Page 18 - Life and Times

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September 2013
LONDON (AP) — Call them ’60s
relics or hippy home accessories, lava
lamps have been casting their dim but
groovy light on interiors for half a cen-
tury, having hit British shelves 50 years
ago on Tuesday.
A British company began marketing
their original creation as an “exotic con-
versation piece” in 1963. Since then,
millions of models of the much-copied
invention have been sold worldwide.
The design was created by British in-
ventor Edward Craven-Walker, who was
inspired by an odd-looking liquid-filled
egg timer he saw in a pub in southwest
The former World War II pilot then
spent years transforming the concept
into a home lighting accessory, having
recognized the potential for such an in-
vention during anything-goes ’60s
“Everything was getting a little bit
psychedelic,” said Christine Baehr, the
second of Craven-Walker’s four wives.
“There was Carnaby Street and The
Beatles and things launching into space
and he thought it was quite funky and
might be something to launch into.”
Britain’s “Love Generation” saw an
affinity between the fluorescent lava
flow’s unpredictable nature and the
easy-going, drug-induced spirit of the
Craven-Walker’s first model, the As-
tro Lamp, also reflected the technologi-
cal innovation and imagination of the
time, shaped like a sci-fi rocket. Soon
other models, such as the Astro Mini
and the Astro Nordic, emerged from
Craven-Walker’s Crestworth company,
building on his original concept.
Baehr recalls a memorable moment
when they were told that Beatles drum-
mer Ringo Starr had bought one of
their lamps. “That was a great, ‘Ah
we’ve made it,’ moment,” she said.
Despite the decline of British manu-
facturing, with numerous well-known
brands dying or moving to countries
with cheaper labor costs, lava lamp
making company Mathmos has re-
mained at their factory in southwest
Britain still employing Craven-Walker’s
tried and tested formula.
“I think it’s really special to manufac-
ture something that’s been invented
and made in Britain, in Britain for 50
years,” said Cressida Granger, who be-
came involved with Crestworth in 1989,
renamed it Mathmos in 1992 and
gained sole ownership in 1999.
U.S. rights to manufacture the lamps
are held by Haggerty Enterprises Inc.
of Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Granger went on to enjoy a second
wave of success for Craven-Walker’s in-
vention during the 1990s, as a new gen-
eration of consumers, obsessed with
retro British trends, lit their rooms with
’60s lava lamp designs.
Craven-Walker, whose other enthusi-
asms included nudism, died in 2000.
Lava lamps are based on two liquids
of slightly different density that will not
mix. The heavier liquid sinks to the bot-
tom, but when heated by the lamp light
its density decreases and it floats to the
His invention has had roles in music
videos and on television, having origi-
nally appeared in popular British televi-
sion shows during the ’60s such as
“The Prisoner” and “Doctor Who.”
“I think it’s the motion within the
lamp,” said Anthony Voz, a collector of
Mathmos products. “The way that it
flows, how it’s anti-repetitive, how it’s a
mixture of light and chaos blending to-
gether. It kind of pulls people in and be-
fore you know it, you’ve spent 15 min-
utes looking at it.” í
A groovy birthday glow
Here’s lookin’ at you... and looking and looking:
Iconic lava lamp marks its 50th birthday
Anthony Voss, a lava lamp expert and collector who lives in London, shows some of the lava lamps in his collec-
tion. Since the product’s introduction in 1963, lava lamps have been in continuous production at the Mathmos com-
pany factory in Poole, Dorset, England. The company founder and eccentric inventor Edward Craven-Walker original-
ly developed the lava lamp from an egg timer design he saw in a Dorset pub.