Market Update

Exceeding "Fairy" Market Values
Rare Victorian-era fairy lamps command top prices.

By Bill Van Lannen
Antique Trader News Editor

Antique Trader Magazine
October 9, 2002

The market is over-saturated with contemporary fairy lamps due in part to the Internet, but truly rare Victorian-era lamps, routinely exceed "fairy" market value, according to Jim Sapp, the editor and publisher of the Fairy Lamp Club newsletter and a contributor to the recently-released Antique Trader Lamps & Lighting Price Guide (Krause Publications, 2002).

"For the beginning collector, there are often good buys available on common fairy lamps. While that is good news for the junior collector, it does little to help the seller achieve a fair market value for their fairy lamp."

"Of course, fair market value is in the eye of the beholder. There was a time, before online auctions, when "common" was not a term applied to Victorian fairy lamps. But, with millions of potential buyers and sellers just a keystroke away, all that has changed."

"Today, what was once a rare find is often readily available from the comfort of your home. Buyers can be selective and often they are only interested in one example of a particular style of fairy lamp in their collection, leaving the next one to another equally fortunate buyer. Unless, of course, they are like me and never pass up a bargain, no matter how many Nailsea-type fairy lamps I have," said Sapp, of Alexandria, Va."

The market remains highly competitive for the advanced collector, and it is these collectors who will often pay more than fair market value to add that special piece to their collection, Sapp noted.

"While it is true that many advanced collectors buy for investment purposes, I would contend that just as many buy purely for the satisfaction of improving the completeness of their collection, at any cost," said Sapp. "This is good news for the seller of truly rare or choice fairy lamps. Unless the piece is damaged in some way, they can usually expect to easily recover their investment and make, in many cases, substantial profit."

The Internet, online auctions and, to some extent, live auctions are the most positive forces driving the market, according to Sapp.

"Today, thanks to the Internet, my next fairy is just as likely to come from New Zealand as a local antique show. In fact, I think it is more likely," he said. "As for online auctions, the contemporary fairy lamp market is over-saturated. On any given day, 300 or more contemporary fairy lamps are up for auction. The buyers can be very selective and the sellers must accept low profit margins."

"Victorian fairy lamps are a different story. However, it is not too uncommon to have six or more Victorian fairy lamps being offered at any given time. Very different from what you would likely find at a local antique show or shop."

"As for live auctions, I think they also can credit some of their success in fairy lamp sales to the Internet and Internet Web sites. Absentee bidding and online bidding at a live auction is the norm for choice fairy lamps, much to the dismay of those who sit for hours in the gallery. That said, I have been relatively successful at live auctions even with my relatively shallow pockets."

Contemporary fairy lamps of all types dominate sales and are among the most actively traded. The same cannot be said of Victorian fairy lamps where no one style seems to hold sway over all others, although there are favorites.

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This 6-inch high piece features a fairy-size satin-finished Burmese glass shade decorated in the woodbine pattern on a signed Taylor, Tunnicliffe and Co. creamware flower bowl base decorated in flowers. It is worth $1,000.

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This floral-shaped fairy lamp is valued at $350.

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A blue mother-of-pearl satin glass Diamond Quilted fairy-size shade in a clear frosted lamp cup with diamond pattern is valued at $750.

All photos courtesy of the Fairy Lamp Club.

"In respect to Victorian fairy lamps, I don't think there is a dominant style except for the more common blown mold styles and certain glass types such as diamond quilted satin glass or the Nailsea type," said Sapp. "That said, a choice fairy lamp in decorated Burmese will surely capture the bulk of the revenue and will certainly have the attention of many bidders and non-bidders alike.

"A good example is my personal collection, which by many standards is modest. While my collection is very diverse, you will find at least a couple dozen of the Nailsea-type and almost as many diamond quilted satin fairy lamps. The reasons I have acquired so many are the Internet and their availability. Many of those fairy lamps came from Canada, England, and Australia. Hardly my marketplace just a few short years ago."

Why collect fairy lamps?

There are many reasons for collecting fairy lamps, but for Sapp the answer can be found in the glass.

"You cannot collect fairy lamps without a passion for art glass in general," he said. "Add to that the seemingly endless varieties, countless art glass styles, their simple and diverse origins and, lest we forget, their painful rarity, and you have all the makeings for a rich and rewarding collection."

For Sapp, art glass variety is the key to his collection.

"I must say, it is the seemingly infinite varieties of art glass that lights my candle. There is perhaps nothing more beautiful than Thomas Webb's Burmese, especially decorated in his unique style. But, in addition, I think I enjoy sharing my hobby with others the most."

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This fairy lamp with a shaded blue mother-ojapead satin Diamond Quilted pattern shade is worth $500.

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A fairy lamp epergne with two satin finished decorated Burmese glass shades and three Burmese satin finished posey vases with a Burmese central column could command $2,500.

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Expect to pay $250 for an embossed rib fairy-size shade in amethyst and white swirls on a smooth-shouldered matching lamp cup base.

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A jeweled brass fairy-size domed shade on a four-footed brass base with integral candle cup is worth $250.
All photos courtesy of the Fairy Lamp Club.

Club is dedicated to advancement of fairy lamps

The Fairy Lamp Club, established in 1996, is dedicated to the research and advancement of information related to Victorian and contemporary fairy lamps and is the largest club dedicated to this specialized collectable.  Its approximately 160 members are found throughout the United States, Canada, England and Australia. The Fairy Lamp Newsletter is published quarterly, and the primary focus of the newsletter is Victorian-era fairy lamps. In addition to articles specific to fairy lamps, the newsletter contains photos of previously undocumented fairy lamps, classified ads, fairy lamp auction reports, Internet news and more.

"The membership includes many collectors who have dedicated years -- in some cases decades to researching and collecting Victorian and contemporary fairy lamps and other candle-burning devices. They are an invaluable source of information and share their experience freely with other club members through their contributions to the Fairy Lamp Newsletter and the online Fairy Lamp Discussion Group," said Jim Sapp, editor and publisher of the newsletter.

Some new discoveries come in the form of original manufacturer design catalogs. One recent discovery was the original design books from the English firm Stevens & Williams.

"We have long known that S&W produced fairy lamps, but it was not until this discovery that we fully appreciated how they adapted some of their bowl designs to accommodate fairy lamp shades" Sapp said.

The Fairy Lamp Club's Web site includes fairy lamp reference materials, a complete Index of the Fairy Lamp Newsletters and several on-line articles. It also hosts extensive photo galleries and a Web page of "lonely parts" for members to find, sell, or trade missing fairy lamp parts,

"In addition, the Web site hosts several ongoing research projects including The Burmese Decorations of Thomas Webb, Fenton Fairy Lights 1953-2002 and The Fairy Lamps of Samuel Clarke 1887-1891. We also provide our members a means to advertise and sell the Victorian era fairy lamps online. We only started this feature a few weeks ago, but already some of our members have sold fairy lamps that failed to reach their reserve on a well-known online auction provider. I enjoy nothing better that to see one club member sell a fairy lamp to another club member." Sapp said.

Sapp measures the success of the club by the wealth of substantive information provided to members and non-members alike through the newsletter and the Web site.

"I cannot begin to express the accolades we have received regarding the information on our Web site. Some from truly grateful visitors who were simply trying to find information on a newly acquired collection that they knew absolutely nothing about," Sapp said. "The Web site provided them an appreciation for their newfound collection and. in some cases, provided them the information they needed to properly dispose of it."

Club membership has been steady with small increases over the past few years. Sapp hopes to see the membership grow to about 200 by the end of next year.

"While I do most of the work, it is our membership that makes our club successful. Without the participation of our membership, there would be no club, no newsletter, and no Web site. I am forever grateful to our club members for providing me the opportunity to learn and share information about our common interest - fairy lamps," said Sapp.

The Fairy Lamp Club Web site is located at For additional information concerning the Fairy Lamp Club contact Jim Sapp at (703) 971-3229 or via e-mail at


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