Early 20th Century Reverse Painted Lamps

Alan Grodsky of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was on hand at the Miami National Antiques Show and was able to share with Jim Kamnikar, president of WorthPoint and GoAntiques.com, his collection of reverse painted early 20th century lamps. But first, Kamnikar asks Grodsky what are some of the key factors in determining style and quality.

“The quality of the artwork is probably paramount to everything,” Grodsky says. “We do buy basically signed lamps, because that’s where the market in quality lamps is. Tiffany, Pairpoint, and Handel were the highest-quality lamps that were made in the early 1900s.”

You can tell an authentic Handel, for example, by how it is signed, Grodsky says. “Shades are signed on the glass usually with a four-digit number, which tells you the design number that is painted on the glass. And they’re signed on the metal collar up at the top of the shade, too. The bases are signed, too, but you have to be careful because there are a lot of bases that had the shades broken and people put reproduction shades on these original Handel bases.”

So what is the value of a lamp with a reproduction shade, but an original base? Grodsky says, “For a $20,000 lamp, the base is $500 and the lamp shade is $19,500. The glass shade is almost all the value of the lamp.”

“The Pairpoint ‘Apple Tree’ is probably their most famous lamp that they made… about 1905. Pairpoint wanted to innovate and didn’t want to copy all the leaded lamps that Tiffany was making and the painted lamps that Handel was making. So they made these unusual blown glass shades, painted on the inside and frosted on the outside,” Grodsky says. This quite unusual lamp has a value of $45,000.

Grodsky was able to show off a most rare ‘aquarium’ lamp produced by Handel in the early 1920s. It is shaped like an aquarium, handpainted with tropical fish, coral and underwater flora. There are fewer than 10 known to have survived, but Grodsky has a mint-condition copy. The value of this rare lamp is $85,000.

“The full-size Handel and Pairpoint lamps, when they were new, the better ones were $200 to $300 back at a time when people were making $15 a week salary.” But, these companies also produced smaller lamps, sometimes called ‘boudoir’ lamps, desk lamps, or sometimes used as night lamps. Many were influenced by the Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement featuring landscape scenes.

So, where these lamps were manufactured? “The Handel company was in Meridan, Conn., and they were in existence from before 1900, but the better quality lamps were made between the years 1905 and 1925. The Pairpoint company was in New Bedford, Mass., and they also were making the best quality lamps from 1905 to 1920.”

These types of handmade reverse-painted lamps were advertised in upscale magazines and fine furniture stores, usually bought by the upper middle class and wealthy clients. “That quality was the thing that carried them through,” says Kamnikar. “And created the kinds of values of some of the lamps you’ve shown us today.”

“That’s true,” Grodsky agrees. “Quality always holds its value.”

A video on reverse-painted early 20th century lamps can be viewed here .
WorthPoint: Get the Most from Your Antiques and Collectibles

  • I bought a antique reversed painted tiffany lamp with pink flowers and signed by S. Swain. We had some people in cleaning the carpets and they shattered the shade. Would you know where I would start to look for a replacement shade. This is a very dear lamp.
    Thank you so much for your time.

    • Dotty Browne

      Wondered if you located a shade f or your lamp?

  • Scott

    My grandmother has one that she inherited from her twin sister. For the right price we might let it go. Scott

  • Dan LaBorde

    It seems like Handel made all sorts of things, and all sorts of lighting equipment in additon to the reverse painted table lamps.. I have a porch light (Hanging Lantern), supposedly made by Handel. It is of fine quality copper, and has the ‘chipped ice’ glass. I can’t find a name anywhere on the lamp. The Handel book does not show it. Two retail on-line antique lamp sites list the idetical lamp as Handel. Any tips on how to positively identify it? I don’t car about the value as it’s hanging on our porch and I’m not taking it down to sell it :)!

  • Lindsay

    I don’t think that is an antique Tiffany lampshade. I have the same lampshade, signed by S. Swain, with pink flowers, green and brown leaves, that we bought at a modern store not too long ago.

  • Scott

    I Bought a sorta desk lamp looks like brass base with frosted glass on the outside of the shade and flowers painted inside,blue,pink,and,green signed by S.Swain is this tiffany glass or what is it I have here, it sure looks cool.


    I recently had someone break the base of a reverse painting lamp. And my favorite one at that. Its a double pull base with a couple of parrots on shade. Anyone have any idea what this is worth. Better yet, know where I can get the metal base repaired?

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