Ask A Worthologist Question: Victorian Student Lamps


As reward for helping some friends pack for a move, Susan M. received this nickel-plated Victorian student lamp. Not know exactly what she had, or how much it was worth, she consulted WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service.

As reward for helping some friends pack for a move, Susan M. received what she believed to be a Victorian library oil lamp. But after inspection, and without finding any maker’s marks, she thought she might have a reproduction. So she turned to WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to see what she might have. The question was forwarded to me. Here is her question:

“I was given this oil lamp a couple of years ago after helping some people pack up and move cross country. It kind of looks like ones you see in Victorian universities and libraries in old movies, but the people who gave it to me didn’t have any old stuff in the house, so I’m not sure exactly what I have. I checked it all over and there are no markings on it that I can see, but I think it must be a reproduction. Most of the ones I’ve seen similar to this were brass and this one looks it is chrome-plated. I really don’t have any need for it, but don’t want to sell it until I know if it’s a reproduction or the real thing.”

After a little checking, I was able to shine some light on Susan’s query. This is what I was able to tell her:

You were right to curious about your lamp; there are many reproductions of this type of lamp around, but the vast majority of the reproductions are, in fact, brass. Victorian oil lamps of this type are most often referred to as “student lamps,” as they were originally designed to eliminate under shadow and improve the downward light. Student lamps are designed around a center post, balanced by the fount on one side and the burner/shade on the other. They were made in both single & double varieties and generally they were of two types: the earlier versions with the oil font separate from the burner (the font on one side, the tubular wick burner on the other); and the more familiar, later style with an adjustable stand holding a standard oil lamp with a combined font and flat wick burner.

Most lamps of this type date from the last quarter of the 19th century and were either brass or nickel plated, and yours appears to a genuine nickel-plated example dating from this period. Values for student lamps depend a great deal on their maker, condition and the shade. Many of the “big name” makers marked their lamps on places such as the wick adjustment knob or the burner, often with patent dates, so give you lamp another look over.

In good condition, comparable student lamps with their original or a period shade intact can sell in the $400-$650 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.


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