Trash or Treasure: Lamp promises everlasting summer

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Janet Miller with her Handel Lamp.

School may be starting and fall on the way, but Janet Miller can enjoy everlasting summer in the form of a beautiful vintage lamp. She recently brought the piece – decorated with flowers and butterflies and passed down from a relative – to an appraisal session held at the DuMouchelles Art Galleries and Auction House downtown, where expert Joelle Del Rose examined it and filled her in on its background and value.

Numbered 6950, the beautiful piece is an example of the sought-after Handel Lamp Company, one of the most collected and respected American lamp companies. Collector’s Weekly ( traces the company’s rise to the landmark Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, which introduced new lighting technology as well as emerging artists and companies such as Philip Handel of Connecticut and Louis Comfort Tiffany of New York.

“Unlike Tiffany, the Handel Lamp Company had little interest in lamp bases. Instead, Handel offered its customers a range of third-party bases to choose from, including ceramic bases made by Rookwood, and the company even made shades to fit a customer’s existing base,” the site explains of the company's early years. “It wasn’t until 1902 that Handel began making zinc alloy and bronze lamp bases of its own, which were marked with the “Handel Lamp Company” name. The overlapping aesthetics of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts informed the look of Handel’s lamp shades and bases. In addition to its trademark reverse-painted shades, which were given added three-dimensionality thanks to their “chipped ice” exterior finishes, the company also made Tiffany-style leaded shades, which were considered the aesthetic equivalents of real Tiffany shades but at a lower cost.”

Later designs included some made with slag glass, and the company began to mark lamps “HANDEL Lamps” and with a patent number. The company enjoyed success throughout the 1920s, but changing tastes, the rise of art deco and the Depression forced Handel to close its New York showroom in 1925 and the rest of the company by 1936.

Like the company’s founder, Miller traces her lamp to Connecticut. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, she says. The appraiser said her piece has a bronze base and is an example of the works the company produced after forming its own foundry in 1902.

“It’s a parlor showpiece,” Del Rose explained. “In the 1920s, families would gather around the lamp after dinner, where it often illuminated activities such as sewing or listening to the gramophone.” She praised the lamp’s Impressionistic style, explaining “it’s achieved by an all over wash on the inside of the lamp, which keeps images like the butterflies illuminated.”

In the past, she said, the best vintage lamps could bring up to $20,000, but like many antiques, their value is down at the moment. She estimated Miller’s at between $4,000 and $6,000 in today’s market – still a nice number. “It’s really beautiful… I love the butterflies,” the appraiser said.

Miller’s reply was more practical. “I’m definitely keeping it out of the hands of the grandchildren,” she said.

Item: Handel Lamp

Owned by: Janet Miller

Appraised by: Joelle Del Rose, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $4,000 to $6,000