Design icons — Lampe Berger

This is the first article in a series that will cover 20th century design icon objects and furniture. In this first one, we will review the Lampe Berger which was invented more than 100 years ago to counter the proliferation of bacteria in hospital wards.

In 1898 a French chemist named Maurice Berger created the catalytic technology still used today in Berger Lampes to eliminate airborne odours created by smoking, cooking, pets, and other common sources. The flameless burning of the lamp using a unique alcohol-based fuel not only freshens and purifies the air, but releases one of many available fragrances. The performance of these lamps is spectacular and the beauty of them is that they come in hundreds of shapes and usually look like an objet d’art, a sculpture, or even like an antique piece of porcelain.

Naturally, copies or imitations of Lampe Berger products have appeared, but their performance is disappointing. Problems with the knock-off lamps can include smoking, high fuel consumption, and heat, clogging of the burners, short burner life, and the production of irritating fumes.

Research has shown that the catalytic process can also effectively eliminate up to 85 per cent of bacteria in a room for up to 30 hours after initial operation has stopped. While the medical use of the technology has waned, modern innovation has found a new application for the lamps in homes and offices. Using an unscented lamp fuel a catalytic diffusion lamp may reduce bacteria and various odours (pets, food, tobacco ). With fragrance added to the isopropyl alcohol based lamp fuel the catalytic burner lamp becomes a fragrance lamp, diffusing aroma into the air while it purifies. Some perfumes are based on natural aromatics (essential oils ), giving the lamps an aromatherapy application as well.

The fragrance lamp's process is initiated by lighting the stone burner seated at the mouth of the lamp. After a few minutes the flame is extinguished by blowing it out, but the heated burner remains active as the flameless, low-temperature, catalytic combustion process and diffused aromatics. The lamp does not operate with an open flame, making the fragrance lamp much safer to operate than scented candles. Its lower operating temperature also means that, unlike scented candles, the aromatics are diffused very efficiently into the ambient air without being burned. One of the by-products of these fragrance lamps is low-level ozone, which has been attributed to the purification process of the lamps in reducing bacteria and eliminating odours.

Buy the original, available in Judy Greene Pottery, Kirwan’s Lane, Galway.

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