From the October/November 2022 Issue  

A Light with Soul

Writer Ren Miller

An automotive engineer’s creativity spawns a fixture for the office, the home and Hollywood

It may seem unusual to want to pat a light fixture on the head and say, “There, there, little one.” But then the Anglepoise® Lamp is an unusual light fixture.

A sage green edition of the Original 1227™ desk lamp is a collaboration of Anglepoise and the National Trust, a heritage conservation organization for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For the imaginative among us, the lamp looks like a mechanical body with a bendable spine and movable head. In fact, the Anglepoise has inspired:
• A dancing lamp sequence in Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” video in 1982.
• References by the protagonist of Salman Rushdie’s 1981 novel Midnight’s Children as providing the light in which he writes.
• The 1978 song “(I Wanna Be an) Anglepoise Lamp” by English rock group The Soft Boys.
• A 1949 restriction that prevented BBC employees from using an Anglepoise on their desk unless a ceiling or wall light was also turned on. An overly zealous official believed that someone working in the light of a low-wattage lamp like the Anglepoise might produce degenerate programming. It was, not surprisingly, a short-lived restriction.
• And perhaps the most well-known connection: Pixar’s use of a similar lamp in its logo (see sidebar).

The Anglepoise Lamp had humble beginnings 90 years ago when George Carwardine (1887-1947), a British automotive engineer, applied for a patent on a new type of spring-tension mechanism that could be moved easily in any direction and remained rigid in any position. Carwardine had started to work on the concept a few years earlier while developing vehicle suspension systems for Horstmann Car Co. in the United Kingdom. He left Horstmann when the company ran into financial trouble, later returned and then left again in 1931 to work at his own company, Cardine Accessories.

It was at Cardine Accessories that he realized his spring mechanism would be perfect for an articulating task lamp that combines flexibility and stability. He created a lamp with a four-spring mechanism: As the user moved the joints of the lamp, the springs activated and balanced it, allowing the lamp to hold its shape. It could be moved up or down, right or left at any angle to focus the light exactly where it was needed. The 25-watt bulb he used was economical and bright enough because the light was directed so precisely. Carwardine called it the Anglepoise (angle + poise or pose) Lamp.

The lamp was popular from the start, and Carwardine soon realized he needed a partner in the business. In 1934, he signed a licensing agreement with Herbert Terry and Sons, which had already supplied the springs for the lamps. Carwardine continued working to develop other versions. While the original four-spring design was intended for commercial environments such as workshops and medical offices, Carwardine soon developed a three-spring version with an attractive stepped base designed for residential use. This version, called the Original 1227™, was released in 1935. It has undergone some refinements over the years but is considered the standard-bearer of the Anglepoise family.

Today, Anglepoise is its own company, and members of the Terry family are still in charge. The line has expanded to encompass a range of Anglepoise styles, sizes and finishes — including floor, wall and pendant lights — designed by Carwardine and, later, a bevy of British notables, including industrial designer Sir Kenneth Grange and fashion designers Paul Smith and Margaret Howell.

All of the lamps come with a lifetime guarantee and are available at The Original 1227 is $315.

Movie buffs have seen it countless times. An articulated lamp hops across the screen, stomps down the letter “I” in the Pixar logo and then turns its “head” toward the viewer. Although it looks like an Anglepoise, the Pixar mascot was modeled on a similar lamp introduced in 1937 by Luxo ASA in Norway. That lamp, called Luxo, in 1986 inspired John Lasseter, who was then with Pixar Animation Studios, to write and direct a computer-animated short film called Luxo, Jr. That 2-minute film, featuring father-and-son lamp characters Luxo Sr. and Luxo Jr., became the first one using computer-generated imagery to be nominated for an Academy Award. All was well between Luxo and Disney-owned Pixar until the latter started to sell an unauthorized Luxo Jr. lamp packaged with a Blu-ray version of the film Up in 2009. Luxo sued and Disney agreed to stop selling Luxo Jr. lamps as long as Pixar was allowed to continue using Luxo Jr. as its corporate mascot.