by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
April 12, 2022
A light bulb went off in 1885 for Philip Julius Handel of Meriden, Connecticut that would glow brightly for half a century. Utilizing experience gained as an apprentice at a silver and plate manufacturer and as an employee of the Meriden Flint Glass Company, young Handel decided to build a lamp manufacturing and glass decorating company of his own. The Handel Company, as it was known by 1893, developed a distinct identity under the direction of its owner, incorporating art with business to create products that became household names.
From the earliest days of his company, Handel prioritized artistry in his company’s creations, forming relationships with and recruiting local artists like Henry Bedigie and William Runge. As members of Handel’s Art and Design Department, the pair collaborated on watercolor drawings of new designs, and once finalized, began work on the shade itself, each incorporating their own style as they reverse painted on glass. This process both increased the quality of the shades and became a hallmark of Handel lamps. The exacting technique is visible in the Handel lamp shade held in MCHS’s collection (top photo), which depicts parrots – one of the company’s most popular motifs – and flowers.
A savvy businessman, Handel capitalized on the artistry of his lamps to expand the visibility of his company. He launched an extensive advertising effort that touted the unrivaled quality and beauty of his lamps. Following his death in 1914, his cousin, William F. Handel, continued and even intensified the marketing of the hand-painted features of the shades. Selling the notion that “there is a Handel lamp for every corner,” company advertisements compared the scenes and designs of their shades to the works of Old Masters. As sales representatives were sent around the country, Handel’s artistic reputation grew on par with one of the most notable lamp manufacturers of the period, Tiffany.
While reaching its peak popularity around World War I, the Handel Company struggled to remain in business with the start of the Great Depression, and ultimately, the lights at the Handel Company went out in 1936. The examples left today, however, preserve the Handel name and its illuminating artistic vision.