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Illuminating: Light bulbs go under hammer

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: December 06, 2012

  • David Lay with selection of light bulbs for auction today.

  • David Lay with selection of light bulbs for auction.

  • The late Bill Carlton, who collected around 500 light bulbs.

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MORE than 200 years after a bright idea by Penzance's most famous son lit up the world, an illuminating lot is going under the hammer.

Humphry Davy created the first incandescent light after passing an electric current through a strip of platinum.

Now a collection of around 500 light bulbs, some dating back to 1890 are up for auction in Penzance.

"The idea of a light bulb collection may at first seem rather dull, like going on a school trip to a cardboard box factory, but upon hearing that Britain's largest light bulb collection was to go under the hammer at Lay's auctions, I decided to delve a little deeper and see if I could shine a light on the history of the humble bulb," said Michael Lay, son of auctioneer David Lay who will be hoping to sell the interesting lot today.

In doing his own research, Michael said he uncovered a thriving community of light bulb collectors and enthusiasts.

Boxes and boxes of light bulbs are waiting to be auctioned off at the Penzance Auction House. They belonged to the late Bill Carlton, a lighting and engineering specialist who travelled the world for his work.

Employed by Philips Electrical for over 30 years as a designer and chief lighting engineer, the west Cornwall man was responsible for the interior lighting of Salisbury Cathedral and the floodlighting of Westminster Abbey and Bath Abbey.

And in 1988 he appeared on the scientific TV quiz show Brainstorm, hosted by Kenny Everett, explaining the development of lighting through the decades and his collection was even the feature of exhibitions at the Science Museum and the Institute for Engineering and Technology.

"This rare and unusual collection, gives us a fascinating glimpse into an emerging technology of the 1800s and some of the earliest attempts to mass-produce it," said an auction spokesperson.

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