Marbro Lamp Company History
by Jim Hoyle
The company was founded by Morris Markoff and his brother, hence the name Marbro
from Markoff brothers. They started the company shortly after WWII. The company
was located in a 3 story brick building in the garment district of Los Angeles,
just south of downtown right by the Santa Monica Freeway. During the time they
ran the company, they sold almost as many antiques as they did lamps.
They also had a sizeable business in decorative accessories such as tables and a
lot of animal figurines. There were quite a few dog figurines that were life
size. One dog figurine was a life size Great Dane purchased by the actor Jack
Webb who starred as Sgt. Joe Friday in the 1951 TV hit series, Dragnet. There
were quite a few celebrities that came in to their shop. One actress who shopped
there repeatedly was Deborah Shelton who at the time played the part of “Mandy”
on the TV series Dallas (remember J.R.).
Marbro sold their products mainly through interior designers and a few upscale
furniture stores. You would not find a Marbro product in a chain furniture store
or a discount store. Most of the products were built to order. A typical order
from a designer or retailer took between 75 and 90 days to complete.
Most of the components that made up the lamp bodies (ceramic, brass, glass, etc)
were purchased from small companies around the world. In the later years almost
all of the brass came from India. For the most part, none of the bodies were
made on site. Marbro was well-known for importing a variety of unique lighting
components from all over the world. Italy was the source for alabaster, Japan
and China for Porcelain, Brass in India and Crystal from Germany and France.
Lamps would also be made from sculptures that customers brought to in to the
Once the lamp bodies arrived, a group of Marbro employees would make the wood
bases, spin the metal caps, make the shades, and do the painting and tinting.
With the help of about 20-40 other true world class artisans, metal workers,
finishers and hand made shade makers, they produced lamps and shades that were
truly some of last of their kind of art. For example, Marbro brass was never
just plain brass. It was stained with a tinting that was homemade and kept
secret by the company which is reminiscent of the Handel Lamp Co. of the early
1900’s. There were quite a few of these preparations all kept in one of those
little metal boxes on a 3x5” file card just like a recipe. It was truly a unique
method of making lamps.
Many of the lamp bodies that the company bought were not exactly matched as
pairs. Sometimes 10-20 crystal vases would have to be sorted through to get 2 of
the exact same height so that if the lamps were purchased as a pair, they would
match. All of the shades were made by hand by a group of women on the second
floor of the building with very little automation.
The manufacturing plant was closed in Los Angeles in December 1990 and the
inventory and equipment were moved to LaBarge Mirrors in Holland, Michigan. At
the time LaBarge Mirrors was a Masco Corp subsidiary. Some time later, the
Marbro product line was discontinued. Eventually, Masco sold most of their home
furnishings manufacturing holdings.
Marbo assembled a very talented, experienced and unique group of artists and
craftsmen and many of their fine lamps exhibit a certain unique signature style.
Most of the employees were in their 50’s and older. There were quite a few
employees in their late 60’s and 70’s. Today their lamps are collectible and
sought after especially by certain knowledgeable collectors who are familiar
with the company's lamps and history. Many of Marbro lamp are commonly referred
to as “Hollywood Regency” style. This rather lavish style of decorative arts is
currently in the midst of a tremendous and accelerating revival.
It is obvious from the company's careful selection of art objects and their
unique proprietary methods of lamp making that their goal was to design
beautiful unique and very high quality lamps. Their success is obvious from the
very fine collectible Marbro lamps that are still sought after today.
Marbro lamps present a particular appraisal challenge due to their very unique
style and market conditions. Generally, there are fewer collectors of Marbro
lamps as compared to many other lamp companies of the 1900 - 1950’s era. This in
no way devalues your lamp but implies a special category of a more limited
number of buyers and collectors. During the 1950’s, Marbro sold to many very
affluent customers including movie stars and others connected to the film
industry. Their lamps were considered very exclusive and definitley high end for
that period. The key to selling vintage Marbro lamps is having the proper venue
in order to reach the right prospective buyers.
Today the Hollywood Regency style is enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity
and Marbro lamps are rapidly rising in value.
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