A brief history of the iconic green Banker Light

A brief history of the iconic green Banker Light

The love of all things vintage, retro, and antiquated is a passion that brings together so many people – who doesn’t look back to the refinement and sophistication of those decades past with fascination and pure wonder. Within the world of vintage/retro lovers, there are some items or products that stand above the masses as iconic symbols of the aesthetic style of the first half of the 20th century. The Emeralite lamps, is one of those identifiable symbols – those legendary green glass banker lamps that are synonymous with the pre-war period. 

The Double Emeralite Partner’s Lamp – the name says it all. Credit: Vintage Wednesday

With the increasing interest in period dramas on TV and in the cinema, the natural frequent cameos of the Emeralite lamp made us wonder how this light came to dominate the living and working spaces of a whole age. Its popularity continuing to this day – university and national libraries the world over still adorn their reading rooms with Emeralite lamps. I wanted to delve deeper into the origins of this light, and uncover some history of this titan of early-modern manufacturing and product design.

The banker came into existence with the filing of the first patent on 11 May 1901 by Harrison G. McFadden of H.G McFaddin & Co., produced under the name of “Emeralite” not long after. The Banker’s lamp world-renowned design of an electric table lamp characterized by a brass stand, vivid emerald green glass lamp shade and pull-down chain switch mechanism, were an instant hit with consumers of the day. Within a few years, the Emeralite’s popularity had spread across the globe, becoming the must-have lighting fixture on work desks from New York to Shanghai.

 The original Emeralite lamps – each piece was dated and numbered. Credit: HR Tyrer Galleries

The most obvious question that comes to mind with the Emeralite lamp, is why the green glass shade? The answer is quite simple - the colour green was and still is viewed as psychologically soothing, ‘cool’ and calming, so its usage in the offices and work spaces was seen as a tool to encourage focus and concentration. Moreover, business owners saw it as a way of boosting productivity and efficiency of their staff. In those days, backstage at Broadway theatres in New York there were “green rooms” to calm actors nerves before they headed on-stage, further evidence of the belief of society at the time in the tranquil properties of the colour green.

Interestingly, in the early days of the Emeralite, all the green glass lampshades were produced in a single factory in the city of Rapotin, Moravia – now part of the Czech Republic. H.G. Mcfadden & Co had an agreement with the factory that the green glass lampshade could only be produced for them and never to be sold to other customers. From one single source, these famous green glass shades spread across the world, fueled by the consumer tastes of the era. 

The Emeralite is a symbol of the elegance of the pre-war period. Credit: Harp Gallery

While typically associated with libraries and banking halls, the Emeralite style spread to many other lighting forms, such as models designed for bedside tables, standing lights, draftsmen’s tables, typewriter tables, amongst many others – for use in the home as well as at work. Lamps were also available with a huge variety of additional features such as removable inkwells, penholders, clocks and calendars. 

The eye-catching green lampshades were seen in a huge variety of different forms. Credit: H.G.McFadden & Co.

If you want to bring some of the timeless style of that bygone era to your own home or work desk, do take a look at Cluster-Cluster’s very own versions of the Bank Light – our homage to this legendary piece. The cool green glow is an excellent companion as you work through the night, while also perfectly at home illuminating the living room perched on top of a side table or console. All we can say is, the Emeralite is a true celebrity of the home décor world, with such a distinctively beautiful design and the flexibility to fit into almost any room, and will definitely continue to light up homes and office across the globe for decades to come. 

Head Image Credit:
Morgan Freeman’s character burning the midnight oil at the city library, a timeless scene taken from the noir -psychological thriller film Seven. Credit: New Line Cinema
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