BARSONY LAMPS: Lighting Device Revamped

Barsony Black Lady Lamps, 1960s - photo by Vampt Vintage Design

George Barsony and Barsony Ceramics

George Barsony, known for his Barsony Lamps, was born on the 15th of November 1917 in Pecs, Hungary. One of his first major sculptures is a 2.2-metre bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi in Pecs, which he completed when he was 21.

Barsony Ceramics New South Wales, circa 1960, pair of ceramic slip cast bookends each in the form of an Indigenous elders head – photo by Antiques Reporter

Barsony came to Sydney as a refugee in 1949. Shortly after, he met his future wife, Jean Bird, an immigrant from England who also worked in a pottery in Sydney. They moved to a home in Bankstown in 1955 and opened a small workshop that eventually became Barsony Ceramics.

The company operated during 1950s to 1970s and had a factory on Guernsey Street, Guildford, Western Sydney. Most of Barsony Ceramics’ products were decorative items such as figurines, lamp bases, candlesticks, figure vases, wall hangings, and bookends. They also produced items under Venice and Silver Cloud, but these are rarely seen in the market.

Seeing the Light: Barsony Lamps

The most popular collector’s items are its porcelain lamps, often referred to as Barsony lamps. What separates these from other lamps are their highly decorative bases. Barsony lamps are distinctive because of their black colour scheme and distinct base: carefully crafted figurines in graceful poses. Some Barsony lamps have a hidden light bulb, while other pieces don’t even have one. Despite not being a functional source of illumination, Barsony lamps are beautiful enough to be displayed as works of art.

Barsony Lamps: Black is Beautiful

A Barsony figure of a young girl sitting – photo by Carter’s Price Guide

In the 1950s, exotic black figures became strangely popular, contrasting with the typical pastel colours of the time. Numerous companies manufactured them, including those from Japan, England (Moss and Bossons), and another Sydney-based company, Kalmar. In the 1950s, Barsony Ceramics products were quite in demand. But as the times changed, so did tastes. Black figures declined in popularity, so Barsony Ceramics ceased operations in the 1970s.

Fortunately, these exquisite lamps have seen a resurgence in popularity, especially for collectors. Barsony’s black ladies are once again being sought after by art aficionados. While Barsony has other popular black figures like the “Little Boys” and “Little Girls”, his black ladies, especially his “Ballerina” series, continue to be the most coveted pieces.

Barsony Ballerina lamp, original label attached – photo by Carter’s Price Guide

Barsony ladies are known for their soft, rounded edges, rounded breasts (unlike similar figures that have more pointed breasts), and bright red lips. The black figures are contrasted by splashes of colour on their clothing and accessories. While some might find a few of Barsony’s ladies politically suspect (some of the pieces can be perceived to be more of a black cliché), many pieces are notably elegant and their feminine poses add to their aesthetic.

Each piece was hand-painted, making each piece unique and more desirable for collectors. Some have accents attached to them – for example, Barsony’s ballerina lamps have pearl drop earrings. The shades attached to these lamps come in the bright colours favoured in the 1950s. Jean Barsony herself made the original lamp shades, of which few pieces have survived.

Finding the Magic Lamp: Collecting Barsony Lamps

Though Barsony Ceramics stopped its operations in the 1970s, the number of Barsony pieces still around today is proof that the company once produced thousands of these items. To be sure of their provenance, check if a lamp is marked with “Barsony” or “George Barsony.” In the 1960s, these markers were replaced with a red sticker. Intact Barsony markings ensure that the item will be sold at a premium price.

A vintage Barsony Hawaiian lady lamp base – photo by Carter’s Price Guide

Genuine Barsony pieces have labels that usually contain the model or mould number and letters that indicate the type of item. So, H stands for head, L for lamp, VL means vase lamp, FL for figural lamp and so on. There are also pieces that have titles followed by item type and model/mould number like Beauty of the Beach (FL19), and Sitting Black Lady (FL39). Another thing one might notice regarding labels is that some pieces would have a sticker that says “Made in England,” despite being actually an Australian product.

Unlike other collectable items, Barsony lamps often sell for a good price despite having a bit of damage. Some Barsony lamps have had prolonged exposure to smoke-filled environments, but a little cleaning would make them look brand-new. As mentioned earlier, only a few original shades have survived and can be found in the market, so only a few pieces will have the original shade still intact. The majority of Barsony lamps being sold have their shades replaced or are sold without a shade altogether.

Barsony lamps once sold for about $15 in the 1980s, but prices skyrocketed to ten times the amount in the early 2000s. In a 2007 Carter’s Everything Vintage Price Guide, they sold for about $300, and this pricing hasn’t changed in recent years. An online search yields price ranges from $250 to about $800. A red Barsony Ballerina lamp with missing earrings can fetch from $400 to $700 at an auctioneer. A Ballerina in a better condition (with earrings and original lamp shade) could sell for much higher.

Two retro Barsony lady figures – photo by Carter’s Price Guide

Collectors are advised to take extra care in purchasing lamps that are passed off as Barsony. There are items out in the market that are labelled Barsony-style lamps even though they are not authentic Barsony Ceramics products. Other companies use similar labelling systems, which may also cause confusion.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about Barsony’s company and its items out there. It has been said that there are dealers who might have a catalogue of Barsony Ceramics but would often refuse to share its contents. As this is the case, it may be advisable that one see the item personally or request for several high-resolution photos of the item before purchasing.

Mysterious Allure of Barsony Lamps

Aside from the very little information one could find about Barsony lamps, the resurgence of the items’ popularity cannot be completely explained. Some dealers who have the lamps for sale sometimes hear from customers how they didn’t like the lamps the first time they came out and how they still do not like them now. Maybe it has something to do with mid-century items being the rage these days or their exotic appearance may have found a new audience. Whatever the reason, Barsony lamps are quite unique decorative pieces that captivated a generation and may continue to do so for years to come.