Antiques & Collectibles: Alabaster lamps have timeless appeal

This alabaster boudoir lamp is one of a matching pair circa 1920s and 1930s. Mint, working sets presently are selling for $40 to $70, based on size and decoration.

Question: The alabaster lamp shown in my photo is one of a pair owned by my late husband's mother. Each is 12 inches high without its silk shade. I would like information about the lamps as well as how they should be cleaned. - V.K., Northfield

Answer: Your lamps, often described as boudoir lights, typify lamps used on ladies' vanities during the first half of the 20th century. Their classical urn-shape with carved, fluted decoration was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s when thousands were produced at factories located in Florence, Italy.

Latest Video

Alabaster, also known as satin spar, is a soft, smooth, off-white stone used to make figurines, boxes, vases perfume bottles and lamp bases for centuries. Often enriched with the brown clouding and veining evident on your lamp, it has been a favorite material of sculptors since ancient times.

Although many methods for cleaning alabaster have been suggested over the years, National Park Service conservators warn water as well as abrasives will destroy the delicate surface of an alabaster article. They add that waxing an alabaster item will result in gradual yellowing of its surface and suggest occasional dry dusting with a soft bristle brush and careful handling are optimal ways to care for your lamps.

Present asking prices for large figural and table alabaster lamps are as high as $1,200, while a pair of mint, working boudoir lights with silk shades bring $40 to $70, based on size and decoration.

Question: I would appreciate information about this picture of a beautiful lady that hung in my grandmother's seashore home for years. It is 8 inches wide and 36 inches long inside its frame. A paper "Courtesy of Pabst Extract Co." label is pasted on its back. - D.P., Maple Shade

Answer: Grandmother's yard

-long lithographic print or yard picture was a 1916 advertising premium offered to customers of general and department stores by the Pabst Brewing Co. of Milwaukee. Suitable for framing, such dividends were provided by large companies from the turn of the last century through the 1930s and often included a calendar pad.

Hung horizontally or vertically according to theme, yard-longs originally featured children, animals and flowers but advertisers soon found that lovely, fashionably attired "long ladies" were popular subjects. Your lady advertises the Pabst Co. Extract Tonic, a touted cure-all elixir created from barley malt and hops ballyhooed as "the best tonic" for expectant and nursing mothers and their babies as well as a "rejuvenator" of the elderly.

Prices of yard-longs such as yours currently range from $70 to $120 when they are not faded, have not been trimmed and their frames are not worn or chipped.

Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist whose consulting firm, Treasures Unlimited, is based in southern New Jersey. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Life section, The Press of Atlantic City, 11 Devins Lane, Pleasantville, N.J. 08232. Email:

Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.

Recommended for you

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.