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    

Rare Bigelow & Kennard Leaded Stained Glass Lamp Shade Arts & Crafts Nr!Arts & Crafts Rembrandt Masterpiece Mica/ Isenglass Lamp Shade Stenciled PatternAntique Oil Lamp Shade 10" Opal Glass Rayo Aladdin Coleman B&h Gone With The Wind Lamp Shade/victorian/parlor Glass Lamp ShadeOld Antique Quezal Cone Shaped Iridescent Art Glass Lamp Shade 3" Fitter 4 Antique Imperial Scalloped Iridescent Carnival Glass Lamp Shades Signed NuartGlobe Oil Lamp Shade Ruffled Blue Glass Hurricane Ball Antique Victorian NrA Very Attractive Original Nouveau Etched Cranberry Beehive Oil Lamp Shade Mica Arts & Crafts Large Antique Panel Painted Floor Lamp Shade With FinialRare Antique Steuben Purple Aurene Glass Lamp Shades With 2 1/4" Fitter SizeAntique Victorian Gwtw Oil Lamp Shade Hand Painted With Brass Rim Cream ColorAntique 12" Pittsburgh Lamp & Glass Co. Mermaid W/ Fish & Seagulls Lamp ShadeGreat Victorian Kerosene Ball Shade Women Portraits Gwtw Banquet Lamp ShadeAntique Hobnail Hanging Hurricane Lamp Shade Frosted Glass Pink Peach Yellow Cherub 4" Fitter 10" Gone With The Wind Ball Table Lamp Shade3 Quezal Signed Art Glass Lamp Shades Beautiful Rainbow Iridescence Throughout Vintage Pair Of Mid Century Fiberglass Drum Lamp Shades 11" TallKerosene Oil Table Lamp Shade--------very FancyVery Old Victorian Acid Etched Oil Lamp Shade. Two Small Bubble Faults.Vintage Large Ruby Cranberry Diamond Quilted Fluted Oil Lamp ShadeA Pair Of Vintage 50's Retro Oriental Table Lamps With Fiberglass Lamp ShadeMid Century Eames Fiberglass Two Tier Floor Lamp Shade Unusual Nice ConditionHubbell Brass Steel Lamp Shade Industrial Desk Bench Light O C WhiteLarge Victorian Mother Of Pearl Satin Air Trap Yellow Lamp Shade Nr!Vintage Tiffany Style Stained Slag Glass Hexagon Shape Lamp Shade Vg CondVintage Fenton Amber + White Opalescent Coin Spot Lamp Shade 1/2 StyleVintage Slag Lamp Shade Metal Frame With Amber Color Approx 18" Wide X 8" TallVictorian French Etched Lamp Shade Signed St. Louis Nr!Antique Victorian Hanging Oil Lamp Shade Transferware 14" Diameter Kerosene LampVictorian Style Lamp Shade Fabric W/ Beaded FringeVintage Mid Century 2 Tier Fiberglass Lamp Shade Gold White & Black Design2 Stunning Vintage Savoy Golden Aurene Art Glass Ceiling Or Lamp Shade NrVintage Drum Lamp Shades Qty 2, Silk, Raw Silk, Mid Century Modern Antique French Pair Pink And Opalescent Lamp Shades Sanded ShadesLot Of 7 Small Tiffany Style Lamp Shades Stained Glass Lead Type13.7/8 Victorian Brass Parlor Hanging Kerosene Oil Lamp Shade Hand Painted GlassPair 1950's Vintage Fiberglass Table Lamp Shades Mid Century Modern Retro Antique Gwtw Milk Glass Oil Lamp Shade / Globe.hand Painted.1880's Oil Or Kerosene Lamp Shade Ring. 4 Inch Shade Holder. Vtg Tiffany Style Stained/ Leaded Glass Lamp Shade ~ Unique Amber Mottled CabsNi-glo Dollhouse Miniature Glass Lamp ShadeVintage Aladdin ? Finialfor Lamp Shade Clambroth White Frosted Art Glass FloralVintage Lighting-iridescent Lamp Shade~2-1/4 Fitter~marigold~carnival Glass1940s-50s Mini Vintage Clip-on Lamp Shade Fiberglass Mid Century Home DecorSet Of 9 Pleated Chandelier Bulb Lamp Shades 4 1/4" Tall Ivory SilkVintage 2 Tier Fiberglass 50s Lamp Shade Mid Century Modern Retro Hard To FindAntique Banquet Ball Oil Lamp Shade Hand Painted Floral Decortion Parlor G W T WLot Of (3) Vintage White Spatter Pattern Tulip Shaped Satin Glass Lamp ShadesVintage Antique ? Lampshade Little League Baseball Boys Room So CuteArt Deco Milk Glass Cube Lamp ShadePair Of Industrial Green Porcelain Gas Station Light Lamp Shades, 9 In. Nice !Kerosene Oil Table Lamp Shade----white Opal 10 InchVintage Clip On Pirate Lamp Shade Child BedroomVintage Maytag Advertising Faux Stained Glass Lamp Shade Table Or Wall BaseVintage Pair Of Mid-century Eames Era Fiberglass Tabletop Blue White Lamp ShadesBrass 6" Solar Oil Lamp Shade Holder/prism Ring ~ ReproVtg Hanging Swag Lamp Amber Ceiling Light Shade Vtg Pair Glass Lamp Shades 2 Large Vintage Wire/metal Lamp Shade Frame/form-8 Panel,16" Dia X19" HeightPottery Barn Kids L Sabrina Basket Liners Curtains Lamp Shade Hot Pink WhiteTiffany Style Lampshade 10 Inches Across X 6 Inches High I Inch Opening