They may not be Pairpoint Puffies or have shades crafted by Tiffany Studios, but revolving motion lamps do have one quality that sets them apart- they don't just sit there, they do something! Not only do these fun lamps light up a room, they also bring to life a beautiful, motion filled scene.
Several companies produced these lamps in many different styles from the 1920s to the 1960s. The first appears to have been the Scene-in-Action Co of Chicago, which produced the lamps until the mid-'30s. The lamps consisted of a glass cylinder with a metal top and base; action was simulated by an inside cylinder with blades on top that revolved as air headed by the light bulb moved up the shaft. The motion of this inside cylinder lent its movement to the scene depicted on the outer glass cylinder. As the company put it, you could 'travel to distant places in your own home; see a forest fire rage or the river cascade over Niagara Falls'. There were at least 11 different models produced by Scene-in-Action, of which the two aforementioned lamps are the most commonly seen today.
After Scene-in-Action ceased production, it appears that no revolving lamps were manufactured until the Econolite Corporation started making them in 1946. The first lamps they made were limited to three designs: Fountain of Youth, Forest Fire, and Niagara Falls. Made entirely of plastic with a hard plastic top and base, these three original designs were the most popular. The firm later produced a variety of lamps ranging from Mother Goose nursery rhymes scenes to revolving Christmas trees and character motifs such as Hopalong Cassidy. The list goes on, and it's unclear how many models of lamps were made (every time we believe we know of all the different Econolite models we discover a new one that we didn't know existed). For that reason alone, collecting these whimsical lamps is always an adventure- you never know what you might find.
The Econolite Corporation still exists, but the lamp lithograph division was sold in 1961, and production of motion lamps stopped shortly thereafter. It is believed that the last one produced was a model made for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, which depicts the Space Needle with the Monorail operating beneath it.
While several other firms manufactured these wonderful lamps, Scene-in-Action and Econolite were the most prolific. One nice feature for collectors is that the lamps were usually well marked; Scene-in-Action cast their name on the underside of the metal top, while Econolite printed their name and dated each lamp on the shade itself. As with any collectable, condition is very important- damaged parts and meltdowns due to using a bulb of too high wattage considerably reduce value. Rarity may also affect price as some scenes and company's lamps are harder to find that others… still, most motion lamps are surprisingly inexpensive.
The variety of interests motion lamps represent, from Boy Scout to trains to seasonal items, gives them appeal to more than just lamp collectors. The popularity of these delightful lamps continues to increase, especially as those who grew up in or lived through the '50s remembers them and begin to collect- it's like bringing home a piece of your childhood each time you find one! -Linda and Bill Mongomery
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