Ask A Worthologist: The Mermaid Lamp

Mermaid lamps like this have been reproduced to be “in the style of” numerous sculptors. Sanctioned originals are pricy. Chinese knockoffs, not so much.

Albert T. likes to pick up things that need a little repair, fix them and then resell them.

He bought this lamp quite inexpensively, and it had been sitting in his shop on for a couple of months. Then he saw a photo of a similar lamp. He emailed us via WorthPoint’s ?“Ask a Worthologist” service to find out exactly what he had, and his inquiry was forwarded to me.

Here’s his question:

I’ve got a workshop in my garage where I fix up things I’ve found or bought at yard sales and charity shops for resale. I bought this lamp at our local hospital auxiliary shop for $28. It was missing ?the cord and plug, but other than that it was in good condition. I had quite a pile of things already in the garage waiting for repair, so it sat for a couple of months until I saw one similar to it in a decorating magazine I saw while waiting in line at the grocery store. The article said the lamp dated to about 1900, so I though I’d better have it checked out before selling it for less than it’s worth. There ?are no markings on it, and I hope the pictures are enough to give you an idea of what I have and what it’s worth.

Here’s my response:

Your bronze lamp is in the Art Nouveau style, originally popular during the turn of the 19th century. But pieces like this have been widely produced since the late 1980s, in most recent years from China. We have seen this example fitted as both a figurine and as a figural lamp.

They are loosely designed to resemble Art Nouveau mermaid lamps by Tiffany. These are based on original bronze studies by 19th-century sculptors, often shrunk-down examples from the full-sized pieces. The right to copy them in various sizes was licensed to foundries by the original sculptor.

However, pieces “in the style of ” or exact copies were often produced without authorization in order to take advantage of the popularity of an artist without having to share the profits.

None of these reproduction mermaid lamps have any markings to indicate an origin, and we have no documentation to determine the origin of this example. But, in my opinion, it is a modern Chinese reproduction.

Comparable examples retail new in the $700-to-$1,800 range, but at auction they often sell for less than $400 when identified for what they are: modern decorator lamps.

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

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