Marbro Lamp Company History

Marbro Lamp historyarticle 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 shop.

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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