amy azzaritopast & present

past & present: anglepoise lamps + sources

by Amy Azzarito

Image above: Illustration by Julia Rothman

The staple of college dorm rooms and office desks everywhere, the Anglepoise lamp was invented in the 1930s by an English automotive engineer who specialized in the design of vehicle suspension systems. George Carwardine owned a factory in Bath where he invented a spring that could be moved easily in every direction but remained fixed once placed in a position. George didn’t set out to invent a lamp; he just liked tinkering around with springs. He patented his new spring design then looked for an application.

When searching for an application, George looked no further than his own factory and realized how useful it would be for the workman in his factory to be able to position a light so that it could illuminate a particular component. He designed a heavy base to stabilize the lamp and then a shade that would concentrate the beam.

Image above: 1953 Anglepoise lamp advertisement

George licensed the design to Herbert Terry & Sons, a manufacturer based in Redditch who supplied springs to his factory. Charles Terry, the eldest son, was interested in expanding the business beyond springs, and the lamp seemed like the perfect solution. Initially, George wanted to call the lamp Equipoise, but the name was rejected by the Patent Office on the grounds that it was an existing word (equipoise means an equal distribution of weight), so the pair settled on Anglepoise. The original Anglepoise lamp was marketed for industrial use.

Read on after the jump for more about the Anglepoise lamp + sources…

Image above: Oversized Anglepoise floor lamp from Sneak Peek: Jimmie Martin & Rick Schultz

At the time, it was a complete original, and the form of the lamp made its function transparent. That first lamp was produced by Herbert Terry & Sons. Today, Simon Terry, the great-great grandson of Herbert Terry, still directs the company, which continues to manufacture the Anglepoise lamp. Norwegian engineer Jacob Jacobsen obtained production rights to produce the lamp in Oslo and market it to all countries outside the UK and the Commonwealth. He varied the design slightly and produced a lamp known as the “Luxo L-1,” which is sold at Design within Reach.

Image above: Statement piece! Huge Anglepoise lamp in the home of British stylist Abigail Ahern (from Sneak Peek: Abigail Ahern)The company created a Giant Anglepoise to celebrate their 70th birthday in 2006.

Since 1986, the Anglepoise has had a special place in popular culture. The lamp was the subject of the Pixar Studio’s first short, Luxo Jr., where the two main characters are Anglepoise desk lamps. Subsequently, the Pixar mascot became an Anglepoise lamp that appears in the opening credits of Pixar movies — the lamp hops into the frame and replaces the “i” in Pixar.

I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Anglepoise-style lamps above, but if you’re looking for an authentic vintage version, here are some things to look out for:

  • The 1933 prototype had a small shade with two springs and a curved base. (Prototype “1208”)
  • The 1934 version had three springs and a larger rimmed shade with perforations. (This is the more iconic “1227” design.)
  • The base was then reduced to two tiers in the late ’30s.

    Image above: 1. Carpenter Lamp, $69.95; 2. Wood Lamp, $297; 3. Red Anglepoise, $250; 4. Tertial Work Lamp, $8.99; 5. Original 1227 Anglepoise Lamp, $250; 6. JJ Limited Edition Table Lamp, $209; 7. Studioilse Halogen Lamp, $550; 8. Architect Aqua Lamp, $32.95

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    • My father was an engineer. He worked on lots of complex, technical projects for his job, and that spilled over into our ever-evolving house…in the form of carpentry, fixit, and general variety do-it-yourself projects.

      We literally had at least one anglepoise in EVERY room, since one never knew when they (or Dad) would need focused light for a project. My mom and I laugh about it…our “decor”. Some rooms had two. One mounted to the wall, and another for the table or desktop. There was probably even a room with three or four.

      To this day, I still remember the distinct sound of the springs streching as I moved my lightsource closer in…a sure sign that a project was about to get good.

    • @Susy – That’s such a sweet story. Thank you so much for sharing! :)
      -Amy A

    • I use my grandpa’s old machine shop lamp with the magnifying glass center to work on tedious jewelry projects. AND, while taking advantage of instant Netflix last week, I saw my exact one on Cooper’s desk in a Twin Peaks episode!

    • I had the fourth lamp, the Ikea one, and it’s terrible! It’s the only thing I’ve ever regretted buying from Ikea. At least it was only $8. It falls over if you so much as look at it, and it doesn’t hold any position you put it in, just slowly drifts back to where it wants. After falling of my work table ten times and two broken light bulbs, it went right to the trash.

    • My Dad still uses the same anglepoise he’s had since the 50’s in his workshop. It’s been bashed about a lot- but there’s no stopping it!
      I can’t convince him to part with it either. Who can blame him.

    • Susy, also enjoyed your story – you told it beautifully! Brought a smile to my face and made me think of my own father’s little household quirks.

    • And thanks Amy for the story! Good timing for me, as I debate whether to fork out for an authentic Anglepoise or spend less on a vintage lamp in Anglepoise style. Can’t decide!

      • @Vandemonian – That’s a tough one! ;) I do love the colors of some of the news and of course, I do think those giant Anglepoise lamps are pretty awesome! Good luck! -Amy A

    • I have an Anglepoise-esque lamp that I bought at a thrift store some time ago, and while it functions quite well, it’s lacking a base (of any kind: a stand or a clamp). Any insights for how to find a base? Thanks in advance!

    • You might try thift stores for the base. I like to clamp my lamps to my studio work tables and donate the bases

    • Shawn – we had a lamp that was missing it’s base & my hubby made a base by drilling through some nice old books ( stacked one on top of the other) he also took the pages out of one book put a chunk of metal instead to give some weight. I love it ! Like Susy’s dad we have at least one in each room -including 2 original 1227 lamps

    • Do you know where I ‘m able to get springs for the Anglepoise lamp?I have one that will not stand up.Thanks,Randy@filaments

    • I have an anglepoise lamp since c.1970. It has functioned exceedingly well until recently when it fell to the floor. Apart from destroying the bulb the switch button on the top now doesn’t work. I value the shape of the shade. I am told it is of Norwegian design. I cannot find a similar shape in present stock. Is it possible to replace or repair the switch. Or does anyone know of the design and where I could get replacement shade.

    • Thank you for your informative post. You’ve convinced me to get one (I’m a sucker for a good design and a good story.) Now, if I could only decide on a color!

    • The anglepoise NO. 5 isn’t a 1127 original remake it’s the jack wills special edition ( it’s blue) and has a plaque on the bottom stating its status.

    • i live in mexico and have an angelpoise in polished chrome. the switch broke so i had to repair it myself since there is no one here that understands the value of these lamps. i am happy to have it working, but sad that it is not complete.