The Coolicon story 07.06.17

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The original and iconic Coolicon Utility Shade is back in production, continuing to build on the company’s rich history. Developed and patented in 1932, the Coolicon shade was first launched in 1933 by Benjamin Electric in Tottenham, London. A small, task-oriented utility shade, made of steel with a durable vitreous enamel finish, it produced good downward work light. The unique vented top provided ambient room light, while at the same time cooling the lamp, which considerably extended its life – a quality still desired for today’s LED bulbs.

Coolicon quickly became the shade of choice for the rapidly expanding factories, workshops and mills in 1930s Britain. At the beginning of 1940s it was endorsed and used by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) because of its light efficiency and heat dispersion properties. The Coolicon soon became the shade of choice for both the MOD and government facilities during the war – including the kitchen of Winston Churchill's war room bunker.

A larger size was introduced during the 1940s and a version in plastic, alongside the original steel model. After the war, Coolicon shades were used extensively by the fast-developing NHS, BBC, RAF and London Transport, while continuing to light the industrial heartland of Britain.

In the mid-60s Delia Derbyshire (who realised Ron Grainer’s original theme to Doctor Who) used one of the Coolicon shades in the BBC recording studio to create sound effects for the BBC broadcasts, something that earned Coolicon a space in the London Science Museum archive.

The Coolicon shade features heavily in British culture and became a familiar part of the national identity, seen in industry, domestic and social settings – one can be seen in the James Bond film Skyfall, in the Skyfall Lodge.

The Coolicon story continues today with Coolicon Lighting being the custodian of this iconic brand. When the brand was acquired in 2013, Coolicon Lighting recreated the tooling to manufacture that first 1933 shade true to its original patented design. Today, production is carried out in England by skilled craftsmen and specialist manufacturers who once again produce the highest quality Coolicon shade.

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Coolicon’s launch year – 1933 – coincided with the launch of Harry Beck’s London Underground map, the map we recognise today. To mark the birth of these two very British icons, Harry Beck’s first edition map has been incorporated in a special Underground edition of the original Coolicon shade, with a choice of the map on the inside or the outside of the shade (above).

Today the iconic Coolicon shade is being further developed into a cohesive range by award-winning designer Trent Jennings. A large (400mm) statement version of the enamelled shade was released in 2015, while a bone china version of the original size was released in 2016 (below). Hand produced at a family-run pottery in Stoke on Trent, it takes the Coolicon story almost full circle – the shade that once lit the potteries is now produced in the potteries.

This article was brought to you in partnership with Coolicon

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