Collecting Fairy Lamps

Fairy Lamps, Victorian night lights originally manufactured in the mid-1800's, are among the hottest collectibles on the market today. They are simultaneously useful and unique, affordable and attainable.

Fairy Lamps, the original night lights, are the essence of all things Victorian. They are small, unique, specialized bits of art. And today they are enjoying a renaissance as one of the most sought after collectibles on the market.

These charming little candle lamps were popular in the Victorian era for illuminating nurseries and hallways. Their popularity grew in the mid-Nineteenth Century as the mass production of glass and candles made both commodities affordable and attainable by common folk. Originally marketed in Victorian England by The Clarke Company, Fairy Lamps gained such rapid popularity that American glassworks on the east coast and in the Midwest followed suit. Firms like United States Glass Company, Hobbs and Company and Central Glassworks were soon producing their own lines of Fairy Lamps. Today the night lights are still produced by companies like Royal Doulton in England and Fenton Glass in the United States.

While Fairy Lamps were originally produced to light hallways, nurseries and sick rooms at night, the inherent beauty of the candle lamp soon prompted manufacturers to make them for decorative purposes. Models were made for dining tables and chandeliers. They were produced in simple colored glass and ornate jeweled pottery. They can be found with bases made of clear glass, brass, silver or cast iron. Some are designed to look like animals or flowers while others sit atop tall candlesticks with fringed shades.

True to their name, most Fairy Lamps are diminutive, standing about four to six inches tall and measuring about three inches across. Most are made of two or three pieces of glass, a base, a candle cup and a glass shade or chimney. Because their primary purpose was utilitarian, they were manufactured and sold in boxes of a dozen, a fortuitous circumstance for today's collector.

The original Clarke Fairy Lamps have become rare and highly-prized treasures for the collector, frequently fetching between $300 and $1,000 a piece at auctions. But the huge quantity of Fairy Lamps produced and the fact they are still made by some manufacturers make Fairy Lamps an attainable and affordable commodity for most collectors. In fact, more recent examples produced in the United States by the Fenton and Indiana Glass companies can be found at rummage sales and antique malls for as little as $4 or $5.

Here are a few things to remember if you're going to start your own Fairy Lamp collection:

1. Only collect what you like. One of the wonderful things about collecting Fairy Lamps is that you don't have to lock them in a cabinet. You can use them everyday. You should never pay top dollar for a rare piece that you would not display. You might not be able to resell it.

2. Don't settle for damaged goods. Like most glassware that is used regularly, some Fairy Lamps are chipped, cracked or have been broken and repaired. Always take time to carefully inspect your find because the world of antiques and collectibles is an "as is" market. Run your finger around the rim of all pieces to check for chips and cracks. Hold the piece up to the light to see if it has been repaired or repainted.

3. Learn today's market and research yesterday's. Modern day Fairy Lamps are considered art objects and frequently sold in jewelry and gift stores. You can get a good sense of today's market by browsing. Then you can you can look for bargains on internet auction sites and second hand stores. Then spend a little time at the library reading antique magazines. Merchandise listings in the magazines will help you understand the value of antique Fairy Lamps.

4. Learn how to care for your collection. Older Fairy Lamps were designed for tallow candles which burned at a much lower temperature than modern day paraffin. Burning a new candle in an old lamp could put a crack in your valuable antique. And always take care when cleaning hand painted, gilded or jeweled Fairy Lamps. It's best to wash them in warm water with a very mild soap so you don't strip the decoration.

5. Most important, enjoy your collection. In his advertisements, Samuel Clark called Fairy Lamps the "blessed candles of the night." Let them light your home with the gentle "evening's glow of yesteryear."

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