MERIDEN — Around the turn of the 20th century, The Handel Company of Meriden produced lamps renowned for the pristine quality of their glass shades. Today, the hand-painted glass lamps sell for thousands of dollars and are on display at multiple museums.
Founded in 1884 by Philip Julius “P.J.” Handel and his partner, Adolph Eydam, the factory stood at 381 E. Main St. until the company closed in 1941.
Handel sold handmade table and floor lamps with shades made from mostly glass, but also parchment and silk. The company also made electric fixtures for large institutions, including banks, schools, libraries, churches, and office buildings. Most notably, the company made fixtures for the Elks Lodge in Meriden and State Office Building on Capitol Avenue in Hartford.
Handel’s glass shades are known for their hand-painted scenes of landscapes, flowers, and other earthy scenes. The designs were painted on the inside of the glass, often backwards and even sometimes upside down for added dimensions. The shades would then be fired in a kiln at 800 degrees to cause the colors to fuse into the glass and become permanent and unfading.
At the company’s peak, it employed about 20 artists and averaged 25,000 pieces annually.
Prior to the Great Depression, The Handel Company was considered one of Meriden’s most prosperous industries. Its products were sold from coast to coast in the United States, and its reach expanded into Canada and other countries.
Meriden was once considered by some the “lamp capital of the world” with Bradley & Hubbard, the Miller Co., and Charles Parker Co. also manufacturing in the town.
The average price for a Handel lamp in the 1930s was between $40 and $80. Handel lamps were carried by prestigious department stores, including Tiffany & Co. in New York City.
Now the lamps are sold at auction and online, sometimes going for thousands of dollars. Sobethy’s, one of the world’s largest international auction houses, sold a landscape Handel lamp for $8,750 in the mid 2000s.
The lamps are also part of art collections in museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, Corning Museum of Glass, and Virginia Museum of Fine Art.
P.J. Handel founded the company when he was 19 years old and bought out his partner 10 years later, in 1893. Handel served as president and treasurer until he died in 1914, at 48. His widow Fannie succeeded him, while his cousin, William Handel, joined the company, first as general manager before becoming vice president.
The company prospered until the mid-1930s, when the Great Depression made it hard for consumers to spend money on luxury items. The Handel Company closed and sold its equipment and furnishings in a public auction in 1936, and officially dissolved as a company in 1941.
In 1963, the Meriden Auction Rooms took over the building and now the space is occupied by a Stop & Shop Supermarket.