Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Anatomy of a Paul McCobb Lamp

Time and again I have seen the most spectacular misattributions when it comes to the Paul McCobb lamps. Some are entirely figments of an overactive imagination and as such are easily discounted, others being of very similar design to the actual lamps are the far more difficult to debunk since the three blind men and the elephant principle applies. Partial information almost always leads to incorrect conclusions.

So let's pose the question: What makes a Paul McCobb lamp a Paul McCobb lamp? Are there any specific design features which separate out the McCobb lamps from all the others on the planet? Not surprisingly the answer is yes... the greater portion of the McCobb lamps manufactured by Northcraft Lighting and Excelsior Art Studio had specific and unique design elements which are not repeated anywhere else in the centuries long canon of lamp manufacture.

First off no McCobb lamp for Northcraft Lighting and/or Excelsior Art Studio used a lamp harp to hang the shade. There are no lamp harps on these lamps. None whatsoever. Rumors of lamp harps are greatly exaggerated. Did I mention that there aren't any lamp harps? Yup, no lamp harps here, not even the hint of a lamp harp on a cold and blustery winter's day. No lamp harps!

So how the hell do you put on a lamp shade? The lamp shades would sit atop a piece of conical glass which was also used as a diffuser. Now those of you who know something about lamps and lamp manufacture in the 40's and 50's might say "Oh you mean those fairly common Milk Glass diffusers..." to which I would reply with a slight sigh of exasperation "No, not those"... The McCobb diffuser was a specially produced 7-1/8" tall tapered cylinder of white glass (called opal glass in the catalogs) measuring 3" at the base and 4-1/4" at the top, this conical glass diffuser would then sit into a purpose made metal cone. You can see this arrangement quite clearly in the photo (below left) of a Northcraft #2001 floor lamp currently offered for sale by Reform Gallery and also (below right) in this 1951 Directional advertisement introducing the Northcraft Lamps.

And though you cannot actually see the glass diffuser in these images of the Excelsior Art Studios lamps below, you can clearly see the cones into which the glass diffuser sat. 

The arrangements are almost identical for both lighting groups, the one subtle difference being that for the 1954 Excelsior Art Studios lamps the receiving cone is not quite as deep as it is for the the 1951 Northcraft Lighting group. The 1951 Northcraft Group uses a cone 6-1/2" deep and the 1954 Excelsior Art Studios' cone is 5" deep. Northcraft lamps manufactured post 1954 also frequently use the same 5" deep cone. The Northcraft lamps came in either bright brass or a matte black finish btw, the Excelsior Art Studios lamps are only ever found in an bright brass finish.

Unfortunately time and the elements take their toll. These glass diffusers were quite fragile and easily broken, and, since their design was unique to the McCobb lamp designs, once one became damaged there was absolutely nowhere to go and get replacement parts. I imagine that once a diffuser got broken the lamps were most likely taken out of service (i.e. thrown away), this I suspect is one of the major contributing factors to the exceptional rarity of these lamps today.