Dear Helaine and Joe: We have two alabaster lamps on alabaster columns. They were purchased by our grandmother in Chicago in the 1940s. The question is: What might they be worth?
— D.D., Texas
Dear D. D.: Wow! Your grandmother bought one visually spectacular lamp and another that is pretty darn good.
When she purchased them, they were probably out of fashion: just used lamps that were probably less than 20 years old. But almost 80 years later, the world is a different place, and we can only call her a really good shopper.
We should probably break the bad news before we get too far along. In this case, the two columns or pedestals on which the lamps reside are not original. The larger lamp has an oddly shaped base that does not fit the top of its pedestal. The smaller lamp does not integrate well with its column, either.
This means both were originally designed to be table and not floor lamps. And alabaster floor lamps are much more valuable than their table lamp cousins. Still, with the smaller “Rebecca at the Well” lamp standing 31 inches tall and the turbaned lady 46 inches tall, they are good substantial alabaster lamps, and both make a design statement.
Alabaster is a soft and easily carved mineral. Archaeologists and geologists disagree on exactly what it is, but boiling it all down, there are two types. The first is fine-grained gypsum, while the second is a fine-grained banded calcite. The gypsum is so soft it can be scratched with a fingernail, but the calcite is a little bit harder (a 3 on the Mohs scale) and requires tools to carve it.
Both minerals are slightly water-soluble, so care should be taken. We believe the lamps are probably of the calcite variety and that they were probably carved in Italy after the end of World War I, say circa 1925 (Florence is a likely location). It would enhance their monetary value if they were signed by the artist, but D.D. did not report a signature and we did not see one in the photographs.
The second lamp depicts a woman with a pitcher held high on her shoulders and is very much in the “Rebecca at the Well” style. If it is in perfect condition, the lamp itself should be valued for insurance purposes in the $1,800 to $2,500 range. The column pedestal adds another $250 to $350.
The lamp pictured with this letter is a real beauty. At 46 inches tall, it depicts a stylishly dressed woman in a turbanlike hat with a dress that incorporates a sort of shawl with deep sleeves that the woman is holding off to her side. The shade is beautifully detailed around the edge, and the dome is etched with an attractive band of leaf designs.
The lamp should be valued for insurance purposes in the $3,500-4,000 range and again, the pedestal adds another $250 to $350.