Consider: The Anglepoise Lamp
Turn on Your Love Light
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Growing up, I had a shockingly intimate relationship with my lamp. SWERRRRVE. (Weird lead, I know). My parents would say goodnight, close the door and then I would turn on my lamp and read until the book fell on my face. This space, created by the lamp light, was a totally free salon of ideas and adventures that were private to me.
Computers and screens, with their backlit illumination, have replaced a lot of the need for task or desk lamps. That being said, lamps are still prevalent because they are amazing tactile and visual objects. Also, let’s be real. With the advent of the video conference lifestyle, you need the front-lighting assist only a great lamp can provide.
You might have a lamp that sticks with you. For me, it was my dad’s Artemide Tizio style lamp on his desk at home. It was fascinating in its own right for its use of a counter balance to hold its position when it was moved.
The Anglepoise 1227 lamp was a tool created by British automotive engineer George Carwadine in 1932 to solve his own problem. Take a second and think back to what using a drafting table at that time must have been like; only low watt incandescent light bulbs were available, so getting direct and focused light onto your work surface was near impossible.
Carwadine’s focus was on automotive suspension springs. He developed a new kind of coil spring that held its tension if it was extended or shortened. Prior to his work, springs were either designed to be compacted (think: ones with gaps in the coils) or extended (think: the slinky type ones). He took this new spring, applied it to a lever and figured out a tension that counter balanced the weight of gravity. If you moved the lever open or closed it held the position of where you last touched it.
Carwadine combined his springs with the anatomy of the human arm to create the triple pivot task lamp. Originally designed for industrial applications, it gained widespread adoption in people’s homes during World War II, as focused light with little leakage became essential during wartime blackouts.
The lamp’s popularity took off like crazy. Within three years, Carwardine had licensed his creation back to the company that made his springs (H Terry and Sons). Other than a brief gap, H Terry has manufactured the lamp ever since.
Beyond the articulated arm, the shape of the lamp head was transformative. Through a combination of focused light and paint inside the shade, it allows you to get 60 watts of light out of a 25 watt bulb. Today, light is everywhere and easy to come by. In the 1940’s this was definitely not the case. Bulbs were very inefficient and overhead lighting was almost non-existent.
There are two different lenses through which we can look at the sustainability of the Anglepoise lamp. The first is how durable they are. Ie. How well are they made and can they be repaired? How long will they last? The second is the environmental and social cost of an item's production. Ie. How is the factory run and raw materials sourced? Is there an end of life program available (recycling or buy back)?
An Anglepoise is very much a buy-for-life item. In 1986, a World War II bomber plane was pulled off the bottom of Loch Ness, Scotland. An Anglepoise lamp was found inside, which still worked after 40 years underwater! These lamps are widely available on the secondhand market, so you can easily buy them without leaving much of an environmental impact. Also, Anglepoise provides a full host of spare parts to extend the lives of their products.
From a manufacturing and sustainability perspective, the company does not provide reporting on how sustainable the lamp is. In the mid 2000’s, production shifted to China for most of their lamps, with special editions still being made in the Portsmouth, UK factory. Sustainability is a scale. Being in China likely means shorter transport times for parts and with global shipping routes, likely lower emissions to get the lamps to markets all over the world.
Does the impact on local employment balance out against making a more affordable product that is built to the same standards as a 100 years ago? From a durability vs price standpoint, how do you compare when one Anglepoise can outlast 10 more cheaply manufactured competitors? This is a decision everyone needs to make on their own, and if it helps, all new lamps purchased after Jan 2020 come with a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty.
A new model 1227 will run you anywhere between $200-$300 . If you have an art museum membership (always recommended!) you can sometimes use your membership discount at the museum store, where Anglepoise lamps are often sold, to get a better deal.
Based on the quality and lifespan of these lamps, I am a big proponent of purchasing a used model. A great trick here (and for other made-in-UK “buy once” goods) is to start your search on Ebay.co.uk. In this case, you are looking at between $25-$40 for lamps in great condition. Factor in $60-$100 in shipping depending on where you are, and it is still a great deal. One thing to be aware of is the wiring and voltage, but they can be rewired easily (either by yourself if you are up to it, or more safely, a local lamp store). A quick scan of Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace in major urban centres across North America found Anglepoise lamps in the $50-$125 range, depending on condition.
A desk lamp is an inexpensive way to acquire some great design heritage in a well considered product. Anglepoise has a pretty unique story, but there is also Artemide, which has a deep heritage in design and innovation (the Tizio and Tolemo being the most famous) and Jielde, which have more of an industrial look and function.
Turn On Your Love Light is the unofficial lamp anthem. Originally recorded by Bobby Bland (terrible name, great voice) in 1961, it has been covered by everyone from Bob Seeger, to the Righteous Brothers (on Ed Sullivan), to an unhinged version by John Goodman and Dan Akroyd in Blues Brothers 2000. Here is the version the Grateful Dead made famous: