Early bulb and lamp designs feature in new book on light

A new book on light reveals how the subject has fascinated artists and scientists alike – and features a brilliant series of images of some very early lamps and bulbs

The ‘lightbulb moment’ is an integral part of both artistic and scientific discovery. It’s fitting, then, that a series of images of some very early examples of these objects should feature in a new book examining how creative curiosity is at the heart of both art and science. In Findings On Light, the third title in the PARS Foundation’s ‘Atlas of Creative Thinking’ series published by Lars Müller, the focus is on how artists and scientists alike have attempted to analyse, understand, harness – and work with – light.

Above: 1. An Ediswan 100v 16 cp heavy ruby-red glass with pip lamp, bayonet fitting with plaster of Paris, single coil; 2. ‘Sunbeam’ 210v 16 cp lamp, clear glass bulb with pip. Single carbon filament with 8 ‘fingers’ c.1897; 3. Early twisted, ribbed Ediswan candle lamp 110–8. A, with single carbon filament and bayonet fitting c.1897

The images featured here represent just a small part of James Hooker’s collection of some 500 early lamps and bulbs made between 1890 and 1920. They were originally amassed by lighting engineer Bill Carlton who sold the archive in 2012 (14 examples are included with Findings On Light).

Hooker’s collection includes carbon lamps with loop contacts and tantalum lamps and shows the emerging lighting technologies as they merged with mass-production in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.44-2

Above: A heavy moulded glass lamp in Bristol blue branded Gabriel & Angenault Depose, bayonet fitting with black vitriolite

As with the previous Findings On books (on subjects as diverse as ‘ice’ and ‘elasticity’), the new title is a mix of artworks and research that reflect PARS’ founders Hester Aardse and Astrid Alben’s desire to celebrate the creative process.

So there are essays by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker and physicist Michael Berry, alongside poetry by Hamid Ismailov and shadow-play photographs from Huang Xiaoliang.


Above: Unusually shaped stepped, ribbed, clear lamp. Double carbon filament, bayonet fitting with steatite c.1902

Above: 1. Stearn 230 v 8 cp. Clear glass lamp with pip. Double carbon filaments, bayonet fitting in brass and black moulded vitriolite c.1883–90; 2. Ediswan 110–8 A29, lemon-shaped bulb with pip. Single carbon filament c.1890s

At points, it feels as if the science is the poetry: “The light of the day sky is sunshine scattered by air,” opens Berry’s essay, which goes on to describe how its blue colour is formed “because the blue waves in the spectrum from the sun are shorter than the red waves, so an air molecule appears bigger to arriving blue waves and scatters them more strongly.”

Above: 1. ‘Elblight Sunbeam’ lamp. Lemon-shaped bulb with pip glass, exterior sprayed with blue lacquer, double pin fitting c.1900; 2. 220v bulb with mirror glass and pip. Two carbonised yarn filaments, possibly by Mr Swan c.1910

Equally, the glass shapes and coiling filament lines of the ancient lightbulbs from Hooker’s archive are a symbol of science – yet have an undeniably artistic quality, like fragile wire sculptures mounted in glass cases.

Now defunct objects from a pre-‘energy’ bulb era that lasted well into the 21st-century, these older designs also seem to represent the pursuit of that singular moment of inspiration.

All images published with the permission of David Lay Auction House and James Hooker. The photographs are featured in Findings On Light; Lars Müller Publishers (€35). See lars-mueller-publishers.com


Above, left to right: 220 v clear glass bulb with pip. Two looped carbon filaments with supporting brackets to separate the filaments, fixed with grains of brown sugar. Bayonet fitting, intact c.1900–1910; German Tantalum lamp 230–25 xlk, platinum lead-in wires, drawn tantalum wire filament, woven over four levels of copper supports, 10 arms on each level. Earliest examples of this bulb date from 1906

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