How to Tell if You Have a Lamp That's Worth Money

Collectible vintage lamps provide function and a source of cash when sold.

Collectible vintage lamps provide function and a source of cash when sold.

Lamps offered at auctions might be trash or may be treasure. The lamp you use daily might also be a valuable item. Determining the worth of any lighting fixture means taking a good look at some obvious clues and doing a bit of research to estimate the value. Don't assume because it's old that it's valuable. The same is true of modern lighting. It might not meet the traditional definition of 100 years old to claim status as an antique, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a fortune as a collectible.

Examine the overall condition of the lamp. Look at the type of damage to determine if repairs are possible. Damages don't totally discount the worth of a rare lamp, but the problems do reduce the value.

Scratch the underside of the lamp surface in a hidden place with a fingernail or screwdriver tip to figure out the material used to make the lamp. Some vintage lamps appear to be made from copper metal, but instead are made from a substitute painted to look like copper metal.

Look for manufacturing labels and company embossed stamps and raised imprints on the lamp. Antique lamps showing identification by Handel, Pairpoint, Tiffany, Pittsburgh Pilabrasgo Co., Duffner, Van Briggle, or Fulper show a collectible lamp. Markings for Bigelow and Kinnard, Kramer, Steuben, Bradley and Hubbard, Stickley, Gorham, Wilkinson and Jefferson also have high value. Midcentury hits include some of the lamp styles by Stiffel, Louis Poulsen, George Kovaks, George Nelson and Jonathan Adler. Not all lamps list a maker, but small clues such as a model number or a handwritten pencil number help you research the maker. Note all clues for your research.

Examine any switches or metal pulls for manufacturing clues. The markings on these might be the only clue to the lamp maker.

Look at the wiring as a clue to the age and the lamp's maker. Cotton-wrapped wires mean an older lamp, but owners typically repair or replace wiring. Examine the interior of the bulb socket and the plug for any marking clues.

Search for manufacturing clues on the lampshade, if the lamp has one. Don't assume, however, that the base and shade came as a pair. You may have a valuable shade on a worthless base. Inspect each part of the lamp carefully before making any decisions about value.

Research online and in print lamp guides and reference books using the information you've collected from your investigation of your lamp.

Items you will need

  • Reference books

Tip

  • Investigate the trail of ownership of the lamp. If you buy a lamp at a garage sale, ask the sale operator about the lamp. When the lamp comes from a family member, ask for details about the geographic region where the lamp was purchased and how long the family member used the lamp. These details help give important clues about the lamp's manufacturer and the age.

Warning

  • Don't throw away old bulbs, finials or lamp shades attached to your lamp. Vintage light bulbs are occasionally worth more than the lamp itself. Finials made from semi-precious stones or ivory offer a huge clue that your lamp has value. Finials are the knob that hold shades to the lamp base.

References

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images