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What are Vintage Lamps?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Vintage lamps are lamps with designs which were popular in a previous era. The term “vintage” can be used both to refer to lamps which actually date from an older era, and to modern lamps which are meant to evoke that era. People with vintage décor often like to use vintage lamps for lighting so that the effect of their home decorating style is not ruined, and these lamps may also be used as accent pieces in modern design.

The differentiation between antique, vintage, and retro can get a bit murky, as these terms are poorly defined. As a general rule, an object is considered “retro” if it is from a previous era within the last 30 years, while vintage items may be from the last 80-30 years, and antiques are even older. Vintage and antique items tend to have a genuinely old feel, as they reflect fads and fashions from long-gone eras, while retro items can sometimes have a very modern feel, because they were produced recently.

Some eras were particularly glorious for the humble lamp. In the Arts and Crafts period, for example, a very distinctive style evolved for home furnishings, with elegant lines and solid construction; the Tiffany lamp is a particularly fine example of lamps produced in this period. In the 1940s and 1950s, many lamps had a “futuristic” design with pastel colors, curves, and shapes which were designed to evoke an idealized version of the future. Vintage lamps can vary from standing floor lamps to small goosenecked table lamps, depending on the era, with a dizzying array of shades and configurations.

A high quality vintage lamp will have been well-maintained, with minimal signs of wear, tearing of the shade, or other damage. In some cases, the shade of a vintage lamp may need to be refurbished or replaced, because materials like silk and paper tend to grow worn with time, even with the best of care. Some firms specialize in repairing vintage goods with material from the appropriate era, or materials which will closely match.

In many cases, vintage lamps also need to be rewired, because wiring breaks down over time as well, and some of the forms of wiring used in previous eras were less than reliable. Rewiring may include a simple replacement of the wiring from plug to light socket, along with a new in-line switch, or it may require the replacement of the light socket and pull chain, in lamps with pull chains. Rewiring vintage lamps is extremely easy, and lengths of wiring with in-line switches and plugs already attached can be purchased at many hardware stores.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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