Marbro Lamp Company was founded by Morris Markoff and his brother, hence the name Marbro from Markoff brothers. They started the company shortly after WWII. The company was located in a 3 story brick building in the garment district of Los Angeles, just south of downtown right by the Santa Monica Freeway. During the time they ran the company, they sold almost as many antiques as they did lamps.
They also had a sizable business in decorative accessories such as tables, and a lot of animal figurines. There were quite a few dog figurines that were life size. One dog figurine was a life size Great Dane purchased by the actor Jack Webb (Dragnet). There were quite a few celebrities that came in to their shop. One actress who shopped there repeatedly was Deborah Shelton who at the time played the part of “Mandy” on Dallas (remember J.R.).
Marbro sold their products mainly through interior designers and a few upscale furniture stores. You would not find a Marbro product in a chain furniture store or discount store. Most of the products were built to order, and a typical order from a designer or retailer took between 75 and 90 days to complete.
Most of the components that made up the lamp bodies (ceramic, brass etc) were purchased from small companies around the world (see porcelain figure from Italy at top of page). In the later years almost all of the brass came from India. For the most part, none of the bodies were made on site. Marbro was well-known for importing a variety of unique lighting from all over the world. Italy was the source for alabaster, Japan and China for Porcelain, Brass in India and Crystal from Germany and France. Lamps would also be made from sculptures that customers brought in to the shop.
Once the lamp bodies arrived, a group of Marbro employees would make the wood bases, spin the metal caps, make the shades, and do the painting and tinting. With the help of about 20-40 other true world class artisans, metal workers, finishers and hand made shade makers, they produced lamps and shades that are some of last of their kind of art. For example, Marbro brass was never just plain brass. It was stained with a tinting that was homemade and kept secret by the company (reminiscent of Handel Lamp Co.). There were quite a few of these preparations all kept in one of those little metal boxes on a 3×5″ file card just like a recipe. It was truly unique.
Many of the lamp bodies that were bought were not exactly matched as pairs. Sometimes 10-20 crystal vases would have to be sorted through to get 2 of the exact same height so that if the lamps were purchased as a pair, they would match. All of the shades were made by hand by a group of women on the second floor of the building with very little automation.
The lamps were considered high style fine lamps for the times and presently. Brass and porcelain lamps would wholesale for a$300 – $3,000 while crystal and bronze lamps were $2,000 – $4,000.
The manufacturing plant was closed in Los Angeles in December 1990 and the inventory and equipment were moved to LaBarge Mirrors in Holland, MI. At the time LaBarge Mirrors was a Masco Corp subsidiary. Some time later, the Marbro product line was discontinued. Eventually, Masco sold most of their home furnishings manufacturing holdings.
Marbo assembled a very talented, experienced and most unique group of artists and craftsmen and many of their fine lamps exhibit a certain distinctive style. Most of the employees were in their 50’s and older. There were quite a few employees in their late 60’s and 70’s. Today their lamps are very collectible and sought after especially by knowledgeable collectors who are familiar with the company’s lamps and history.
It is obvious from the company’s careful selection of art objects and their unique proprietary methods of lamp making that their goal was to design beautiful unique and very high quality lamps. Their success is obvious from the very fine collectible Marbro lamps that are still sought after today.