Oozing Goo - The Lava Lamp Syndicate

New boiler list! If you don't know what a "boiler lamp" is, you might want to read this!

The new boiler list has been posted, for those of you who love these quirky things! For you who do not, read on.

Since 2006, I've been cataloguing these lamps via French eBay and other searches. The first official list had 25 items, unsorted (they were arranged randomly in a single line). The next, a year later, split them into two stacked columns, had 58 items, and began adding facsimiles of stickers found on them, either masnufacturers' marks or "fait main" (meaning hand made). This iteration is number 19, and has 504 items!

"Boiler" is a fan name, from French collector Karoll who introduced the American collectors to these unusual liquid-motion lamps. We have no idea what their makers called them. These were made mostly in France, in the 1970s, as far as is known, and were hand-blown. Whether they were made at a bench on a straight torch or using a glass-blowing lathe is not known. There are several types I've separated into categories, described below. One factor common to these lamps is, they never have a "cap" per se, a screw-on, a bottlecap or a stopper (with one exception). The glasss globe is actually completely sealed. Some have the glass portion resting in a base made from metal, glass, wood, ceramic, etc. but many have an integral flared glass foot, and a few have a flat bottom with no distinct skirted foot. Some hide the lamp within by wrapping the lower section with a band of metallic foil (some have it at the top, also or alone), while some dispense with the foil and have the inside of the bulb chamber frosted.

Several makers' names or initials are known, but nothing else. At least two lamps were known to have been made in England, and at some point in the early 1970s the French ones were sold there as well. Categories:

"Boilers" percolate constantly or intermittently. Bubbles of vapor develop around the inner chamber containing the light bulb. Some have a pipe in the bottom which traps a 'pool' of vapor that flows up when the level of liquid gets low enough, while others do not and just develop bubbles spontaneously from the warmth. A few use glass beads in the bottom to assist in vapor generation, but to be a "boiler," those with beads must have the pipe and vapor space at the bottom. The riser pipe between the lower and upper chambers was made in countless squiggles, spheres, stretched columns, zig-zags, coils, and even donuts and figure-eights. Blown animal shapes and even one decorated with felt and paper in the manner of a man wearing a wizard's hat exist. Creativity knew no bounds!

"Glitterboilers" encase a boiler within an outer chamber functioning as a standard glitter lamp, with convection currents causing the glitter to flow. These were all made by "M.U.C." of Paris. All but two have separate metal bases.

"Fountains" use that generation of vapor bubbles to force liquid up an inner pipe and through a set of tiny nozzles. One maker, S. Vera of Clermont-Ferrand, created double fountains, where vapor pressure builds up in the first fountain's chamber and intermittently operates a second, upper fountain, with a drain pipe for returning liquid to the lower chamber. Another S. Vera fountain features a blown-glass buck which squirts liquid from its nostrils; yet another has a cartoonish glass car which squirts red liquid exhaust.

"Lavabubblers" contain a thin, clear liquid and a colored oil in a tall column. When vapor bubbles form and rise, they have a coating of oil. Upon reaching the top, the droplets of oil float back down. Some have indents in the glass to make the bubbles and droplets bounce around.

"Lavabubblers with Beads" have glass beads in the oil, causing a much finer spray of bubbles and oil moving upward. A peculiar variety of both types has the chamber for the light bulb extended up nearly the length of the chamber, usually with a spray of dried or plastic flowers within. One is potted into a square resin or Lucite column.

"Lava Fountains" are a cross between a Lavabubbler and a Fountain. Rising vapor forces sprays of oil up and out into the clear liquid. Also all by "M.U.C."

"Bubblers" have a single chamber with no allowance for a lower vapor pool, and vapor bubbles form within a mass of glass beads, resulting in an effect similar to Champagne bubbles. Most boilers make subtle noises, and Bubblers make a sizzling or frying sound. One type uses black gravel instead of beads.

"Tube Bubblers/Telektron Bubblers" use thin glass tubes, with or without glass beads. They bubble like a Christmas bubble light or the bubble tubes in a Wurlitzer jukebox. The Telektron models are Italian.

"Action Lamps" use a strange assembly at the top, into which the light bulb fits, which generates a constant flow into the lower chamber. One type has red glass spheres which tumble and swirl; the other has a pair of spindles which 'stir' around. A table lamp shade is intended to cover the top part. A label found on one carries the name "Evian Dieterman." The one with the spindles has what looks like a stopper in part of it, though I don't know if that's what it is; the other type are visibly completely sealed.

"Handboilers" have no electric lamp, and operate when the user holds it in their hand(s). Very simple handboilers continue to be made in Taiwan, usually called "love meters." The wildest of these operates a tiny glass paddle wheel. Two German and one Swiss example are shown, the German ones dating to the 1930s (the so-called "Franklin pulse glass," said to have been invented by Benjamin Franklin, shows how old this technology really is).

"Glitter Lamps" are included in this list only when the globe is completely sealed by fire. These, too, were all made by "M.U.C." Some of these, like the Glitterboilers, use fancy bases and unusual globe shapes.

"Sabliers" are hourglasses. These are included only when they are French, vintage, and either use liquid or, if they use  sand, have some sort of artistic merit by way of complexity and/or size.

I've also included a French blown glass thermometer. I have not included Cognac pipes, some of which were made by S. Vera, or some glass candleholders with F. Vaudan's sticker.

Questions are welcome. If you have lamps not pictured, please send me photographs so I can include them in the next update!

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Really excellent article Jonas. Thanks for all of your research so far. This really is a fascinating area of interest. There are some great pictures of various boiler types in the group ‘We love French Boilers’ you may be familiar with.

excellent writeup, i know nothing about boiler lamps and this was a great introduction!

That collection is museum worthy

Thanks, Claude. Understand that what you see is only drawings. I don't own all of these. This is every variant I have ever seen in a photo.

Claude J said:

That collection is museum worthy

So interesting... thank you for sharing. Time for a new obsession!

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