Electric lamps with glass shades were popular from the 1870s to the 1920s. Because a light bulb could face down, not up (like a candle flame), and was cool enough for a shade with a closed top, the use of glass shades became possible. And as very up-to-date, unusual and attractive objects, glass-shaded lamps became expensive status symbols.
It is said that Louis Comfort Tiffany was the first to make a lamp with the light focused down. The lamp looked like a group of lilies with drooping heads made of iridescent glass. But he is best known for his lamps with dome-shaped leaded glass shades made of colorful pieces of glass.
Another famous lampmaker of the time was the Pairpoint Manufacturing Co. of New Bedford, Mass. The company, founded in 1880, originally made coffin fittings, but it soon became the largest manufacturer of silver-plated wares in the United States. In 1894, it merged with its next-door neighbor, the Mt. Washington Glassworks. Pairpoint then made glass, silver plate and lamps.
The two most desirable types of Pairpoint lamps today have reverse-painted glass shades or molded glass shades, now called “puffies.” In the 1930s, the company reorganized and changed its name and products, but it’s still working today. The reverse-painted shades were decorated on the inside by artists, who signed their shades. Lamps also carried a trademark that included the word “Pairpoint.” Lamp bases were made of metal or wood, and these also were signed.
A Pairpoint lamp with reverse-painted scenes of pilgrims, sailing ships and flowers sold in 2008 for $4,140 at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C. Its rectangular shade is 13 inches wide and its base is cast metal.
Q: Eleven years ago, a friend of mine gave me her antique sideboard. She said someone had offered her $3,000 for it, but she preferred to give it to me. Now I would like to learn something about it. Inside one of the drawers, there’s a round metal label that pictures a bust of George Washington and says “Royal Furniture Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.” What can you tell me about the company?
A: The Royal Furniture Co. was in business in Grand Rapids from 1892 to 1931. Robert Irwin bought a controlling interest in the company in 1901. In 1919, Irwin combined Royal with the Phoenix Furniture Co., also of Grand Rapids, to form the Robert W. Irwin Co. The “Royal” and “Phoenix” brand names were used until 1931.
The metal label on your sideboard dates it to about 1914. Royal specialized in making expensive dining room, living room, library and bedroom furniture in period revival styles. Pieces were well-made, often of imported wood, and many had hand-painted decorations and marquetry. The Irwin Co. closed in 1953.
Your friend was offered a very high price for the sideboard 11 years ago. It would sell for less today.
Tip: If you must clean silver in a hurry and can’t find silver polish, try toothpaste or hot sauce, or rub it briskly on a piece of carpet.
Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.