Lamp-shade design did not begin in the late 19th century, but that's when it was elevated beyond mere functionality. Household electricity was becoming increasingly common, so lamp manufacturers started paying attention to the art of lighting indoor spaces. Shades gave lamp makers an opportunity to shine a light on their sense of aesthetics, whether it was to create a romantic background glow or an eye-catching centerpiece.

The century's first lamp shades were generally made for devices that burned kerosene. These simple, cylindrical glass shades were rounded near the lamp base to allow proper oxygen flow to the flame, while also protecting it from drafts. The ability of these lamps to stay lit even in strong winds gave them the nickname “hurricane lamps.” These lamp shades were usually made of clear glass with minimal embellishments such as an etched pattern or border.

By the 1880s, the range of lamp-shade styles increased dramatically with the spread of home-electricity use. Lamp makers looked to Art Nouveau, as well as plant and animal life, to inspire their designs. Manufacturers were soon creating shades in a spectrum of colored glass, either hand-cut into complex patterns or blown into natural forms like flowers.

Some of the most recognizable Art Nouveau lamps were designed by Tiffany Studios, including shades made from iridescent Favrile glass or intricate glass mosaics. Originally conceived by designer Clara Driscoll, Tiffany’s Dragonfly lamp shade is possibly its most famous, featuring miniscule glass pieces in each detailed dragonfly wing. Such shades were created using a leaded-glass technique the company perfected for stained-glass windows.

Tiffany Studios churned out a variety of remarkable designs, including the Nautilus lamp of 1899, whose shade resembled an oversize seashell, and the Wisteria lamp from 1902, with a shade shaped like the dangling blossoms of the wisteria plant. Capitalizing on the Tiffany trend, companies like Duffner & Kimberly, Gorham, and Seuss also created ornate stained-glass shades in the early 20th century.

At the same time, manufacturers like the Handel Company perfected a very different method of reverse-painted lamp shades, whereby an original design was traced onto the interior of a glass shade and finished by hand. Generally featuring scenic landscapes or plant life, shades with reverse-painting were often mounted on unobtrusive bronze, brass, or silver-plated bases. Often conical or dome-shaped, Handel’s pieces featured everything from exotic tropical landscapes to rushing forest streams, applied by its artists to glass shades made by other manufacturers.

Another innovator in reverse-painting, the Pairpoint Corporation, experimented with textured or ribbed glass forms that diffused light in unique ways. One such shade resembled th...

Pioneered in England, slag-glass lamp shades also became popular around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. This style incorporated streaked, opaque glass initially produced by incorporating slag from iron-smelting foundries. The look became common for paneled lamp shades with complicated metal filigree framing each slag-glass segment. Noted slag-glass lamp manufacturers include Bradley Hubbard, Wilkinson, Handel, and Miller.

By the mid-1920s, the clean lines of Art Deco had taken over, bringing trendy new shades with it. Glass innovators in the Bohemian region, now known as the Czech Republic, perfected techniques for creating shades with streaks or flecks of many vibrant hues, a look well suited to a fast paced, machine-age lifestyle. Companies like Loetz, Ruckl, and Kralik created these multi-colored glass masterpieces in circular globes, tulip shapes, or even pointed star shades. Other shades imitated the styles of flapper dresses, made from long silk sheaths ending with loose fringe or detailed fabric borders.

While some lamp producers rushed forward, the Fenton Glass Company looked to the past, reviving a Victorian glass style called Hobnail for its bumpy surface. Fenton adapted the Hobnail technique for electric lamps modeled after gas or kerosene lamps with open-topped, teardrop-shaped glass shades.

After the end of World War II, the geometric forms of Mid-Century Modernism took lamp shades to a new level, shedding detailed ornamentation in favor of pure shapes. Shades made during the 1950s and '60s resembled stacked pyramids or huge cylindrical drums, made from materials like textured fiberglass, bamboo, aluminum, or woven raffia. Such novel forms were embraced by American lamp companies like Moss and Majestic, as well as Scandinavian designers like Louis Poulsen and Poul Henningsen.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Lampworks

The Lampworks

Lamp collector and dealer Dan Edminster has put together an incredible reference site on antique lamps and related … [read review or visit site]

Texans Incorporated: The History of a Lamp Company

Texans Incorporated: The History of a Lamp Company

Mark Stevens has created an impressive living memorial to Texans Inc., a 20th century Texas manufacturer of ceramic… [read review or visit site]

The Lamps of H. G. McFaddin

The Lamps of H. G. McFaddin

Bruce Bleier's tribute to the Emeralite and Bellova lampshades made from Czech glass and popularized and distribute… [read review or visit site]

Fairy Lamp Club

Fairy Lamp Club

This incredible site is a stunning showcase for Victorian and contemporary fairy lamps, a style of lamp with a glas… [read review or visit site]

Gas Pressure Lanterns, Lamps and Stoves

Gas Pressure Lanterns, Lamps and Stoves

Terry Marsh’s beautiful showcase of gas-pressure lanterns, lamps, stoves, irons, and heaters from the 1920s o… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Blue Green Stained Slag Glass Lamp Shade1870's Dark Green Cased Glass Student Or Harvard Oil Lamp ShadeAntique Victorian Art Slag Glass Banquet Oil Lamp ShadeVintage Handpainted Reverse Painting Glass Lamp Shade For Handel PairpointRare Victorian Acid Etched Oil Lamp Shade Clear/lemon To Fit 4" Duplex Gallery Lundberg Gold Domed Damascene Wave Lamp Shade | American Art Glass | No ReserveThree Lundberg Studios Pulled Feather Lily Lamp Shades | Decorated Art Glass NrVintage Stained Opaque Glass Cast Iron Peacock Lamp ShadeVictorian Ruffled Top Pink Opalescent Cranberry Cased Oil Lamp ShadeVintage 16" Green Enamel Industrial Light Lamp Shade W/cage Barn Gas Victorian /edwardian Oil Lamp Shades . Pair. 4.9cm Fitter Hole.A Pair Of Antique Art Glass Lamp Shades Hearts And Vines ...quezal Marking On Superb Victorian Nicely Shaped Etched Oil Lamp Shade. In Pristine Condition.Vintage Signed Quezal American Art Glass Lamp Shade 5" Nr1920s Quezal Threaded Gorgeous Art Glass Lamp ShadeVtg 2-tier 1950s Retro Mid-century Modern Fiberglass Drum Red Black Lamp ShadeC1880 Antique Victorian 10k Gold Gf Bookchain Necklace W Lampshade TasselsQuezal Or Steuben Collectible Pulled Feater Design Lamp ShadeLarge Vintage Mid Century Oval Fiberglass Lamp Shade W/ Funky SwirlOriginal Vintage Tilley Style Table Lamp Shade - Opaque White Glass Tl Type FitVintage Antique Cranberry Ruby Hobnail Coin Spot Lamp Shade Gas Kerosene 1870Antique Amber Acid Cut Back Hanging Glass Lamp Shade Steuben? Nice Form W HolderVintage Aladdin Coleman Banquet White Milk Glass Handpainted Oil Lamp Shade Victorian Cranberry Quilted Glass Kerosene Gas Paraffin Oil Lamp ShadePair Steuben Gold Aurene And Calcite Lamp Shades Signed.Victorian Art Glass Opalescent Lamp Shade PetaledVintage Leaded Stained Glass Lamp Shade Stained Glass Lampshade-gorgeous!2 Vintage Industrial Nos Porcelain Enamel Lamp Shades Gooseneck Barn Gas StationTulip Lamp Shade Gold Or Orange And Green Art Glass Art Nouveau PairExcellent Orange Cranberry Victorian Delicately Etched Oil Lamp ShadePair {2} Antique Czech Glass Bead Lamp Shade, Bulb Covers Quezal Hearts And Vines With Gold Threading Lamp ShadeLot Of 2 Very Nice Chrome 64" Tall Floor Lamps With Ivory Lamp ShadesVintage 12" Industrial Green Porcelain Enamel Metal Light Lamp Shade #2Aladdin Oil Lamp Shade Light Powder Blue Glass Vintage Floral Hurricane KeroseneArt Deco Green Brain Lamp Shade Frankart StyleVintage Diminutive Iridescent Favrile Aurene Flared Art Glass Lamp Shade Nr YqzStained Glass Lamp ShadeLarge Etched Cranberry Tiped Glass Oil Lamp ShadeVictorian Cranberry Glass Kerosene Gas Paraffin Oil Lamp Shade 5.5" FitterAntique Hand Painted Hanging Lamp Shade Winter Theme Antique Oil Lamp Shade Painted Roses Beautiful LargeFilmic Light Snow White Lamp Shade - 1938Original Aladdin #601 Glass Lamp Shade. 10". Very Nice!Antique Vintage Glass Ceiling Lamp Shade/dome, Pink And Clear In ColorStudio Royal Nautical Tripod Floor Lamp Lampshade Tripod Stand Home Decor Sd4fmc4 Vintage 9 1/4" Dia. Green Unused Porcelain/enamel Metal Lamp ShadesVintage Antique Glass Ball Lamp Shade Finials - Blue Brass Caps~3~ Old~beautifulVintage Milk White Oil Lamp Shade To Suit 7" Fitter, In Very Good Condition.Lamp Shade Milk Glass Hobnail Student 7" White Kerosene Oil Electric Desk Table Art Deco Style ~ Monkey Table Lamp With Green Lampshade Coconut? Tree Vintage Mid Century Retro Atomic Era 2 Tier Fiberglass Lamp Shade 16 1/2" X 8"Antique Art Deco Milk Glass Stepped Skyscraper Lamp Shade 3 7/8" FitterVintage Pair Of Milk Glass Hobnail Lamp Shades Hurricane Ruffled Rim 7" SconceVintage Burgundy Embroidered Silk? Tasseled Floor Lamp Shade Antique Lamp ShadesAntique Victorian Fringed Lamp ShadeVintage Art Deco Mid Century Ceiling Fixture Glass Lamp Shade Globe LightingGreen Banker Cased Glass Desk Lamp Shade Green Loaf Shape Vintage Opal 7" Ball Oil Lamp Shade 4" Fitter Parlor Banquet G.w.t.w.