What do an accountant, an egg timer and the science fiction classic, Doctor Who have in common? They each played a part in the history of retro phenomena that we call the Lava Lamp.
The invention of this 1960s classic is attributed to the work of Edward-Crave Walker, a British bookkeeper/inventor who was struck with the idea while watching a homemade egg timer bubbling on the stove at a neighborhood pub. Fascinated by the blending and mingling of the liquids in the timer, he set out to create a lamp that mimicked its mesmerizing effect. He efforts resulted in, what he called, the “Astro Lantern.” Hoping to profit from his invention, placed it on exhibit at the German Trade Show of 1965 where he sold the U.S. rights to Adolph Wertheimer and Hy Spector. They perfected it, renamed it “The Lava Lite Lamp” and sold it to American businessman, Larry Haggerty. It would become the life’s work of Haggerty, who produced it for the next 30 years at his company Lava World International.
As complex as they may appear, Lava lamps work on a basic scientific principle…. certain liquids don’t mix. When the metal coils in the light bulb (20-40 watts) heat the wax it loses density and rises to the top of the lamp. When it reaches the top, it cools, gains density, and sinks again. While the contents of the Lava Lamp has altered through the years, the formula from the 1968 U.S. patent is water, coloring, mineral oil, paraffin and carbon tetrachloride.
There is, arguably, no other 60s collectible that so aptly represents this period in our nation’s history. Lava Lamps instantly became a symbol of the psychedelic counterculture of the day. Doctor Who owned a Lava Lamp, Paul McCartney used them onstage and Grateful Dead sidekick Wavvy Gravy endorsed them as the perfect enhancement while listening to rock music as they. “… caused the synapses in your brain to loosen up!” .
Collectors of this nostalgic piece categorize Lava Lamps by the modifications in their design. There are five basic groups to watch for. The earliest lamps will have two cones that slip into one another with and an exposed green ground wire. Second issues will have a flatter top and the ground wire is protected by a metal plate. They are easy to spot as they will have air at the top. There were two major alteration to the third design: there was no longer an air gap at the top and many will have a felt base and four bubble shaped feet. The lamps from the fourth issue will be slimmer than the originals with four bubble feet. The fifth generation of lava lamps are those from the 1970s and the most commonly collected. These lamps will be one piece and have a Bakelite base.
It requires some degree of patience to operate a true vintage Lava Lamp. The heating process takes an hour if the lamp has been stored at room temperature, 2-3 hours if it has been in a colder setting. NOTE: Wait for the bulb to warm the lamp contents. There are a number of cases reported where impatient owners have attempted to use heating stoves and other means to speed up the heating process. This can result in sever burns and injury from flying glass.
At the peak of their popularity more than 7 millions Lava lamps were sold world wide each year. As a result, many survived and can be found online and a local shops in the $50-$100 range. Not much bread to lay down for something so groovy! Until next time . . . Linda.
Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org