Posts by Bo Sullivan (page 2)
A pretty chandelier is just a pretty
Sure, it can be. It can also be much
more than that... a font of compelling stories about who we are, where we came
from, and where we might be going. My job is to find those stories. And not
just the Who/How/When facts, but the deeper connections as well. Why was something
made? What came before it and what made it obsolete? How did people utilize it
in their homes? How was it related to popular style and manufacturing trends?
Where did those trends come from and why did they end?
You won't find many companies with a
passion like this. We believe these stories help us make better quality
products that can be more useful and meaningful to our customers. So how does
this research happen? Over more than a decade, Rejuvenation has assembled an
exceptional research library consisting of more than 2,000 original trade
catalogues, plan books, sales samples, and other rare materials related to lighting,
hardware, and the building arts. It's like having your grandparents and
great-grandparents right there in the room with you (some of those old books
even smell like them).
For me, an old house part can be a
touchstone for our collective history. In the same way that a broken fragment
of a hologram reveals its own unique view of the whole original, each piece of
an old house – a sash lock, a sink faucet, a door, a moulding, a light shade –
carries within it the stories of the houses and times it came from, a
connection as deep as DNA.
However, old house parts have their
own special stories to tell that transcend the period of their origin, too – stories that take on rich and lively new
meanings in new contexts, as experienced by new generations. This is what makes
my job so fun. I live at the intersection of the past, the present and the
future, where all three inform, inspire and infuse each other.
After graduating college with an
architectural degree, I spent several years doing carpentry work on old houses
around the country, which is how I first learned about Rejuvenation. Joining
the company in 1993 as a retail sales associate, my past lives here have
included salvage manager, hardware and plumbing merchant, senior designer, and
copywriter for the company’s catalog and website. I now manage the company's
research library, and give classes and presentations on old house lore,
focusing on American lighting, hardware, plumbing, millwork, wallpaper and
residential design from 1870 to 1970.
Two truths and one lie about Bo:
- I once performed a didgeridoo
solo for the Company Holiday Party
- I once bowled 286 at the Company
- I once re-created a Mardi Gras
parade for the Company Holiday Party
A selection of cylinder shades for hall pendants in 1906 – including Straw Opalescent on the left – from Catalogue 14 of R. Williamson & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Rejuvenation archives)
Straw Opalescent glass shades are a longtime favorite here at Rejuvenation, especially for Amy, our Restored Antiques Specialist. “Straw Opalescent” is the authentic period name for a distinctive type of lighting glass with an unusual pale yellow tone and beautiful opalescent translucency. This translucence is achieved through a special formulation and production technique that determines the degree of opalescence. When the glass is reheated (or “struck”) in a furnace, micro-crystals form that result in that distinct cloudiness.
The line-up above includes (left to right): Straw Opalescent, Twist Straw Opalescent, Twist Opalescent, and Pearl Opalescent. Lines or patterns of different thickness that enhance a shade’s decorative effects are called “optics.”
Straw Opalescent is often lumped into the broad category of “Vaseline” glass, which allegedly received its moniker due to its resemblance to petroleum jelly. Both Straw Opalescent and Vaseline glass get their unique greenish-yellow color from uranium in the formulation (which also causes them to glow under a black light). Don’t be alarmed by the uranium: these shades are completely harmless. Vaseline glass was produced for many purposes, and can range from deep acid green to an intense canary yellow, and from fully transparent to semi-opaque. Straw Opalescent, with its specific yellow color and translucent character, was used primarily for lighting glass. A wide degree of variation occurred, due to chemical composition (often glass formulae were proprietary secrets), manufacturing methods (some Straw Opalescent shades were layered or “cased” while others were the same glass all the way through), and striking time (a longer strike time in the furnace would result in a more opaque glass).
This display of original Straw Opalescent “stalactites” – also known as teardrop or bullet shades – demonstrates the huge variation in color, shape, and opacity of the glass (making matched sets a rare and prized find).
An early catalogue image of a Straw Opalescent shade from E.P. Gleason Company, in 1890. (courtesy Klemm Reflector Company)
At the turn of the century, “fancy” lighting glass was a trendy complement to the dim but still cutting-edge carbon-filament bulbs. Most lighting glass was made fancy by decorating with etching, cutting, tinting, scalloping, crimping, and elaborate optic treatments. Opalescent glass was also popular, especially in ribbed, twisted, and dotted (or hobnail) forms, and came not only in the usual flint blue color, but in many others like pink and ruby.
Some early yellow shades, such as in this 1893 catalogue from the United States Glass Company, were called Canary Opalescent – a glass that may or may not have always been the same thing as Straw Opalescent. (courtesy of Museum of American Glass)
Phoenix Glass Company was one of the finest producers of Straw Opalescent glass in the United States. Its 1896 Catalogue No. 7 featured loads of shapes and sizes – including an owl shade that’s a hoot. (courtesy of LABAC)
Following its rise in the mid-1890s, Straw Opalescent glass was often paired with the elaborate cast-brass Empire chandeliers, wrought-iron “medieval” pendants, and seductively exotic Moorish fixtures popular at the turn of the century.
This array of “medieval” wrought-iron pendants and newel fixtures offered by R. Williamson in its 1899 Catalogue No. 9 shows exactly the sorts of late-Victorian fixtures that might have had Straw Opalescent shades at the time. (Rejuvenation archives)
Straw Opalescent glass had its heyday during the transitional decade between 1898 and 1908, when ornate Victorian tastes were giving way to the more substantial, restrained, and “modern” look of the Beaux Arts and Arts & Crafts styles.
The transition away from Victorian to simpler styles had just begun when R. Williamson offered this stunning selection of decorative lighting glass in 1904. (Rejuvenation archives)
This outstanding shade line-up also appeared in R. Williamson’s Catalogue No. 12 in 1904, and features not only some hard-to-find Straw Opalescent shapes, but also a quirky series of grape shades and the highly prized squat opalescent stalactites of Phoenix Glass Company. (Rejuvenation archives)
Interestingly, what the English manufacturers called Straw Opalescent was quite different from the American version, as can be seen in this James Hinks Catalogue of 1907. The English form of Straw Opalescent is more typical of traditional Vaseline glass, with dramatic opalescent figural optics and a much greener color than the American yellow. (Rejuvenation archives)
This page from Western Gas Fixture Company’s c1910 Catalogue No. 9 shows a variety of American colored glass shades available at the time, including a Straw Opalescent shade at upper left with satin etch exterior, optic ribs, and hand crimping. (courtesy of Klemm Reflector Company)
Straw Opalescent shades are a perfect complement for this restored c1900 Romanesque-style combination chandelier by Gibson Gas Fixture Company of Philadelphia. (photo courtesy of Historic Houseparts)
COLONIAL REVIVAL LIGHTING SUB-STYLES
In Part 1, we had a quick overview of the context and character of Colonial Revival lighting styles. Here in Part 2, we’ll take a look at examples of “sub-styles” within the overall style, and see a few interiors with Rejuvenation’s Colonial Revival fixtures.
Note: For all of our period styles and sub-styles, the terms and definitions we use are not comprehensive or academic – they are just groupings we’ve developed based on our own inclinations. We leave plenty of room for other styles, opinions, and interpretations. Feel free to chime in with alternative perspectives or favorites we’ve missed.
Often misunderstood or overlooked completely, many of the earliest Colonial Revival fixtures weren’t reviving old styles at all, but simply taking inspiration from Colonial-era examples. This first generation of Colonial Revival lighting from around the turn of the century was called “Modern Colonial” and simply grafted Colonial themes like scrolling arms, stacked spinnings, and hexagonal-paneled tubing and canopies onto the typical fixture forms of the day. (c1905, Rejuvenation archives)
The first true Colonial Revival fixtures were the ones that actually tried to emulate lighting styles of 1700s and early 1800s. These fixtures can have an almost academic devotion to precedent, and retain the pattern language of the original fixtures and their fuel types – candles, Argand burners, and oil founts. (c1920, Rejuvenation archives)
The Sheffield style holds a special place in the Colonial Revival canon. Named for the famed metalworking area of Sheffield, England – whose manufacturers exported their wares to the American colonies in the 18th century – Sheffield fixtures are characterized by the distinct pattern of narrow and wide alternating decorative ribs on their surfaces, with the pattern often extending right into the glass shades as well. First becoming popular around 1905 and peaking between 1910 and 1915, adaptable Sheffield fixtures were found in homes of most any style, including Arts & Crafts. (c1909 Rejuvenation archives)
GEORGIAN / ADAM
Enthusiastically embraced in the early 20th century, where do the Georgian and Adam styles fit into the Colonial Revival picture? Well, there were Georges on the throne in England from 1714 to 1830 – virtually the entire Colonial era – so the many styles that were popular during their reigns (and thus imported into the colonies) are called Georgian. Perhaps most popular of these styles was the neoclassicism developed by architect Robert Adam and his brothers John and James between 1760 and 1790, during the reign of George III and concurrent with the American Revolution. (c1922, Rejuvenation archives)
The “DE-EVOLUTION” of COLONIAL REVIVAL
The late 1920s began a period of “devolving” Colonial Revival in which the more rustic side of the style came to the forefront, and where interest in authentic reproductions of Colonial fixtures gave way to rather “free” and almost cartoonish interpretations of early American lighting. (c1920s & 1930s, Rejuvenation archives)
DEPRESSION COLONIAL REVIVAL
During the Depression era after 1929, manufacturers sought ways to make their ever-popular Colonial Revival fixtures more romantic and less expensive. The result was lighting that took the appearance of having been hand-wrought by “ye olde village smythie” (actually cast in cheap zinc alloys) with often clumsy interpretations of the quaint look of a century earlier. Colonial Revival had it’s own version of “Storybook” style. (c1929, Rejuvenation archives)
POSTWAR COLONIAL REVIVAL
After the war, Colonial homes and Colonial lighting remained as popular as ever, but all attempts to stay true to the authentic roots of the style went out the window in the rush to produce fixtures suitable for the countless Colonial-style ranch houses and Cape Cods that blanketed the exploding suburbs of the newly prosperous country. Mid-century modern met Colonial in the ubiquitous flying-saucer kerosene lamps on spring-loaded pulleys hanging over dinette sets in tens of thousands of homes. (c1955, Rejuvenation archives)
The Jasper, c1910-1920
The Dover Court, c1907-1917
The Hamlin, c1910-1920
The Brooklyn, c1917-1927
The Jamison, c1910-1920
COMING NEXT… Arts & Crafts
In the Series:
A Century of Lighting Styles – Introduction
A Century of Lighting Styles – Victorian, Part 1
A Century of Lighting Styles – Victorian, Part 2
A Century of Lighting Styles – Colonial Revival, Part 1
A Century of Lighting Styles – Colonial Revival, Part 2
A Century of Lighting Styles – Colonial Revival, Part 1
Each period style embodies romantic notions of its era, and in the United States, there is hardly a deeper wellspring for romantic notions than the period of our nation’s founding – as even a quick listen to current political discourse will reveal. Our country’s common heritage has been reflected and interpreted in different ways by each generation, and continues to be today.
inspiration from America’s heroic period of idealism and simplicity
From the 1880s Shingle Style through Colonial Williamsburg and the postwar ranch-house suburbs, one thing has held constant – continuous reinterpretations of the country’s Colonial-era past as a unifying source of identity and design inspiration. Conservative and accessible, the qualities associated with the period were a solid foundation for lighting designers to express mainstream American aspiration.
Colonial Revival lighting has two opposing aesthetics. The first is defined by elegant brass fixtures with crystal drops and graceful arms; the second by a more rustic appearance of “hand-forged” iron. Both typically feature candle-type sockets, hanging chain and wheel-engraved globes or hurricane-type shades of blown glass.
A note: The Colonial Revival style has seen almost continuous popularity, often alongside other trends that come and go. Because Colonial Revival has its roots in the same historical precedents as Classical Revival, the two are often contemporary and often confused. The key difference is that Classical Revival tends to be solid and heavy in appearance, while Colonial Revival is typically more delicate and less weighty.
Colonial Revival homes draw inspiration from American architecture between the late 1600s and the early 1800s, and often feature small porticoes or porches, prominent chimneys, clapboard siding, windows with divided lights and shutters, and gable or gambrel roofs with quaint dormers. They can be distinguished from their closely related (and more substantially detailed) Classical Revival cousins by a refined simplicity and a lighter architectural touch. (Rejuvenation archives)
Colonial Revival interiors – like the exteriors – are simple yet refined, with an emphasis on finely detailed mouldings, wood mantel pieces, and genteel restraint. Colonial Revival fixtures often live in quiet, formal balance with their surroundings and reflect a certain upstanding pedigree. (c1912, Rejuvenation archives)
LIGHTING: Sears & Montgomery Ward
Drawn from Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs of the 1910s and 1920s, this array of Colonial Revival fixtures gives a good sense of what the average homeowner would have access to from Sears and Montgomery Ward – familiar and impeccably tasteful stuff. Light chain, elegant pans, candle sockets, tassels and garlands, and delicate cut glass, frosted bowls and hurricane-globe shades evoke the traditional look and feel of early American interiors. (Rejuvenation archives)
LIGHTING: Higher-End Manufacturers
On the higher end, the forms were quite similar, but the quality of execution in the details went much further, with stacks of sophisticated brass spinnings, delicate neoclassical decoration, and an abundance of crystals. (Even the familiar form of a Mission chandelier could be Colonial-Revivalized with the addition sparkling faceted glass, as seen above.) The idea was to project an impression of unimpeachable taste and quiet traditional dignity. (Rejuvenation archives)
COMING NEXT… Part 2: COLONIAL REVIVAL LIGHTING SUB-STYLES
‘Tis the season… let’s take a dive into Rejuvenation’s archive of period trade catalogs and shed a little light on Christmas, early-20th-century style.
Once you pull your eyes away from "Maniacal Santa" on the right, you'll find a couple of early non-electric tree trimming options in this catalog of favors from B. Shackman (a company still in business today). On the left are clip-on holders for candles - "best illuminating effect with least danger of fire" - and on the right are colorful tinsel flowers to reflect the gleam from the candles. (c1910, Rejuvenation archives)
A "Christmas Tree Outfit" is not what you wear to hang ornaments, but what strings of Christmas tree lights used to be called. "Festoons" too, it would appear. And either Santa was shorter back then (wasn't everyone?) or he is trimming a pretty good-sized tree here. (1912, Rejuvenation archives)
The "Christ" in Christmas has been replaced by an X, the wax tapers on the tree by Santa Claus Electric Candles, and Santa himself by a comely Gibson Girl - and a smart one, too... "One of these Outfits solves the problem of safe Christmas Tree Lighting, with all the cotton, mica, popcorn, celluloid balls, etc., desirable." (1912, Rejuvenation archives)
Novelty lamps for your Christmas tree outfit festoons were common (as was the practice of dipping your own bulbs in colored lacquer). Christmas bulbs have evolved, and clearly Christmas tree stands have as well... (1915, Rejuvenation archives)
Santa has now grown in proportion to the tree, as have the bulbs. "Many unique ideas in decorative schemes and effects can be carried out with our Decorative Lamp Outfits" - including festoons of fruit lamps and flower lamps. (1917, Rejuvenation archives)
By the 1920s, folks are still buying decorative outfits, but they're looking a little more familiar to modern eyes. Except for the screw-in attachment plug at the end of the cord - two-prong wall receptacles weren't commonplace yet. (1922, Rejuvenation archives)
It's like Christmas Day in this Montgomery Ward spread from 1928 (although Halloween hasn't given up the ghost yet, at center right). From trimmings to toys to Santa's wool beard, it 's all here. And for you lighting geeks, isn't it interesting how that Extra Large Hanging Decoration looks remarkably similar to a classic shower-type light fixture of the previous decade? (1928, Rejuvenation archives)
On the topic of toys, what would the budding electrical enthusiast have found under his well-lit tree? In 1904, it might have been a "Little Hustler" motor kit: "Many boys have a burning desire to become electricians and to build a motor of their own." And for those who did not - they could take an electric train ride on the Pleasure Avenue trolley. (1904, Rejuvenation archives)
And finally, what would an early-20th-century Christmas be without an Erector Construction Toy Set under the tree - take your pick from this awesome selection. (1916, Rejuvenation archives)
Happy New Year – from years past!
An "RLM Standard" is not a military procurement protocol, a British measurement for screw threads, or a new digital file format for photographs – it is an acronym for a non-profit organization that developed and instituted industry standards for metal reflector shades. (1957, Rejuvenation archives)
If you’ve ever picked up one of those old metal factory shades – green on the outside and white on the inside – and wondered about a decal with the initials “RLM” on it, then this esoteric blog post will be for you…
With the release of our new family of Warehouse fixtures, I thought it might be timely to look back at a bit of history associated with porcelain enameled reflector shades – RLM Standards.
Prior to 1919, shade manufacturers (like the Central Electric Company of Chicago here in 1917) offered a wide array of reflector shapes and sizes, often based more on looking different from the next guy than on scientific principles of illumination. (1917, Rejuvenation archives)
Created and implemented by a group of lighting interests founded in 1919 as the Reflector Lamp Manufacturers Institute, RLM Standards were developed to further two goals:
1) Establish high minimum standards for the design and construction of industrial lighting units.
2) Simplify the selection of proper lighting equipment for specifiers, distributors and users.
Only a couple of years after its founding, the RLM Institute had this informative listing in the first edition of the Electrical Trade Publishing Company's 1400-page "EMF" Yearbook. By the way, the silvered glass X-Ray shade on the right was not an RLM-type reflector. (1921, Rejuvenation archives)
In 1936, the organization was reorganized and incorporated as the Reflector and Lighting Equipment Manufacturers Standards Institute. Below are a few select pages from our archive that provide some insight and context for this organization.
The Institute's Standard Specifications publication was a technical guide for the industrial lighting industry. A 1957 list of participants in the Institiute's RLM Inspection and Certifiaction Service reads like a Who's Who of mid-century industrial lighting manufacturers. (1957, Rejuvenation archives)
This spread from the 1957 edition shows the full specifications for the No. 1 RLM Dome - the original RLM shape that remains virtually unchanged today. (1957, Rejuvenation archives)
Fixtures with RLM-type reflectors are sometimes referred to as "barn" lights. This somewhat romantic moniker has more to do with marketing than manure, as these fixtures were vastly more common in industrial and commercial settings than rural ones. These photos from Bright Light Reflector Company's Catalog 40 show typical installations of their SILV-A-KING brand reflectors. (c1940, Rejuvenation archives)
In 1961, 40-odd years after their founding, the RLM organization got with the modern times by updating their typography as well as their standards, including a new circular label to replace their classic rectangular version with the clipped corners.
For all you Mad Men fans out there, here's what the guys who guided RLM Standards in 1961 looked like – you'd be hard pressed to find Don Draper in this crowd.
If this esoteric excursion into lighting nerdsville has left you hankering for even more fascinating historical background (and why on earth wouldn’t it?), check out these two links for further fun:
RLM ”QUESTIONS and ANSWERS” excerpted from the Institute’s official 1957 specifications publication.
Read through this feast of facts and you’ll know more about RLMs than your average lighting engineer…
A contemporary review of the development of steel reflectors, in General Electric’s Bulletin 20A from September 10, 1919, digitized by Google.
This 1919 publication from the year of the RLM Standards Institute’s founding compares new and old metal shades and introduces the first, and most well-known, of the RLM shapes – Standard No. 1.