They evoke the birth of the TV age almost as definitively as the actual television set. Created as decoration for the tops of the ample radios of the 1930s and the television sets of the 1950s, the colorful lamps came in nearly any shape or subject matter one would want to decorate with.
They came to be known as TV lamps due to their specific function. The low height combined with the use of a one-sided shade (often made of fiberglass) produces a particularly low stature, perfect for the top of the TV set. Some TV lamps came with with a round shade and other lamps had no shade but simply had cut-outs in the ceramic to let light through.
Read on to find out more about vintage TV lamps…
The invention of the TV lamp was intended to alleviate the potential harm to one’s vision from looking at the dim radio dial or watching TV in low light. How many times did your parents tell you not to watch TV in the dark because it was bad for your eyes!? Mine did and did so often.
These lamps offset this risk by illuminating the area directly around the set to lessen light changes from the screen. At the same time, new designs in decorating and manufacturing dictated fresh, new styles for the home. Animals shaped into active roles and coated in high gloss were common designs for TV lamps, although plaster lamps were also quite popular (if less durable). Other designs could be of people, vehicles, plants, or many other subjects. Some TV lamps even had built-in planters, strange as that may seem to any logical adult.
Rock O’stone was a prominent brand of TV lamps as were Maddox, Lane, I.A.S., Zebrini, Royal Haeger, and Columbia Statuary. While asking prices can be sky high, many of these lamps sell today for between $50 and $150 depending on size, condition, and subject type or shape. The panther and tiger designs are particularly collectible today, as are some of the older versions intended for the tops of radios. Because many of these lamps are missing their shades and wiring, they may be sold as planters at thrift stores and garage sales.
The condition of plaster lamps is less important since they simply cannot hold up as well over time as the ceramic models. That being said, the ceramic models with high gloss glaze often are considered more desirable. One thing is for certain, these quirky lamps have earned a place in any vintage shop and most antique malls for their recognizable mid-century style and nostalgic images.