The Anglepoise Original 1227

A task lamp with an incredibly low footprint and a huge locus of possible positions.

The Anglepoise lamp, designed by George Carwardine is a British design classic but this is certainly not what makes it great design. Some might think it cliche to blog about the anglepoise but it is truly a piece of engineering and design I love and use every single day. The simple system of springs that counter balance the weight allowing it to be positioned at any point required is what makes it great.

Carwardine was an engineer who specialised in car suspension systems and was the chief designer at the Hortsman Car Company. He patented the first iteration of the anglepoise with a four spring equilibrating mechanism in 1932 after working from his garden workshop. Soon demand outgrew the small scale company so Carwardine let Herbert Terry & Sons (who were already supplying the springs) take the design into volume production and Anglepoise® was born.

Patent for Anglepoise® Original1227™ Lamp, 1935

Carwardine and the designers at Herbert Terry & Sons then set work to redesign the lamp. In 1935 they released the Original 1227 with a three spring equilibrating mechanism, this is the same system of springs that Anglepoise® use today. A design which has now not needed improvement for 82 years.

The innovation of the lamp lies in the three spring mechanism which counter balances the weight of the bulb and shade at any angle. To understand it further I looked at this article which suggested looking first at a simple spring and lever balancing mechanism. It can be seen that if the stiffness of the spring is chosen according to a ratio of the weight needing supported and various dimensions then the spring can support a mass at any position.

This theory can be extended to include the addition of another spring and lever, this additional lever provides an even greater locus of possible positions that the mechanism can cover. The elegant arrangement of the anglepoise has an incredibly low footprint, is light, compact and has a low inertia. I think what makes it great design, is how well it does it’s job: it shines light only where you need it, it doesn’t shine in your eyes (unless you need it to), it look great when it is on or off.

Patent for Anglepoise® Original1227™ Lamp, 1935

The last part, about looking great when on or off, came to mind when researching Ross Lovegrove for a Pichi Kichi presentation. His attempt at creating a work lamp focused on the requirement for it to look good when on or off. So he devised this mechanism which raises the arm holding the light source when the lamp is turned on, once it is turned off again, the arm slowly folds down to its original position and “functions as an object d'art that beautifies the desktop”.

I don’t particularly like the product of Ross Lovegrove’s approach, I feel like focussing on the need for it to look good when on or off was a mistake but this is perhaps because it isn’t to my taste. Lovegrove’s approach has dramatically limited the functionality of the lamp and for me hasn’t added any aesthetic attraction. I just feel like the aesthetic quality is often not enough of a reason for something to exist. The anglepoise manages to be extremely functional and is beautiful at the same time, beauty lies in the functionality of the mechanism, it doesn’t need an “organically formed” injection moulded or thermally formed plastic casing that makes it look like some kind of medical product.

I received my anglepoise as a birthday present a few years ago and enjoy using it everyday. It came in a  beautiful box (which I couldn’t through away) along with a couple of little spanners for assembling, maintaining and dissembling. Opening the box and gracefully pulling out the polystyrene casing reveals the beautiful lamp. Assembling it is as simple as slotting a pin and hooking the springs on in the appropriate place, then slotting it onto the base. Nuts and bolts can be tightened or loosened for fine tuning the balance so that the lamp will sit precisely where you need it. The springs which come with it will in inevitably loose their stiffness in time, in which case they can be easily replaced from the anglepoise website. When moving house it was a joy to dismantle, stow away in it’s box, then set up again, it is a product I enjoy caring for.