

A modern style characterized by rich colours, bold geometricshapes, and lavish ornamentation.

Uses 20th century materials – glass, steel, concrete. Considered highly ornamental.


A 19th century style of art, architecture and furniture that coincided with the reign of Queen Victoria.

 An era known for revivals and re-interpretations of past styles. Also recognized for introducing aspects of middle eastern and Asian design to Europe.

An era of design seen by critics as ostentatious.  


Describes the period of design from the early 19th century that coincides with George IV being Prince Regent.

A neo classical Georgian style that was known for elegance and a lightness of touch.

Typified by elegant, slender furniture that often used mahogany in its construction and brass as decoration.

Art Moderne

Developed in the 1930’s after the great depression as a reaction to art deco.

Minimalist designs that took into account 20th century materials.  Often used rounded edges, glass, chrome, smooth exterior walls, and subdued colours such as off white and beige.

 Less ornamental and more functional than art deco furnishings.

Types of Antique Lamps

Below is a listing of the main types of antique lamp types that are available on eBay.



Table lamp

A lamp placed on a table to light a space.

Desk Lamp

Lamp placed on a desk or work space.

Floor Lamp

A lamp that sits on the floor and has an extended body tube, which places the lighting element higher.

Bedside Lamp

A lamp commonly placed on a bedside table.

Oil Lamp

An antique lamp that uses an oil burning chamber rather than candles or electricity.

Factors to Consider when Buying an Antique Lamp

  • Where is the lamp going to go? – Where the lamp is going to be placed, how much space it will take up, and what other furniture items will complement it needs to be considered. Buyers who come up with clear answers to these questions will best know the antique lamp that will suit their environment and make the best possible purchase.
  • Is the item an antique? – A person buying a lamp at Marks and Spencer would expect it to be mint condition. The same isn’t so with antiques. Some wear and tear on the item, in particular slight discolorations of the paint, shows that the item is a legitimate antique and not a reproduction. Stay vigilant with antiques to make sure that they haven’t been altered.
  • Wear is okay, damage is not – As mentioned some signs of wear is a positive on antiques, however overt signs of damage are not. Buyers need to look for signs of damage such as cracks and deep scratches in the original material, any signs of marks into wood, and worm holes or rotting on any of the lamps surfaces. Evidence of any of these signs of structural damage will greatly devalue the item.
  • Make sure the lamp  is safe – If you have purchased an antique lamp and want to use it as a light source it may be a good investment to have an electrician look at the lamp to make sure it is not a fire risk. The same applies to a gas lamp. An expert opinion on the lamps functionality will ensure it is safe to use.

How to Care for an Antique Lamp

Antique lamps require a bit of additional care to best maintain them. The following suggestions will help retain the integrity and appearance of an antique lamp and allow it to last long into the future.

To clean the base of the lamp, remove the lamp shade and wipe down with a slightly damp cloth. Cleaning lamp shades can be slightly trickier. If the lamp shade is fabric, or a material, that can be submerged in water place it inside a tub of water that has a little bit of laundry detergent in it. Use a cloth to scrub dirty areas while the shade is submerged. Rinse the shade with clean water and hang to dry. If a shade cannot be submerged, dust off the shade with a dry cloth. Then concoct a solution of ¼ cup of water and a few drops of mild liquid soap. Dab a cloth in this solution and gently wipe dirty areas of the shade. Afterwards remove soap with a lightly dampened sponge. Reapply the shade to the lamp base.

Useful Accessories for Antique Lamps

  • Mild cleaners
  • Coffee tables, end tables, night tables
  • Light bulbs
  • Lamp fuel

Finding Antique Lamps on eBay

Once you determine the type of Antique Lamp you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on 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 Antique Lamps on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for Antique Lamps. For example, to find antique art deco lamps, type ‘antique art deco lamps’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tipspage for more advice on searching for antique lamps with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique lamp that you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


In a consumer category that is so full of choice and variation being armed with a little knowledge can go a long way. eBay encourages you to continue learning more about antique lamps by exploring other eBay buying guides and looking at additional external references. Having more knowledge on the subject matter will lead you to lamp that will best resonate with you and the space you want to place it.

Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique lamp safely and securely on eBay.

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