Ask a Worthologist: Makers’ Marks and What They Do—or Don’t—Mean

Makers’ marks can be tricky. Even though this Arts and Crafts-style slag-glass lamp bears a “Miller” mark on its filler cap, it’s more than likely not a true Edward Miller & Company lamp.

To collectors, well-seasoned or novice, the subject of determining a maker or origin of a piece can be very confusing if it’s outside one’s normal area of interest. Markings can often help unravel the mystery if you know what they mean. If you don’t, they can lead you well astray of the truth.

This question is great example of what I often hear regarding marks on antiques. Hopefully it will provide a straight path off an often-twisted trail.

I was given this oil lamp by a great aunt who is moving into a seniors’ residence and was downsizing much of what was in a large Victorian home. The lamp is some sort of metal with stained glass and an almost black finish. It was an oil lamp, but someone converted it to electricity, like most I see in antique shops. It is an odd-looking lamp, and I’ve checked it all over and don’t see any labels or makers’ marks, but the filler cap is marked “Miller.” I’m not interested in selling it, but I’d like to know about how old it is, what style it is and possibly if you could determine a maker for it?

What a great piece! Examining your images, your lamp is what’s often referred to as an Arts and Crafts-style, metal-overlay slag glass lamp.

Lamps of this type were made for the mid-ranged end of the market when the popularity of this style peaked, just prior to the First World War (1914). This style originally had its roots in the English Arts and Crafts movement, pioneered by William Morris and modified for the American market as the “Mission style” by Gustave Stickley and Elbert Hubbard.

The style was very short-lived, with peak years being from about 1900 to 1916. The period ended with Stickley going bankrupt in 1915 and Hubbard and his second wife, Alice Moore Hubbard, dying May 15, 1915, when a German submarine torpedoed the RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland.

Most lamps like this are constructed of what is commonly called “spelter,” a zinc alloy that has a pewter shade of color but was nearly always plated or painted to resemble brass, copper or aged bronze. The caramel-colored glass used in these lamps, now called “slag glass” by dealers and collectors, was originally called “marble glass” in catalogs of the period. While not mass-produced in huge numbers—as would be for our modern market—lamps like this were made in sizable numbers, most sold through mail-order catalogs and department stores.

Identifying the maker for this one is a bit of problem, even though it has a filler cap marked “Miller.” Having a name marked on a filler cap like this would normally lead one to believe that that this lamp was made by the well-known Edward Miller & Company of Meriden, Conn.

The problem is that the Miller company did provide burners and other parts for a number of different makers under contract.

Another issue is the oil-font sizes also often allowed the font and burner from one lamp to fit another by another maker, further muddying the water with regard to identification.

As far as we are aware, this lamp was not produced by the Miller lamp company but by one of the many nameless lamp companies that are undocumented and for which no reference material is currently available.

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


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