There are two almost universal misconceptions about the Anglepoise balanced-arm lamp by British automotive designer George Carwardine. First, that the original name was 'anglepose' without the 'i', and second that it was modelled on the bone and joint structure of the human arm.
The first is easily countered by saying that Carwardine had once thought to call it the 'Equipoise', but as the name was rejected by the Trade Marks Registry he settled on 'Anglepoise'. And, whilst the jointing and articulation of the lamp may well bear more than a passing resemblance to the arm, the origins of Carwardine's classic invention are a byproduct of his research into automotive suspension systems.
The basis for the design was a new kind of spring patented by Carwardine in 1932, which he quickly integrated into his blueprint for a 'task lamp' that could be moved easily in any direction, yet would remain in position while accurately focusing light. Carwardine thought that this would be useful for industrial assembly workers who needed to concentrate on components immediately in front of them. But the Anglepoise is perfect for deskwork. Journalists the world over are especially grateful to the spring designer whose invention also led to a multi-directional copyholder.
The lamp went into production in 1934 with the first model – the 1208 – built by Herbert Terry & Sons to a design that incorporated four springs. Market acceptance was good, but the four-spring version was thought to be too industrial for the domestic market, leading the designer to produce a three-spring alternative in a classic Art Deco style. The replacement 1227 was to remain in production for three decades and was only superseded in 1969 by the instantly familiar Model 75, which had a makeover in 2004 by industrial designer Sir Kenneth Grange, to become the Type 75.
Although the desktop 1227 is the undisputed classic in the Anglepoise portfolio, there have been many versions, including a giant floor-standing version that will set you back more than '2,000. Originally produced for the Roald Dahl Museum and with a reach of more than two metres, it proved so popular that in 2004 it was put into volume production.
An installation at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art in the 1980s by sculptor David Mack used 360 Anglepoise lamps to form a sculpture of a human hand.
But it is more than the aesthetics that makes the Anglepoise a classic. It turns out that Carwardine was ahead of his time in terms of design for the environment. Well aware of the energy-saving potential of a light that could be focused on the task area, his Anglepoise equipped with a 25W bulb was able to efficiently illuminate a space that had previously required a more expensive 60W bulb.
The utility of the lamp for applications requiring close attention led to a bizarre unintended consequence at the BBC, where in the late 1940s workers were forbidden to work under an Anglepoise lamp unless a main ceiling or wall light was also operating. In 1947 a memo outlining moral standards at the BBC issued an edict barring workers from toiling under an Anglepoise alone for fear that it would encourage secrecy and the production of degenerate programming. Such subversiveness would rear its head again during the punk rock era, when in 1978 neo-psychedelic band The Soft Boys released a recording of their song '(I want to be an) Anglepoise lamp'.
Designer: George Carwardine
Cost: 1227 reissue £154