Pierrot and Columbine

Pierrot and Columbine

Restoring a 1920’s Figural Table Lamp

Published: 1/8/2016
By: Jerome Vernon
About the Author: Jerome Vernon is a software developer/project manager and an avid antiques enthusiast. When Jerome’s not busy creating business related software products for his clients he’s restoring antiques and writing articles for Restoration News.
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Pierrot and Columbine
Restoring a 1920’s Figural Table Lamp
  Awhile back my husband came across this very detailed art deco lamp circa 1920’s.  It needed refinishing and rewiring, but still had its globe shaped glass shade on top (see picture).  Who, I asked, is that couple.  He said, “That is Pierrot and Columbine”!  I had never heard of the names so I decided to look up what I could find on the subject.

Well, low and behold “this couple” was quite famous.  Based on a story of Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin is one that is said to have originated in Turkey some 4000 years ago, but rose to popularity during its appearance in theCommedia del Arte during the Italian Renaissance.

This story gained momentum in Paris when Jean-Gaspard Debureau, a Bohemian-Frnch actor popularized the character through his silent mimes. OK, now I am seeing this character with his clown outfit and black skullcap staring up at the moon. (He is in his moonstruck poise)

The story of Pierrot is one of unrequited love. Pierrot is often seen as a moonstruck, naive and a foolish character who pines after the lovely Columbine. Eventually, she betrays him and leaves him for Harlequin. (How sad is that!) Pierrot is also found in the popular French song Au Clair de la Lune.

During my research, I found that the story of Pierrott and Columbine were kept alive through many different venues; art, jewelry, fashion. I recently purchased some vintage postcards at the “Vintage Prophecy” on Etsy.  This store carries original postcards from vintage theater to royalty.

Back to the lamp, I can now turn over the technical rewiring to my husband. When he has finished working his magic, I will proudly display the Pierrot and Columbine lamp along with my vintage postcards and continue to keep the story going. 

When I spotted the Pierrot and Columbine lamp on a top shelf of an local antique shop, I knew the wife would love it. The lamp is in rough shape but the price was right, only $75 so I brought it home. After presenting the lamp to my wife it was soon relinquished to the workshop for repairs due to its non-functional electrical and drab appearance.

The lamp base is made from pot metal (also known as monkey metal, white metal, or die-cast zinc) and was manufactured and offered in-mass during the 1920’s. Unfortunately, being pot metal which is prone to crack, shatter and pit with age, existing pristine examples are rare. Pot metal is made from a multitude of soft dissimilar metals so relatively rapid decay via atmospheric moisture induced galvanic corrosion and loss of decorative electroplated and painted coatings is common. When die-cast items suffer from pitting and general material loss there are limited choices for repair. For ornamental items, aside from electroplating, there are patina chemicals for zinc, pewter and tin that produce colors from deep brown to black and sometimes with red shades. There are also dyes for color and toning, pigments for accents and topcoats for sealing and protecting.

For this lamp I will take the simple approach by cleaning, applying a dye based aerosol, a gold dry pigment for highlights and topcoat with a clear satin sheen aerosol lacquer. I will also clean the lamp socket and rewire using a vintage style cloth-covered wire with matching plug. This small project will be completed within a few hours.

Process Steps

Disassembly and Surface Preparation

The first step was to completely disassemble the lamp while inspecting and cleaning each of its components. For safe keeping the smaller parts are stored in a plastic zip-lock bag. The globe is cleaned using an aerosol foam glass/surface cleaner and then stored safely away while awaiting final assembly.

The metal base and copper shade holder are cleaned using Mohawk Finishing Products solvent-based wax wash cleaner. The copper shade holder is buffed to brilliant shine using a 10 inch stacked spiral Sewn Cotton wheels and jeweler's rouge. After buffing, the shade holder is cleaned free of waxes using detergent and hot water.

The shade holder receives a light coat of Mohawk Finishing Products ‘Dark Walnut / Oak Ultra™ Classic Toner’ and put aside for final assembly.

Apply New Finish to Lamp Base

The objective here is to achieve a look that’s similar to an aged oil-rubbed bronze. The lamp base will be finished by applying brown and black semi-transparent dye-based aerosol toners. The piece will be tipped with gold metallic and black dry-powder pigments and finally receives a topcoat of dead-flat clear lacquer.

First, the base receives a light coat of ‘Dark Walnut / Oak Ultra™ Classic Toner’ and allowed to cure for about 10 minutes. Using a ½ inch flat artist brush, ‘Antique Gold Bronzing Powder’ is lightly dusted evenly overall and applied somewhat more heavily along the outside edges. Next, the base receives an uneven mist of ‘Black Ultra Classic Toner’ and allowed to cure for about 10 minutes. Using a #12/0 round artist brush the Antique Gold Bronzing Powder is mixed with a lesser amount of black Blendal™ powder and applied very lightly to the outside edges (tips) only.

Mixing the Antique Gold with black powder produces metallic bronze to copper tones. The colored powders (solutes) are mixed with acetone alone as the solvent then applied using a fine tip graining brush. The solvent/color mixture, when applied, blend/mix nicely with the previously applied lacquer toners.

Finally, several thin coats of ‘Perfect Blend’ dead-flat aerosol clear lacquer are applied overall.

Hints: When highlighting the outside edges (tipping) with metallic accents, subtlety is the objective; using less material delivers a more realistic effect. Use the black powder alone to cover/hide/blend accent material that gets onto unintended surfaces.

Wiring and Final Assembly

Caution! Before starting it is important to understand that 110 volt AC power is polarized and has a Hot wire and a Neutral wire. For safe operating conditions the Hot and Neutral wires must connect to corresponding terminals on the lamp socket and plug. The center tab on the lamp socket connects to the Hot wire, often through a switch and to the smaller prong on the plug. The circular threaded connection on the lamp socket connects to the Neutral wire and to the larder polarizing prong on the plug. The diagram show left illustrated correct wiring of a North American 110 volt AC powered lamp.

For this project, I will use a black vintage style cloth covered wire with a dark-brown reproduction Bakelite plug. Both the wire and plugs are available from [Sundial Wire].

The first step is to remove the corrosion that has built up over the years on the inside of the lamp socket. A small wire brush and rotary tool, run at a low speed, are used to clean the internal center Hot tab and circular threaded connection on the lamp socket until both conductors are bright. 

Often over time, the center Hot tab of a lamp socket can become bent downward thus preventing a solid connection to the bulb. The center Hot tab is bent slightly upwards (back to its original position) then, socket tested using a continuity (ohm) meter to ensure proper operation.

Unlike modern lamp sockets this one is unique in that it has solder connections instead of screw terminals. The cloth covered wire is stripped and soldered into place. Notice that in this case I’m using the wire conductor with the white strip to denote the Hot wire.

The wire is feed through neck of the base and the lamp sockets and shade holder are reattached. The wire is knotted at the bottom of base to prevent strain on the solder/socket connections. To prevent wire chafing a small rubber grummet is installed through the bottom of the base then the wire is feed through the grummet.

The final wiring step is to attach the dark-brown reproduction vintage style Bakelite plug. The wire is feed through the plug and tied into a tight knot near the end to prevent strain on the plug connections. The wire is then cut, pre-formed and then securely attached to the screw terminals. Notice that the wire conductor with the white strip (denotes the Hot wire) is connected to the smaller brass prong. After wiring the paper board (fish paper) insulator is installed over the prongs pressed into the base of the plug.


Repair and restoration was a breeze and completed within just a few hours of shop time. It is true that many would argue to not apply a finish and to leave the original metal patina (i.e. dirt and corrosion). My opinion is that it’s really a matter of personal preference. Upon inspection, the lamp appeared pitted and showed other signs of decay due to normal environmental exposure. Pot metal, dependent on alloy, is more or less susceptible to such decay so applying a protective finish made sense.

This project provided a good opportunity to demonstrate an ersatz oil-rubbed bronze finishing method using a combination of dyes and dry metallic powder/pigments. There are other methods and materials for applying beautiful color and natural patinas to alloys. For an ‘oil rubbed bronze’ type finish and without using heat and oils, the company Steal F/X manufactures an impressive array of dyes, stains and patinas. For highlights, shading and other detail work, AS&P manufacture Baroque Art Guilders Paste; a wax/resin line of pigments in a wide range of colors that can be mixed, thinned with naphtha and is compatible with solvent based topcoats.

When I spotted the dirty and not-operational Pierrot and Columbine lamp on a back shelf of an obscure antique shop I knew the wife would love it. After a bit searching on my smart-phone, I brought it home once the merchant mentioned the price of $70. The wife was pleased and promptly asked her contact at the “Vintage Prophecy” on Etsy to find some vintage postcards featuring the love struck couple.

The lamp has been repaired, equipped with a glowing flicked-flame bulb and now adorned with an ensemble of nicely framed Pierrot and Columbine postcards. It always catches the eye and gains the complements of family and friends who frequent our home. The age-old story of love and love-lost go back thousands of years and, since it began Pierrot and Columbine has been the instrument of the saga. Even today, plays and films and songs continue to be based on the same ‘Pierrot and Columbine’ story line.

Here is a video by Judith Durham and The Seekers called The Carnival Is Over (1968).  This is a Russian folk song about  ‘Pierrot and Columbine’ which was written in 1883 and adapted with English-language lyrics in 1965. - Enjoy!

 WARNING: This project involves working with electrical wiring which, if done improperly, can cause death or serious injury to yourself or others.  When working with any form of electrical circuit, ALWAYS make sure to unplug the apparatus and/or shut the power off at the source. There are strict National Electrical Wiring Codes which specify safe and proper wiring of electrical apparatuses. If you are unsure regarding electrical wiring and/or National Electrical Wiring Codes please consult a professional electrician for assistance.

References Related Items
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