Arts & Antiques: Lighting your antiques

Sometimes you can teach an old dog a new trick. In this instance, I am the old dog.

After years of working in museums and trying to light a fine work of art or an antique in the most flattering and least damaging way, I learned something new. I was working in museums back when we struggled with using hot halogen lights or ugly old fashioned fluorescent lights to light artwork or antique objects. Neither solution did the job very well.

Everything is different today when it comes to art and antiques lighting in museums and at home. LEDs are the wave (or diode, as the case may be) of the future.

Most of us use a modern version of the same light bulb that Thomas Edison invented back in the 1800s. Edison’s bulb is the standard issue, inexpensive light bulb that gives off a yellow or amber color light. We still use them today and they work. Sorry historians out there, I hate to tell you but Edison’s bulb is now a thing of the past.

There are many options when it comes to lighting your home now.

Colorful light

The color that your light bulb gives off is important when it comes to lighting your artwork and antiques. Some lights give off white light, some yellow, and some blue. Of course, it depends on what a light bulb is lighting and how the light looks to your eyes. When it comes to color shift, the human eye can perceive color differences of 10 percent from lights, so the color that the bulb gives off matters when it hits your blue Wedgwood teapot, your silver serving tray, or your red Chinese lacquer boxes.

LEDs (light emitting diodes) are basically a computer chip that emits light when energized. They have been around since the 1950s. I first learned about them in a museum when curating a museum exhibition of the work of American artist, Jenny Holzer. Holzer used LEDs as her art in the 1990s.

In 2002, an Asian company came up with the first white LEDs for residential use and the rest, as they say, is history. These LED lights look like strips with little round points of light on them. There is an adhesive on the back of the LED strip that can be installed almost anywhere hiding above crown molding, under cabinets, around doors, beneath window sills, etc. It seems as if this innovation in lighting will make it a snap to light your foyer sculpture, your cookie jar collection, or the collectibles in your china cabinet.

Light up the antiques

It is the China cabinet application that made me interested in LEDs. Edison’s light bulb and those terrible white hot fluorescent lights in your mud room, basement or garage give off heat and lots of it. Because of LEDs, the hot china cabinet is a thing of the past. How many times have I advised my audiences of antiquers to avoid putting the hot lights on in your china cabinet in order to show off your collectibles, Waterford crystal, or Hummel figurines? I’ve said that the lights in the China closet get too hot and the heat can cause damage to your display pieces.

LEDs do not emit damaging UV rays or intense heat, so that means that you can install these neat, nearly invisible LED light strips anywhere and they will not cause the kind of serious damage to your antiques or collectibles that other light bulbs can.

Discuss your specific needs with a lighting professional to get the best result. LEDs will cost a little more, but the new applications are exciting for decorators, antique lovers, collectors, and art enthusiasts. Now we can show off our old treasures in a new light.

Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery’s “Auction Kings.” Visit,, or @DrLori on Twitter.

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Comments » 1

picturelights1 writes:

In the last two years House of Troy’s battery operated picture lights, particularly the BTLED and BSLED styles, have revolutionized the field of décor friendly, high quality battery operated lighting.

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