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The TV Lamp Collectors Blog » Blog Archive » What is a TV Lamp, Really?

What is a TV Lamp, Really?


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Jacquelin Panther
One of the main sources of confusion among collectors, and sellers, is the true definition of a TV lamp. The term is used quite loosely, often by eBay sellers that understand how avidly that category is watched. So, in the strictest sense, what constitutes a TV lamp? I’ll start with the Jacquelin panther shown above, as I consider it to be the very essence of the genre, the style that immediately comes to mind for most people. The attributes that make this a classic TV lamp are simple: It dates from the ’50s, it is ceramic, it provides back-lighting, it represents a popular mid-century theme (the panther was one of several “exotic” icons of the day) and it was designed and marketed specifically for use atop the family television. This is a TV lamp in its purest form, no question. But there are others, many others that meet the criteria. As the popularity of TV lamps took off, it was only natural that potteries would strive to get their piece of the pie, sometimes putting a new spin on the panther theme, but often using a different subject all together. These subjects often portrayed other “exotic” themes, with many oriental scenes and wild animals being used. The whole fascination with the exotic is too large a subject to be done justice here, but it was a phenomena that flourished in post-war America. It was the era of “Tiki”, Polynesian/Hawaiian decor and art. This extended also to representations and artifacts of Oriental and African culture, and all of these influences found their way to TV lamps. But not all TV lamps fit the exotic mold. Other subjects were used, from covered wagons to domestic animals and mallard ducks. Still others weren’t figurative at all, instead providing decorative planters with back lighting. Regardless of the subject or material of manufacture, they all qualify as TV lamps, providing that the following criteria are met:

Manufacture must have been in the ’50s or early ’60s. They must be designed to provide ambient lighting. (back-lighting)   

That’s it. Hundreds of lamp designs qualify. Unfortunately thousands don’t. Many seem to think that any small, figurative lamp is a TV lamp. It isn’t. The same era that gave birth to the TV lamp also produced many panther table lamps, usually small ceramic designs with a top-mounted fixture and shade. They’re vintage and collectible, but they aren’t TV lamps.

TV lamps never have a top-mounted shade. 

They can include a planter, clock or bug repellant, be made of pottery, plaster, metal or wood, but traditional shades put them in the category of table, boudior or novelty lamps. A few (very few) lamps were switchable between a back-mounted fixture and a top-mounted one with a shade. These, in my mind, qualify. But what about pre-1950s back-lit lamps, the ones made of plaster or cast metal? These “Radio Lamps” aren’t TV lamps in spirit, as evidenced by the fact that they were made prior to television. I think they still warrant the attention of TV lamp collectors. All collectors understand the alure of “peripherals”, the items that are related in some way to the primary focus of your collection. A TV lamp collector is liable to acquire all sorts of vintage pottery or lamps. Know what’s a TV lamp and what isn’t…and pick up the things that fit into the spirit of your collection. It’s all part of the fun.

One Response to “What is a TV Lamp, Really?”

  1. Matthew Owen Says:

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    You know, I’ve had a ceramic cat on top of my TV for ages and I never knew that there actually was a name for this thing. It doesn’t light up, of course, but it seems like a very cool idea.

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