How to shop for savings on Martz lamps from Marshall Studios

Thrift stores, flea markets, and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you find the gems in all the… well, garbage?

As a professional reseller who has been combing thrift stores for 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger deals, or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can buy for cash, read on.

From distressed household items to resale money makers, everything featured in my Thrift Shop Like a Pro series qualifies as a BOLO (Look Out) item. When you find it, buy it.

Recommended finding: Martz lamps

A light bulb is a light bulb, right? Not always: Some lamps are special. Martz table lamps have been on my “dream finds” list for the past 20 years.

Lately my hunting has been happy, no wonderful — a conclusion when I found an unlabeled $20 Martz lamp in the wild.

In 1949, Jane Marshall met Gordon Martz at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, New York. Both were college students and both had a keen sense of design and creative exploration.

In 1950, they married and decided to combine their creative talents by joining Jane’s family business in Veddersburg, Indiana. His grandmother, Jessie Talbot Marshall, founded Marshall Studios in 1922.

When Jane and Gordon came on board, the company was making hand-turned wooden lamp bases and hand-painted lampshades. The young couple expanded the product line to include stoneware lamp bases, dinnerware, sculptures and small tables topped with tile.

In 1953, the Martz lamp was part of the Good Design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Jane and Gordon sold their interests in Marshall Studios in 1989 and retired. The company was bought by Genesis Wood and Stoneware and its assets were liquidated in the mid-1990s.

Why buy it?

Many of the modern lamp designs we see today are based on Martz’s aesthetic. The pair made modernism accessible to the masses and pioneered a simplicity of form that transformed everyday objects into works of art.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Martz lamp, live with it for a while. It can create a healthy obsession with finding your next Martz masterpiece (and the next… and the next).

If you are interested in reselling Martz lamps for profit, but are not familiar with Marshall Studios or Martz, clean up and cash out. This pair of Martz lamps recently sold for $2,145 on eBay, and this monumental table lamp is listed for $3,500 on Etsy.

On top of that (pun intended), even the original Martz lamp finials excite collectors. (Finals are the often-overlooked threaded pieces that attach the lampshade to the lamp arm.) This teak finial recently sold on eBay for $41.

What to look for?

The lamps were usually hand signed “Martz” near the opening for the electrical wires on the base of the lamp. The Marks Project, an excellent resource for ceramic collectors and resellers, displays several variations of the incised signature.

But like what I found, not every Martz lamp was signed. (That would make life so much easier, wouldn’t it?) It took some hard work and going through old online product catalogs to confirm that my purchase was genuine.

Here are some other features that can help you decide if your find is the real deal:

  • Final: Although historical information on Martz finials is limited, we do know that many lamps were topped with solid walnut, oak, or teak.
  • Glitter color. Except for bright blues, most Martz lamps were covered in earth tones. Standard color options included chocolate brown, pale gold, cream, moss green and black.
  • Shadow. While original lampshades are often replaced, an old, natural fiber shade is another clue that can help confirm an authentic Martz piece. And if you find an orphan shade, buy it. Serious collectors will pay top dollar to match their Martz lamps with Martz shades.
  • Underwriters label: Martz lamps have been tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratories. Many lamps still retain the paper Underwriters label, co-branded with “Marshall Studios Inc., Veedersburg, Indiana.” Look for the UL label on the bottom of the lamp or near the cut-out signature.

Pro tip: Seventy years later, mid-century Martz lamps are still popular in the Midwestern United States; If you live in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa or Illinois, you have a better chance of finding one in one place.

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