Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

I'm not very active here any more, mainly because I can't afford to do much buying and I never find good stuff locally. But I'm still extremely interested in these mysterious French-made lamps from the early 1970s. For those who are also interested, this list compiles every design and color variant I've seen. If anyone has one not pictured here, either owns it or has a photo of it, please tell me!

For those who don't know, or simply desire a refresher course, these lamps are generally called "boilers," and it isn't yet known what they were called when new Even exactly what liquid(s) they contain is a mystery; some may use methyl alcohol or ethylene chloride, but one maker used a label which identifies the contents as being non-toxic, and those two are nothing of the kind! They date to the early 70s, and all but a few were made in France. They were made using laboratory/scientific glass-blowing techniques, and many are made entirely of glass, with the socket resting inside a hollow chamber at the bottom. Some fit into a separate base containing the socket. I've come up with categories for them; these names are not what makers called them, as far as I know.

Many have a silver or gold foil, leather or other band around the bulb chamber to hide the light bulb; some have a band around the top, too. Others have the inside of the bulb chamber sandblasted for a frosted effect, also to hide the naked bulb.

"Boilers" contain liquid and a low vacuum. The lower chamber has a pipe extending down into it, and the upper end rises vertically, ending in another (usually round) chamber. When heated, the liquid, which has a low evaporation point, forms vapor in the air space of the lower chamber. The pressure forces the liquid up the pipe, and when the level gets low enough, vapor bubbles flow up the pipe, pushing the liquid. Some bubble violently at intervals, while others percolate constantly. Most have the pipe formed as a coil, zig-zag, or other shapes, which make the percolation more fun to watch.

"Bubblers" lack the pipe extending into the lower chamber. The heat of the bulb causes vapor bubbles to form, which then flow to the top at intervals. Some have a lower portion filled with glass beads or gravel, which help the bubbles form; these usually bubble constantly.

"Fountains" are of the 'boiler' category, but use the rising bubbles to force the liquid out of tiny jets. The ones by glassblower S. Vera are especially interesting; some of his have a glass elk or buck, whose nostrils squirt, while others have a second, upper fountain which operates intermittently as vapor builds up in the first or lower fountain. One has a cartoony glass automobile which pumps out red liquid exhaust. Another maker's fountains have three spouting swans around a central vertical jet.

"Lavabubblers" contain a second liquid, a thick oil, and the upper liquid is usually colorless (unless the lamp has been shaken like a hot lava lamp!) When vapor bubbles form in the oil, they rise, coated in oil. They burst at the top, and the globules of oil fall again. Some use dents in the glass, either to bounce the bubbles around, and/or to magnify them for more interesting visuals. Some of these have been known to leap off the table when they first erupt after warming up!

"...with beads." Many lavabubblers have beads in the bottom, which create more numerous bubbles, as well as breaking them up, creating wilder 'sprays' of oil. The lavabubblers-with-beads having a flared chrome base, made by F. Vaudan, are some of the most common boilers oil there. Some of these, with and without beads, have the inner bulb chamber extended up for nearly the entire height, and these usually have fake flowers in there.

"Lava fountains" are like a lavabubbler, but with a riser with a jet(s) which spout oil and vapor into the clear liquid. As far as is known, these, and lamps in the two following categories, were all made by "M.U.C." of Paris, who also made regular boilers.

"Glitterboilers" are exactly what they sound like: a boiler inside a glitter lamp. Both inner and outer chambers are completely sealed. No boiler can have a screw-on cap, because they require a low vacuum to operate.

"Glitter lamps" are only included on the list when, as with boilers, the glass chamber is completely, permanently sealed.

"Handboilers" are simply boilers with no electric component, activated by the warmth of your hand(s). These were also widely produced in Germany, Japan, Taiwan and are still made in China, but non-French ones are rarely in such large, elaborate forms. I had always assumed the cheap Taiwanese models I saw in novelty shops in the 80s, containing a lady with squirting breasts or a phallus, were modern expressions, but I've now seen French ones! These were sometimes sold as "love meters."

"Action Lamps" are an unusual style, made by someone called Evian Dieterman (or Dieterman Evian). A strange hollow cup at the top contained an inverted socket and bulb, which created convection currents. In one, they cause red metallic spheres to swim around; in the other, which is sealed with a large rubber plug, two glass spindles pirouette around each other! I have only seen these two.

"Sabliers" are hourglasses. These are only included when they are French, unusual, vintage, and are either liquid-filled and/or made by someone who also made boilers, such as F. Vaudan.

The "Telektron bubblers," made in Italy, and the "tube bubbler" use the same tech as a "Bubbler," but in long, thin tubes, which contain glass beads and rest in a separate base in close proximity to a light bulb. This is the same format used for Christmas bubble lights and the bubble tubes Wurlitzer used in jukeboxes. The Telektron lamps were made in Italy.

IMPORTANT: I DO NOT HAVE THESE FOR SALE OR TRADE! I own one boiler (no. 1 on the list, top left, an unusually-large model which was on the office desk of a UK salesman who imported laboratory glassware from France). Mine is one of three boilers I know of to have reached the USA, but which were not imported by a boiler collector. I do not own any other boilers at all... though I would very much like to have a few! I see these on eBay France, via image searches and other collectors.

If anyone has questions about these, knows more about them, or has photos of ones not on my list, I check this site semi-regularly.

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Jonas, you should come back more often. Your knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject is amazing and invaluable to the forum here.


Modulo '70 said:

Jonas, you should come back more often. Your knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject is amazing and invaluable to the forum here.

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