A Lamp with a Diffuser Causes Confusion
Industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes created many pieces for the Revere Copper and Brass Company during the streamline era of the 1930s. He also designed lighting. This may explain why the Art Deco Cobra desk lamp is often attributed to him.
The lamp, known as the Eye-Saver was produced by the Faries Manufacturing Company in Decatur, Illinois in the late 1940s and into the 1950s.
Over the years Cobra Lamp has become short-hand for describing a style first associated with Greta Grossman’s 1950 hooded metal desk lamp with its adjustable neck. What distinguishes the Eye-Saver is a light bulb cup, or diffuser, under the hood which reflects light on the white surface underneath to create soft, anti-glare light. The clip-on bulb cup was frequently discarded in favor of brighter, more direct light.
The designer of the Eye-Saver was Jean Otis Reinecke, an industrial designer who designed toasters, cameras, electric irons and other consumer products and taught plastics design at the School of Design in Chicago in the early 1940s. Reinecke also had an office in Pasadena, California where he continued to design through the mid-1980s. Perhaps his most successful product was a tape dispenser for 3M which was in production for nearly forty years.
William F. Masterson, an in-house designer for Faries, is also associated with the Eye-Saver. He created many lamps for the company including its popular executive desk lamp with fluorescent light. Within months of each other in 1946, Masterson filed a utility patent, and Reinecke a design patent for their strikingly similar cobra lamp, though it is Reinecke’s which more closely resembles the production lamp. Due to their connection with Faries it seems there may have been some cooperation between Reinecke and Masterson.
Faries produced two variations of the Eye-Saver. One, Reinecke’s design, made for the Sheaffer Pen Company, with a built-in pen holder mounted on the base which Sheaffer marketed. The other, directly offered by Faries, had a small threaded brass ball mounted on the base instead of the pen holder. Faries’ original retail price was $25.00 in the early 1950s, which the manufacturer considered a mid-range lamp.
An Eye-Saver with the cup intact is more sought after by design purists. Especially, when the lamp’s original electroplated bronze finish with brass trim is untouched. With age the finish is more copper-colored leading some owners to refurbish the lamp in copper plating to reinforce its Art Deco design. Others have refinished the lamp in chrome giving it a polished machine-age look.
While Bel Geddes was not the designer of the Cobra Lamp his influence is apparent in the work of Reinecke and Masterson.