The design of the Coolicon lampshade was patented and the word ‘Coolicon’ trademarked in the 1930s by Benjamin Electric Ltd of Tottenham, north London. It’s proved to be a perennially popular design and here’s some information about the history of the Coolicon.
Benjamin Electric specialised in the production of industrial light fittings including a range of reflectors for factories and workshops. The company’s facilities included a tool shop for creating the dies for the shades, a press shop for spinning and pressing the shades from sheet steel, and the ‘Crysteel’ vitreous enamel plant. There was also an assembly department for wiring and fitting the tungsten filament and florescent light sources.
Before fluorescent strip lighting, the reflector shade was the dominant style of lighting in commercial and industrial settings. Although the reflectors came in a huge range of shapes, sizes and colours, they all worked – as the name implies – on the same principle of reflecting as much light as possible towards where it was required, usually by means of a white vitreous enamel interior. Many of the reflectors had a neck by which they could be hung as pendant lights.
The patent for the Coolicon lampshade was granted on the basis of two novel steps. Firstly, the openings in the neck allowed the heat to dissipate from around the light source – extremely useful in the 1930s when the rubber insulation on the cable was at greater risk of degrading than modern plastics. And secondly, because the neck could be welded on as a separate piece, making the process of shaping the shades simpler as it was not necessary to stamp or spin the narrow neck.
The technical advantages of the Coolicon, together with its aesthetic qualities – the attractive silhouette, quality of the enamel finish and light distribution – meant it was an extremely successful design.
In addition to being an icon of industrial lighting, the Coolicon lampshade has had a wider cultural impact. The bell-like chime of a Coolicon shade being struck was recorded and used by music pioneer Delia Derbyshire. Delia is best remembered for arranging and producing the Doctor Who theme at the BBC’s Radiophonic workshop in the 1960s. Her obituary in the Guardian quotes Delia “My most beautiful sound at the time was a tatty green BBC lampshade. It was the wrong colour, but it had a beautiful ringing sound to it. I hit the lampshade, recorded that, faded it up into the ringing part without the percussive start.”
Like the originals, the Factorylux Coolicons are made entirely in the UK for exceptional quality and durability. In addition to six classic enamel colours, the shades are available in six metallics, including copper, galvanised and verdigris. As well as being available ‘shade-only’, the Factorylux Coolicons can be configured using Factorylux Made For You, the groundbreaking next-day bespoke pendant light service. The shades are extremely versatile – use them for ambient or general lighting in smaller and narrower rooms or for task or ambient lighting above tables or work surfaces.