Originally created 08/17/00

Lava Lamps



Pat McAleer has had one since the 1960s. He took one to Vietnam, lost another in a divorce, in which he said the lamp was a contested item, and used a third in law school.

The company that makes the Lava Lamp, Chicago-based Haggerty Enterprises, says the lamp - introduced in the 1960s - is now more popular than ever.

"It's hip and trendy again," says Allison Guerriero, a company spokeswoman.

While never out of production, the Lava Lamp sunk in popularity during the '80s, only to start a comeback in the early '90s, she said. Since then, the company has sold more lamps than the combined total sold during the '60s, '70s and '80s, Guerriero said.

The Spencer Gifts store in Augusta Mall sells about 20 Custom Lava lamps a week, said Connie Kersey, a store manager.

Buyers range in age from 8 or 9 to senior citizens, but the lamps are especially popular with those 17 to 25.

"Especially for college kids fixing their dorm rooms up," Ms. Kersey said.

The store's best seller is Purple Passion, a lamp with purple liquid and lava, but a rainbow of colors is available for lamps and bases. The standard black base has been replaced with colors including silver, gold, and red, blue and green tie-dye. The bases and lamps can be selected separately so the buyer can combine their choice of colors. Each piece is 19.99.

It was the symbolism of the Lava Lamp that made McAleer, a San Francisco native, take his lamp to Vietnam after he was drafted.

The lamp spent two years with McAleer on a Navy destroyer as a personal statement, he said. While he knew he had to do his military duty, he was "there under protest.'

That was far from the first Lava Lamp McAleer would own. He later would surrender a lamp in a divorce (she got the lamp, he got the Led Zeppelin albums), and one was by his side through law school.

Now a partner in a major law firm and sporting a corner office and expansive view of the Sacramento River, McAleer says his Lava Lamp days aren't over. He still has one at home - in his 9-year-old daughter's room.

Today there are far more choices than the original Century and Aristocrat models. There are wizard hat shapes, rocket ships and cartoon characters. A basic model costs about $25.

For those wanting the old model, there are hundreds available through Internet auction sites, some selling for more than $100. At flea markets, swap meets and garage sales you may uncover an older model - though many people now understand the value of some of the originals and they have become a rare find.

"Antiques are really hard to come by," said Guerriero. "Even we have trouble getting our hands on them."

Haggerty has its own Lava Lamp museum, and the lamp has been featured in all sorts of pop culture exhibits.

Even the Smithsonian Institution has one.

"I remember them well from the '60s," Ms. Kersey said. "If I had only kept the one I had it would be worth a lot more than it was at that time."

Staff reports were used in this article.