I scouted the thrift store in Wayne, Nebraska for an old lamp to showcase interesting light bulbs. Old or unique light bulbs should be displayed in unique fixtures. There happened to be two old table lamps in the store that day. I selected the one that appeared easier to restore. The terribly tarnished brass lamp cost me a cool 50-cents.
During the drive back to Norfolk, I regretted not buying both lamps. The longer I thought about the decrepit thing, the more I hoped it would still be in the thrift store when I returned the next week. I had doubts, though, because of the old saying among thrifters, “If you see something you like, you’d better buy it right away, or it will be gone the next time you shop.”
In the meantime, I disassembled, then cleaned up the cheapest lamp with a “Scotch” pad and some “Twinkle” brass cleaner. The cleaning job took most of an afternoon. I then reassembled the lamp, substituting a new lamp socket and cord. The finished product exceeded my low expectations of the crusty lamp.
This week, after running the errands I needed to take care of in Wayne, I returned to the thrift store. The ugly lamp was still there. I paid the asking price of $8.00 for it and brought it home.
The following day, I laid out a new socket, new cord, a new harp, and a lampshade for the project. It turned out that the new socket, harp and lampshade could not be used. The only thing I ended up using was the cord.
It was while examining the lamp that I felt a twinge of buyer’s remorse. Would the thing be just a piece of clutter to stash away in the basement or to be resold to an antiques dealer, as is?
I studied the old socket, and noticed that it had been attached to the antique oil lamp with some sort of putty or caulking that had hardened over the years. I didn’t want to risk breaking the glass fuel globe by chipping away the putty, nor did I want to redo the putty after replacing the socket.
Upon further inspection of the socket, itself, it looked like the device was worth keeping. I hadn’t previously noticed that it was marked “Bryant 250 W 250 V Patented May 17, 1910”. I decided that the old socket was going to remain in place. I’m not a lamp expert, so to the Internet I went.
Among the several listings for antique Bryant sockets, Uno threaded for lampshade fittings, some were priced at $13, and a few at over $50. Next, I checked around for instructions about how to service the things. It turns out that the Bryant socket comes apart in a similar way to the ubiquitous “Leviton” sockets on modern lamps. Use a small flathead screwdriver to wedge between the base and the case, then pull apart by hand.
The inner works were a pleasant surprise, a ceramic fixture with all the parts in excellent condition. Even the black cardboard insulation on the case was nearly perfect. Next, I removed the old, shredded wire. The cloth covering long ago rotted away, fibers and rubber chunks dropping off during the process. I kept the plug as a curiousity.
The next problem took some wile and effort to solve. How to thread the new, stiffer cord through the hole in the putty and steer it past the pipe mount on the bottom of the socket then through the hole in the socket base. After much frustrating trial and error I managed to thread a segment of thinner utilitarian wire through both holes. After wrapping the end of the new cord around the wire, I was able to coax the new cord into position by pulling on the wire and pushing on the cord.
That done, it was just a simple matter of tying the Underwriters knot and attaching the cord ends to the proper screws on the ceramic socket base. I snugged everything up and reinstalled the brass case. I temporarily screwed in an old lightbulb to test the repair. It worked fine. I also noticed that the turnkey switched the light on and off by turning in either clockwise or counter-clockwise directions, nice.
The rest of the preparation was pleasant. Some warm water with a little dishwashing detergent plus an old toothbrush worked wonders in removing the set-in attic dirt and tobacco film. A careful rinse with a cool water soaked sponge, and drying with a soft towel, completed the job. I decided not to touch up the small areas the paint had chipped off. I installed a faux-Edison LED bulb, then stepped back to admire my work.
Because the brand new harp and lampshade could not be used on this lamp, I needed to utilize the Uno mounting threads on the socket. A frustrating hunt around town yielded no Uno threaded lampshade fitting at any store. Instead, I found one on eBay and ordered it. When it arrived, all I needed to do was screw the donut shaped piece in place. I finished it off by attaching a vintage frosted glass “trumpet” shade from a thrift store. Voile’ the lamp was done.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes comic book writer/editor, Kelly Sue DeConnick. “If you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.”