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Rediscovery of one of RMS Olympic's iconic beaded electroliers from the ships 1st Class reading & writing room.

by Jonathan Quayle |

White Star Line, RMS "Olympic", First Class Reading & Writing Room, C-1911.

In September 2021 I was lucky enough to purchase a stunning high Edwardian electrolier, from the famous liner, the RMS "Olympic". By family repute purchased direct from Messers Knight Frank & Rutley's, c/o Thomas W. Ward Ltd, on the quayside prior to the ship being broken up in 1935.

The original 1935 auction lot was described as:-

"Drawing Room, (incorrectly referred to in the 1935 auction catalogue as 'Drawing Room', this would be the Reading & Writing Room)

Lot 374. Two large ornamental ormolu electric ceiling fittings, with cut glass bead balloon shades, and eight smaller ditto"

This description almost certainly refers to the fixture in question, being one of the eight smaller examples mentioned. 

Fast forward 80+ years.......

The 2021 auction was held by the well known quality firm of auctioneers, Anderson & Garland. The firm are no strangers to the auctioning of fixtures and fittings from the mighty Olympic over the years, largely due to its proximity to the site the ship was finally broken up.

The 2021 auction catalogue description read:-

"RMS Olympic - early 20th Century gilt metal ceiling light

Lot details

RMS Olympic: early 20th Century gilt metal ceiling light, believed to be from the 1st Class dining room, with a gilt metal edge, cut glass stings, and gilt brass terminal, 23 x 39 cm diameter."

The electrolier as pictured within the auction catalogue.

In the event, the description was somewhat misleading. Although the family provenance was rock solid, its supposed location within the ship was labelled incorrectly. With some very basic research I quickly found the only fixtures remotely similar were those found within the ships famous First Class Reading & Writing Room. The only thing that did not collate was the fact the Reading Room examples appeared to have garlands of swags of laurel or acanthus leaves, mirroring those found on the rim of the fixture. Upon further study of the auction catalogue photos, you could clearly see at the tops of the reverse supporting 'C' scrolls, small empty screw holes. At some stage, for whatever reason, the bronze swags had been removed. When one studies the fixture and its design, it's clear the purpose of those swags, other than decorative, was to very cleverly disguise the bulb holders and bulbs themselves. One can assume for ease, most likely when the fixture was reused post its life at sea, the swags were removed, to aid easier installation of replacement bulbs.

The fixtures are most likely to have been manufactured & supplied by one of two firms associated with the First Class accommodations, either Messers. Perry & Company, of Grafton Street, Bond Street, London or Messers. N Burt & Co Ltd, Wardour Street, London. It is understood that Perry & Co are thought to have provided the famous beaded light fixtures found within the Grand Staircase complex, of which this example bears striking similarities in its construction & design. 

As a side note, the electroliers from the First Class reception decks that were sold by Ocean Liner Auctions from Haltwhistle in 2004, several were impressed with the Perry & Co manufactures mark.

Two advertisments from the 'Shipbuilder' magazine, c-1911. Displaying the fixtures and fittings that the firm produced for liner such as the Titanic, Olympic and Lusitania.

The light fixture after arriving at my home from Newcastle, although the basic metal work was largely in good order, the dome of wired beads had been crushed and damaged, presenting a distorted shape, as shown. 

The rows of wired beads in descending size rest awkwardly on the frame underneath. It is interesting to note that the frame itself was originally silver plated metal, having oxidised over the years to a black colour as shown here, this was a simple devise that would help bounce light from the bulbs through the crystal beads.

The internal frame had been broken and repaired many times, quite possibly when the ship was in service. These fixtures were in place for well over twenty years, putting up with the constant vibrations from the ships engines etc as well as the rigours of constant activity of crossing the North Atlantic.

The original bulb matrix, showing the bulb holders and central support.

Early Edwardian light fixtures were a relative novelty for the time, with the lights on they would soon generate a lot of heat to the frame and beads. This simple vent at the base was used to create some ventilation.

Although the original swags had long since been lost, I was lucky enough to find a damaged period light fixture with similar swags that I was able to cannibalise. Although not exactly like the original swags which were a much chunkier scale, these would restore the general idea of what was originally intended back in 1911.

The replacement period swags shown in their new position, of note, clearly visible, the original screw holes the original swags once connected to.

Classic high Edwardian laurel, this design could be found elsewhere on Olympic, notably on elements of the grand staircase railings.

The fixture as viewed from above, interestingly you can see the four large screw or bolt holes used to fix the electrolier to the ceiling.

The ships beautiful 1st Class Reading & Writing Room, as shown around C-1911, these fixtures can be seen dotted around the room. There appears to have been two sizes, larger examples sat within the central elements of the room, whilst the smaller examples, such as mine, sat in pairs around the edge of the room.

A closeup of of one of the fixtures in situ. You can clearly see the light filter through the vent at the base of the fixture, illuminating the finial.

Photo credit:- Google images/RMSLtd.

A similar example of light fixture as shown within the debris field of the Titanic wreck site, still clinging to the plaster and ceiling of the room it was pulled from on its destructive fall to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

After the light fixture arrived I contacted a highly acclaimed company called Fritz Fryer in the beautiful Herefordshire market town of Ross-On-Wye. The firm are a leading light in the world of antique lighting restoration and sales, established in the 1980's. The firm has a formidable reputation, expanding into contemporary lighting. The firm expertly restored my fixture from the 1st Class Lounge of the RMS 'Mauretania', c-1906, bringing it breathtakingly back to life (blog on that coming soon), so it made sense to approach the firm with this fixture.

The restoration process was arduous and complex, first the fixture was totally dismantled and cleaned. Oddly the original ormolu gilding had been painted in a thick dull gold paint, thankfully when carefully removed the gilding remained in surprisingly good condition under, one assumes an update was intended to refresh the light fixture, perhaps during one of the ships final refits? The beads were all removed, cleaned, polished then rewired, as the original wire had become brittle and would brake upon handling. The original silvered frame was restored and returned to its original dome shape that the beads hung from. As I wanted to retain as much originality as I could I asked for the original bulb holders to be retained. The firm did an extraordinary job in accomplishing that, so with the exception on new wiring within, the fixture is as near to original as possible. 

The finished article within the showroom of Fritz Fryer. Looking largely as it did when new in c-1911, identical to those found onboard RMS "Titanic".

The classic 'gilded era' beaded electrolier, the drop & shape restored to its original inverted 'ballon' dome shape, the newly cleaned and polished crystal beads shinning once more. 

Showroom photos courtesy of Fritz Fryer, reproduced here with many thanks.

 A close up of the repurposed period swags, to aid in the correct size and spacing, the firm used period crystals with wire through, to recreate some idea of what had been there before. The work carried out did not modify or damage the original fixture and is totally reversible should a better alternative be found to recreate the original swags.

And there she is, in all all her finery. In nearly 30 years of dealing in this subject I have seen very few significant public room light fixtures on the open market from Olympic. The Haltwhistle auction supplied the market with a number of 1st Class landing domed fixtures, but those could be found throughout the 1st Class areas, and were greater in number. Anderson and Garland in the 1990's sold some of the 1st Class Smoking room light fixtures as well as some 1st Class beaded light fixtures from the staircase and staterooms, Aldridges recently sold two 1st Class dining room fixtures, but other than these, I haven't seen any more. A very rare find from the mighty Olympic and one of her finest public rooms.

This, eventually, will be coming to my shop, but I will live with it for a while until them.

Copyright Jonathan Quayle/The Pursers Locker, August 2022.

The following photo are some snapshots taken once I got the fixture home and unpacked it from the restorers. All photos copyright Jonathan Quayle/The Pursers Locker. 


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