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Widget Of The Week

Ianero Quartzcolour Polaris Spotlight, 1980

Okay, so we’re a bit off the beaten track with this one, but it is common knowledge that every home needs a good reading lamp, and you’re going to have a hard time finding a better (or bigger) one than this Ianero Quartzcolour Polaris. Believe it or not it didn’t start out as a reading lamp and it required some minor alterations before it could be used as such. Prior to the modification it had the unfortunate effect of burning anything placed within its beam, but now it has been tamed it is a job that it does really well. The only minor problem remaining is to find a house with a living room large enough to fit it in...

 

It’s a stage or studio spotlight and vintage models that have been tarted up are now in demand for trendy interior lighting and really fancy, or really old ones can fetch a very pretty penny. The supply is finite, though and modern repros and fakes, many of them quite nasty and often grossly overpriced, are coming out of the woodwork. In fact movie style lights have always been popular and miniature models have been doing the rounds around for years, but this one is the real deal. It was made in the early 80s by the Italian manufacturer Ianaro and marketed in the UK through theatrical and studio lighting specialists Strand.

 

The reason this one was initially unsuitable as a reading lamp, apart from the size and weight, was the 1000-watt tungsten halogen bulb it uses. Not only does it get extremely hot, the beam of light it produces could probably fry an egg. Of course the powerful lamp can be substituted for an ordinary domestic light bulb but it is not an easy job without replacing the specialised 2-pin holder that is designed to withstand high temperatures. In the end I decided to leave it in its original condition and adapt an ordinary bulb. Now it uses a much more practical and electricity bill and environmentally friendly 3-watt LED light – more about that shortly.

 

Theatrical and studio spotlights turn out to be a good deal more complex than they appear from the outside. The moveable flaps or ‘barndoors’ on the front is the most noticeable, and familiar, feature and their function is pretty obvious, to define the limits of the beam, which as you can imagine can be quite handy for stage lighting. The big lens on the front is a Fresnel type; it works just like a conventional convex lens but it is flat, formed of a series of concentric prisms, which makes it easier to manufacture, and lighter too, because less glass is needed.

 

Most of the really interesting stuff happens on the inside, though, and behind the bulb there’s a fixed concave mirror, made out of polished metal. The beam angle can be varied between 9 and 60 degrees (narrow spot to wide-field) by altering the distance between the bulb and the mirror. The bulb is mounted on a moving platform that slides along a metal rail and this is connected to a control knob (the yellow one on the left side), via cables, driven by a set of pulleys and some gears. It’s an elegant and simple arrangement, and back in 1981 there was an option to control it remotely with a servo motor. There are two other control knobs on the right side (blue and white) and these are connected by a drive cables to mechanical actuators on the mounting bracket, to operate the lamp’s pan and tilt functions. There’s also a manual option; all three knobs have a socket fitting that couples with an attachment on the end of a long pole so adjustments can be carried out when the lamp is mounted out of easy reach. This one is configured for a stand mount, though, and the one it came with is a sturdy and very high quality item made by Arri, famous for its extensive range of video and movie cameras.

 

I came across this lamp, one of a pair, at a car boot sale in Kent, and having seen them previously at antique markets, often priced at several hundred pounds, I almost didn’t bother asking. But I did, more out of curiosity than hope, and was amazed when the stallholder said £60 each. It was still more than I was prepared to spend (or had about my person) so when the stallholder said he was open to offers I tried my luck with a cheeky £30 – about all that I had on me -- and was amazed when he accepted. He added that I could have both for £50. I’m kicking myself now for not snapping them up, though this would have entailed a trip to a cash machine and the nearest one was 5 miles away; the wife was also pulling faces, and it was starting to drizzle. I kid myself that they wouldn’t have fitted in my small car (they would, I would have made them fit…) but onwards and upwards, and it was still the bargain of the year.

 

Judging by the sticky labels it had recently been auctioned as part of a large lot of stage lamps. It was clear that it had been in use for some years but the scuffs and scratches were mostly minor. At some point the clamps on the stand had been painted over with white emulsion but that came off easily and they, and the barndoor flaps, were restored to an almost as-new condition with a quick rub down with some wire wool and coat of matt black spray paint. The lens, lamp housing and stand just needed a thorough clean. Once it was looking presentable and all moving parts lubricated, it was time to see if it worked. A continuity test confirmed the bulb was probably okay and the wiring was in good condition so power was applied and, nothing... The fault turned out to be the heavy-duty toggle switch on the side, which had gone open circuit. I could have replaced it but I decided to try my luck, take it apart and see if it was fixable. It was, just an accumulation of dried out grease and gunk on the contacts and ten minutes later it was back together and working.

 

At close quarters 1000 watts of highly focussed halogen light is a sight to behold (and keep you warm), especially in the confines of the average living room, but sadly the missus instantly banned it from ever being used at full whack, hence the swift changeover to an LED bulb. The modified holder was made using a disc of Bakelite (cut from a mains socket blanking plate), and drilled to take the two connecting prongs, which are a pair of 5mm bolts and solder tags. The connection to the bulb uses two short lengths of rigid 2mm copper wire, bent and soldered between the base of the bulb and the tags. It’s not pretty and probably contravenes numerous regulations but being an LED lamp it is only ever going to get a little warm and it is perfectly safe inside the housing. Nevertheless I am working on a more flexible arrangement, with insulated wiring and a proper bayonet socket, so bulbs can be easily changed.

 

What Happened To It?

Ianero in Italy are still in the business making professional studio and TV lights, so too is Strand Lighting, though it is now part of the Philips group. Nowadays both companies concentrate on sophisticated computer controllable LED-based systems; old style power-hungry and inefficient incandescent lamps like the Polaris have become virtually obsolete

 

That is part of the reason why so many stage and studio lights have been turning up at antique fairs over the past few years, as they are replaced with more up to date equipment, though undoubtedly there have been quite a few theatre and studio closures as well, contributing to the supply. There’s also a lot of phoney stage lights doing the rounds but these tend to be flimsily made, very unconvincing and quite easy to spot, pun intended.

 

Large old-school models like this one are becoming harder to find, though and as when they come on to the market in any sort of quantity they tend to be snapped up by upcyclers and interior designers, who generally sell them on at a very handsome profit. A lot of these lamps were designed for use on overhead gantries and have been clumsily (and sometimes dangerously) mated to unsuitable, lightweight camera, telescope and wooden theodolite tripods, and I dread to think what state the modified electrics might be in. A fair number of lights end up being stripped back to bare metal and polished, which to me looks a bit naff, and they’re going to be a pain to keep looking shiny.

 

Unfortunately bargain finds are few and far between; I doubt that I will ever see another one like this for the price. However, if you fancy one it is worth persevering and there have been some quite decent looking fixer-uppers on ebay recently for well under £100. Antique fairs are another good source but if you’re on a tight budget be prepared to get your hands dirty with some restoration and TLC. Also, given a choice, I recommend models that are quite a lot smaller than this one, unless you have enormous rooms, or live in a converted TV studio.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1980

Original Price         £198

Value Today           £150 (0616)

Features                 1kw Halogen lamp (CP40 bi-post quartz), 150mm Fresnel lens (beam range 9 – 60 degrees), manual pan, tilt & beam focus/control, side mounted power switch, colour/diffuser frame, four leaf 360 degrees rotating Barndoors, inc. Arri Trojan tripod base stand

Power req.                     240VAC

Dimensions:                   550 x 320 x 290mm (ex stand & barndoors)

Weight:                          6kg (ex stand)

Made (assembled) in:    Italy

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


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