Curator of Light
Historic Ashland, Ky., lamp shop specializes in antique treasures
On the corner of 29th and Main streets in South Ashland is a circa 1940s orange brick building with floor-to-ceiling show windows that offer to the passing motorists an oasis of beauty as they dash down the road.
At one time those windows showed off the Kelvinator refrigerators Jim Price’s father made his living selling. But now they feature a mesmerizing array of lamps, some collected decades ago. Blue and ruby red crystal lamps that shimmer in the sun. Milk glass ones that look as if they were dipped in Devonshire cream. Gone with the Wind parlor lamps with shades embellished with hand-painted roses and swirls of tulips.
It’s the Lamplighter, part antique shop, part repair store for those antiques that Price now runs as the second generation and third family member to be its caretaker.
On the sudden death of Price’s father in 1957, his mother, Thelma Price Crotty, wanted to take over the Kelvinator dealership, but found herself drawn to what she could do with a needle and thread.
“She was a seamstress at the Ashland Dry Goods and could sew like crazy,” Price said. “She wanted to make shades and bought a company out on Carter Avenue. She started covering shades, some that were fabulously convoluted.”
That led to trips to antique shops and shows bringing back treasures to restore and sell. So much so that over the years the collection grew and grew.
Now when Price is asked where he gets his stock, he jokes, “from the garage.”
More reality than a joke. Besides its front showroom, the Lamplighter collection extends into the back workroom, two garages and the house next door.
Giving a tour of the front room collection Price easily talks about the history of each piece.
“These lamps date back to when they used whale oil,” he said. “These are composite parlor lamps that go back to the 1870s.”
A glass kerosene lamp with a handle on its side is rare.
“One with two handles, that would be really expensive,” he said. “Those are museum pieces.”
Pointing to a double-globed Gone With The Wind lamp, Price explained where they got their anachronistic name.
“They had them in the movie, but they really didn’t come in until the 1890s,” he said.
Sharing his knowledge with his clients is commonplace in the course of a day at the shop, as a customer learned when she brought in a Fenton ruby red Tam o’ Shanter glass shade wanting to switch it out for a shade the same size in another color.
“Honey, this is worth a fortune,” Price told her. “It is probably worth 200 or 300 bucks. Protect this shade. Go online and you will see what it is worth.”
Selling antiques is only a portion of what Price does at The Lamplighter. Restoration of lamps, some in pieces, some needing more than a little TLC is part of Price’s expertise.
“People go to estate sales and buy stuff and then bring it to me to refurbish,” he said.
Like a bronze-on-copper five-armed chandelier with cameo medallions found at a sale that had spent too much time water-logged.
“The woman bought it because of the cameos,” Price said.
Price painstakingly wire-brushed the green corrosion off twice before coating it with a clear resin. Finding parts, however, has proved the greatest challenge and it stays in a prominent place on one of his workbenches.
Besides simple wiring repairs or patching together the 24-carat arm of a hand-painted ewer lamp, Price is often commissioned to produce the one-of-a-kind, if not off- the-charts.
There is the lamp made out of a blowtorch, or a sterling coffee pot or a vintage Premium Saltines metal cracker box.
“They bring in all kinds of stuff,” he said.
Price’s resume ranges from running an art school to operating a janitorial service. But his last career choice seems to be preserving the history and beauty of all those lamps. And the customers who have come to rely on his skill and expertise always hope he keeps the lights on at The Lamplighter.