(Editor’s note: DeeDee Wood is the store manager at Tharpe Antiques, in Easton, part of the Talbot Historical Society.)
Motion lamps are revolving lamps that have an animated scene going around the shade as the lamp rotates.
They were novelties that drew in your attention with movement, scenes, colors and interesting themes.
When one sees them in the antiques realm, it brings about that old-fashioned nostalgia from yesteryear.
The plug-in lamps consisted of a cylinder with a metal top and base that also had an inside cylinder with a blade that revolved around from heated air, made hot by the light bulb.
As heat rose, it made the blades of the miniature turbine spin, causing the “motion.”
The motion of the inside cylinder made the scene “move” on the outer cylinder, which had a lithograph, or copied print of a scene on that shade.
Companies that made the lamps would say that you could “travel to distant places in your own home; see a forest fire rage or the river cascade over Niagara Falls.”
The movement caused scenes to spring to life with flowing water, fire that you could almost hear crackle, moving trains, and the mighty Niagara Falls falling.
People were amazed.
Some of the major companies that made these lamps were looking for the novelty and interest in a new product.
Scene-in-Action of Chicago produced lamps until the 1930s, and Econolite, one of the more well-known manufacturers of motion lamps, produced lamps starting in 1946.
Some of the first lamps depicted only three designs: Fountain of Youth, Forest Fire and Niagara Falls.
They were made of plastic and a hard base and top, they were durable and lightweight.
Eleven different models were produced by Scene-in-Action and Econolite made a lot more styles and themes, being the most prolific motion lamp maker.
Some of the favorites for this genre were Niagara Falls with many variations on that nature setting theme, Christmas trees, forest fires, Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Hopalong Cassidy, burning fireplaces, ships at sea, lighthouses, the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, just to name a few.
Models are still found out in the antiques market that have never been seen before, so it is uncertain how many themes were actually made.
As a collectible, it is important to inspect the condition of motion lamps.
Damaged parts and melting due to hot bulbs makes the value of one of these lamps go down.
Plastic can warp, crack, melt and break.
Rarity of the scene also plays an important factor in the price.
Some scenes are hard to find, and that makes them worth more.
In general, motion lamps are expensive, fetching hundreds of dollars on online marketplaces where they are available, for a price.
Many people say these revolving lamps that cause water to move, and clouds to float, and birds to fly, right before their very eyes, are a piece of their childhood, and found memories ensue.
In their youth, they had one of these lamps in their bedroom, keeping the darkness at bay, and watching a miniature world float by, providing a temporary reality and the possibility of ingenuity.