The original exotic conversation piece – the lava lamp – has been moodily lighting teenage bedrooms since 1963.
Despite numerous incarnations since, Mathmos was the original brand to develop these psychedelic love-streams.
They were designed by notorious nudist Edward Craven-Walker, who saw an affinity between the fluorescent lava flow’s unpredictable nature and the easy-going, drug-induced spirit of the 60s.
As Christine Craven-Walker, ex-wife of lava lamp inventor, explained: “At that time, everything was getting a little bit psychedelic, there was Carnaby Street and the Beatles and things launching into space and so on. He just thought it was quite funky and might be something to launch into and see what he could make of it.”
Edward Carven-Walker was inspired by an odd-looking liquid-filled egg timer he spotted in a pub in southwest England. The former World War II pilot then spent years transforming the concept into a home lighting accessory.
The second Beatle’s drummer Ringo Starr snapped up a lamp, sales rocketed and Carven-Walker knew he had successfully tapped into the marketing appeal of Britain’s ‘Love Generation’. At a time when space was being conquered and the future was the spirit of the time, the lava lamp was an easy sell.
Back in the southern English town of Poole, Mathmos lava lamps are still made using the traditional design, based on two liquids of slightly different density which don’t mix. The heavier liquid sinks to the bottom, but when heated by the lamp light its density decreases and it floats to the top.
As Mathmos owner Cressida Granger pointed out, as a brand, there is a quintessential British appeal to the product: “It was invented by somebody who was maybe a little bit eccentric, which is very British, and it’s just so quirky and individual that it just feels very much part of the British tradition.”
After a rave-inspired renaissance in the 1990s, collectors believe the lava-lamp could be with us for the long haul.
One of them, Anthony Voss, celebrates the lava lamp’s hypnotic qualities: “I think there’s just something about it that appeals to people and draws people in, and I think it’s the motion within the lamp. I think it’s the way that it flows, how it’s anti-repetitive, how it’s a mixture of light and chaos blending together. And I think it’s that which kind of pulls people in, draws them in and before you know, you’ve spent 15 minutes looking at it.”
Seemingly exempt from the decline of British manufacturing, the lava-lamp looks set to celebrate half a century on the shelves in suitably groovy style.