The words “wall lamps” and “sconces” are sometimes used interchangeably to describe lighting that is attached to a wall. Strictly speaking, though, the “lamp” is the thing that provides the illumination while the “sconce” is the piece that physically attaches to the wall.

To make things a bit more confusing, the word “bracket” is frequently used to describe the brass or cast-iron armatures that held kerosene lamps far enough away from walls to keep 19th-century homes from burning to the ground. Some of these brass wall brackets had arms that were designed to swing so the lamp could be moved in a 180-degree horizontal arc. Cast iron kerosene lamp wall brackets from the period often had double joints, and many of either type had reflectors behind the lamp’s glass chimney, to aim light in different directions.

Other types of brackets were known as doubles, which allowed two kerosene lamps to be mounted to the same fitting. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the kerosene nightlight, a miniature wall lamp made by Silver & Co., among other companies. In a kerosene nightlight, the bracket doubled as the reservoir for fuel, which often hung by a hook on the wall. The glass shade at the end of the delicate curved tubing ranged from pearl white to cobalt blue.

Early gas lamps from the late 19th century were also mounted to walls. Some of these gas lamps, which were called gasoliers, had three arms, each bearing a fixture. The brass work on these sconces was often ornate and detailed—floral patterns and curlicues were common motifs. The tubes that delivered gas to the various lights on a fixture were frequently designed to look like slender vines or branches, while the keys that regulated gas flow were cast to look like leaves or tassels.

Shades for gasoliers tended to be simple, ranging from a single glass bowl to a candle-shaped chimney to an upturned flower such as a lily. One especially interesting class of vintage gasolier was equipped with a nickel-plated brass oculist bracket, which swiveled vertically as well as horizontally and took its name from its use by opticians, as well as doctors and dentists.

When electricity started to become more common at the end of the 19th century, electrical wall lamps followed. In particular, the invention of the tungsten light bulb in 1907 spurred the demand for lamps of all sorts, including those attached to walls (tungsten used half the electricity of earlier incandescent models). Lamps from this era were designed in the Arts and Crafts style, as well as Mission and Art Nouveau.

One of the great things about electricity was that wall lamps could now have shade instead of just a chimney, which by definition had to point up. Shades could now point down, il...

One of the most visually arresting periods for vintage wall lamps and sconces was Art Deco. During this era, some lamps were all shade, with the fixture hidden from view behind it. White glass sconces with painted black decorations were typical. In other cases, such as for bathrooms, frosted glass shades were paired with rust-resistant, chrome-over-cast-brass fixtures.

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

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Steuben Pulled Feather Art Glass Shade/art Nouveau Brass Sconce Fixture 3ds10908Steuben Pulled Feather Art Glass Shade W/art Nouveau Brass Sconce Fixture Ds1090Vintage Industrial Style Light-tilting Wall Lamp With Diffuser Glass Edison LampVintage 30's Gold Gilt Brass & Glass Wall Sconce Chandeliers Art Deco Wall LampsPair Antique Original Art Deco Green Glass, Slip Shade Sconce Wall Lights LampsMid Century Modern Atomic Ranch Eichler Era Wall Sconce Aluminum Eames EraHamm's Beer Sign Lake Scene Lighted Globe Wall Sconce Light Lamp Canoe Hamm'sA Stunning Pair Of Art Glass Carnival Bronze/brass Slip Bell Shades SconcesAntique Bradley & Hubbard Architectural Gilded Cast Iron Candle Mirrors SconcesVtg Antique Greyhound Lines Bus Station Lamp Light Wall Clock Sign Gas Oil Auto2 Leaf Crown Vintage Gilt Bronze Brass Wall Sconces Lamp Parts Set Spain As IsCast Iron Art Deco Slip Shade Sconce Fixture & Amber Shade Ds1104Vintage Schlitz Beer Golden Lady Belted Globe Sconce Lamp Light Bar Lighted Sign2 Vintage? Oil/paraffin Lamps? Brass? Wall Scones For Restoration Vintage French Original Vintners Olympe Oil Lamp Wall Hanging Table Top Vintage Old Wall Sconce S-shaped Cast Iron Gas Station Pump Globe Holder ???Fitch Fur Coat Giaccone Pelliccia Puzzola Pelisse Sconce ШAntique Pair Arts & Crafts Gothic Medieval Lamp Wall Sconce Pair Gilded IronVintage Industrial Wall Light - Japanese Lamp - Brass Cage & Glass DomeQuezal Threaded Heart Art Glass Shade W/art Nouveau Brass Sconce Fixture Ds1089Pair (2) Antique Art Nouveau Era Lyre Back Floral Silver Finish Candle SconcesVintage Air Eco Arno Wall Sconce And Globe Gas Oil Pump Unrestored VisibleAntique Arts & Crafts Stained Glass Garden Porch Cottage Sconce Light FixturePair Embossed Ice Blue Glass Slip Shades For Sconce Fixture Chandelier 3ds1065Antique Pair Art Deco Slip Shade Wall Sconces Light FixturesBronzed Antique French Symbolic Napoleon Wall Light Sconces-eagles & Swans EtcLot Of 4 Antique Vintage Oil Lamp Parts Wall Mount Glass Fonts Burners CollarsLot Of Antique Vintage Wall Mount Cast Iron Oil Lamp Brackets Kerosene Parts Pair Vintage R&s Explosion Proof Sconce Light Fixture Shade Industrial SteampunkPair Antique Vintage French Bronze Brass Candle Sconces Wall Lights Lamps OldRare Vintage Amstel Light Beer Rotating / Motion Wall Sign Working Lamp NeonAladdin Wall Bracket &wall Piece For Oil/kerosene LampPr Of Old Antique Art Deco Vintage Wall Sconces 4 Vintage Art Deco Wall Sconces, From The Early 1900's! Very Rare Design!Vintage Oc White Signed Industrial Wall/desk Lamp - Machine Age Light - Nice! Vintage Blue Glass Kerosene Oil Lamps In Double Cast Iron Hanging Wall BracketSolar Power 15 Leds Pir Motion Sensor Security Wall Mount Garden Path Light LampVintage Copper Nautical Sconce Electric Porch Light LampLot Of 5 Antique Brass Wall Mount Fixtures/sconces 3 With Orig. Globes Cast Bronze 2 Light Pullman Railroad Train Sconce Fixture 2ds952Pair Of Antique Slip Shade Sconces Art Deco Nouveau Architectural Lamps Mep IncVtg Pair 1920s Art Deco Wall Sconce Light Fixtures Castle Motif Crown Shield Retro, Mid Century Modern Lucite Amber Grapes Large Wall Hanging Lamp Light 2 Antique Candle Shelves Furniture Salvage Wood Wall Sconce Shelf WalnutAntique 2-light Wall Sconces (pair)Vintage 1960s Pair Carling Black Label Beer Sign - Lighted Sconces Mint NosAntique Wall Hanging Oil Lamp With Chimney -- 11 Plus Inches Tall1970 Lita Wall Applique Lamp Modernist Mid-century-modern Arteluce Stilnovo22 Antique Amethyst Cut Glass Spear Lamp Prisms Library Oil Lamp Wall Sconce Primitive Early Look Make-do Wood Candle Holder Sconce W/taper Iron Oil Lamp Holder Bracket For Wall Sconce1940's Vtg Peacock Frosted Glass Antique Brass Electric Wall Sconce Art Nouveau2 Partylite Hydrangea Mosaic Stained Glass Wall Sconce Tea Light Candle Holders2 Beautiful Anthropologie Gold Forest Crest Mirror Wall Sconces. Lovely!Solar Power 15 Leds Pir Motion Sensor Security Wall Mount Garden Path Light LampVintage Steampunk Metal Flex Goose Neck Lamp Light, Industrial Wall Or Desk Vintage Arts & Craft Copper Wall Lamp Pair Of Venetian Glass Brass Candelabra Sconces Crystal Prism Cut Murano LightsVintage Wall Sconce SetHubbardton Forge 304901 Twilight 1 Light 60w Outdoor Wall Sconce (a1-27)