Dear Helaine and Joe:
What can you tell me about this lamp that we inherited from my husband's family? His mother told me she believed it was obtained after a remodeling of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City in the early 1900s. The metal base is damaged from salty air. We think of it as being a cloisonne style lamp and would be interested in any further history and its monetary value.
Dear A. L.:
This is a floor lamp and we believe it has always been electrified. Our opinion might have been changed if we could have seen the top of the piece, but in the photographs we have, the top part of the fixture is hidden by a silk shade.
The Waldorf Astoria Hotel now stands on Park Avenue in Manhattan, but originally it was located on Astor family property along Fifth Avenue. It started as two buildings, the Waldorf Hotel and the Astoria Hotel (thus the amalgamation of the names). The passageway between the two buildings was known as Peacock Alley.
This symbol of luxurious accommodations was opened in 1893 and torn down in 1929 to make room for the building of the Empire State Building. The name "Waldorf" was derived from Waldorf, Germany, the ancestral home of the Astor family.
The name was "The Waldorf-Astoria" before 1949, when Conrad Hilton bought the establishment and gave the name a double hyphen Waldorf=Astoria. All hyphens were removed from the name in 2009, but in the early 20th century New Yorkers used to say "Meet me at the hyphen" meaning meet me at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The lamp in today's question may have been in the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel – it was the first hotel to be totally electrified and to have bathrooms in every guest room – but without photographic or written documentary evidence we can never be sure. The lamp is most likely from the early 20th century, and we believe it to be post-World War I (circa 1920).
Unfortunately, it is not cloisonne or even "cloisonne style." Instead it was made using a related technique known as "champleve." In the crafting of cloisonne, small cells are formed on a metal or ceramic body using wire to create barriers between different colored enamels.
Champleve, on the other hand, is formed by stamping, etching or engraving depressions in a metal body and then filling the cavities with colored enamel. By and large, champleve is a cruder technique and most serious collectors prefer objects decorated with cloisonne.
Since receiving this inquiry, we have examined a number of champleve floor lamps and have found originally some seem to have had slag glass shades. The base appears to be Chinese with a shade that was added later. Without a provable Waldorf Astoria attribution, it would probably sell at auction in the $300 to $400 range and be worth maybe $600 to $800 at retail or perhaps a bit more in the right marketplace.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at email@example.com. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.