The Return of the Lava Lamp

5th January 2024

The Return of the Lava Lamp Image

The Bourne collective sale held on the 29th November offered for sale not one but two retro lava lamps. Is this a resurgence of the iconic 20thC lamp?

The lava lamp was invented in 1963 by British lighting entrepreneur Edward Cravan Walker, owner of Mathmos. Following a visit to a London pub Craven Walker noticed on a shelf a glass cocktail shaker containing water sitting on a hot plate. When the hot plate was turned on the oil would rise to the top of the water, a type of egg timer, where the length of time it would take for the oil to rise would perfectly cook an egg. The invention was by a regular of the pub called Alfred Dunnett who Cravan Walker purchased the patent from.

Lava lamps are created by pouring a special coloured wax called bolus into a glass vessel containing translucent liquid. The vessel in placed on a base which contains an incandescent light bulb, the heat from which alters the density of the wax causing it is rise as it is heated, and falls as it cools. The movement mimics the flow of lava. The first prototype of Cravan Walker’s ‘Astro Lamp’ was made using an orange squash bottle, water and wax!

Cravan Walker had to work hard to market the item as a piece of sophisticated luxurious fun but with the rise of psychedelic hippie counter culture the lava lamp found its niche. As with all items that become cult pieces of their time, the lava lamp fell into a decline until the late 1980s and early 90s when rave culture fuelled a new buyer of the iconic lamps. This was also helped when the original patent ran out in 1991 and wide scale multiple manufacture of the lamps could commence.

Do you have an original ‘Astro Lamp’ hiding in your attic or a later 90s lava lamp? Now might be the time to dig them out!

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