Sep 29, 2013

PH Artichoke

Let us start this one with a piece of history.

Undoubtably, Danish Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) is one of the legendary names when it comes to MCM lightning design. Henningsen (PH) started his career in developing modern lighting solutions when such technologies as an incandescent bulb was a relatively new innovation. According to his design philosophy, the beauty of an object must rise from the connection between its purpose and shape. Any practical challenges, such as e.g. the glare associated with the use of incandescent bulbs, had to be solved before the question of the light fixture's beauty could be addressed.

PH aimed to develop totally glare free lighting solutions by optimally fitting of the incandescent bulb and designing the light fixture to reflect diffuse light. He also wanted to be able to concentrate the light in a preferred direction, usually downwards, which was naturally achieved by reflecting the light by the shades indirectly. The colour of a given light was always chosen to match the function in the most cost-effective way possible to give each light the exact level of warmth desired.

See no glare?

The PH Artichoke (Originally named PH Kogle) was introduced in 1958 in the Langelinie Pavilion in Copenhagen, Denmark. Only a year earlier the demanding task of Pavilion lighting design was passed to Henningsen by the architects Eva and Nils Koppel, who were responsible for designing the space.

As only very rough sketches exist from the time before installation of PH Artichoke in the Pavilion, it is believed the light was developed extremely quickly. This is different from the other PH lights, demonstrated by the numerous archived sketches still available. The surprisingly fast development time of the light was indeed enabled by the fact that the PH Artichoke is actually believed to be based on an other PH light designed 30 years earlier, the PH Septima. During the development of the Septima, Henningsen had in fact designed also a metallic version of this light, but the concept never reached production. These drawings later on formed the basis of the PH Artichoke, launched some 30 years later.

PH Artichoke

Since it's launch, the Artichoke has expanded to include a series of four lights in different sizes: 84, 72, 60 and 48cm diameters. The largest Artichoke requires a stunning 500W bulb and it is used in spacious public or corporations settings, whereas smaller models, suited for a residential set up, use a 300W bulb with a dimmer. Originally in the Langelinie Pavilion a 1000W bulb was installed in each Artichoke to ensure the right warm atmosphere. It has been said that once the lights were installed, PH found the light to be too strong and realized weaker bulbs could have been used.

In the original Artichoke, the shades were lacquered brushed copper on the outside and coated with weak pink (same than in Pink Septima) in the insides. In the mid-70's, an optional new leaf material, stainless steel was introduced, and in early 1980's the completely white Artichoke became available to the public.

And why are we suddenly so interested in the PH Artichoke?

The Olive Green Window has been a host for quite a few PH lights, some of which have already found a new owner on their journey. Without a doubt, however, the above introduced Artichoke is one of our all time favourites. This particular piece was a recent find from an internet auction and arrived to our home from Denmark. It is an early, 60 diameter model made of copper...and upon its arrival, was in horrid condition, stinky and covered with tar, nicotine and dead insects. Exactly something you want hanging above your dining room table.

Desperately needing a face lift

We are not sure about the exact date of manufacturing of this piece. Inside the light we found a label with some sort of numbering, perhaps a specific product code in the Poulsen product portfolio.

Type 17080?

Pekka stripped the filthy Artichoke down to the bone in order to update it properly so it would be safe to use in every day life. Regarding the functional dimension of this light, one of the focus areas was clearly the electrical components such as sockets and wiring. All these were either throughly cleaned or changed during the process to allow safe use.

Wired out electrics

With a vintage Artichoke, one has to be aware of the existence of sulfur spots, also known as the flyspecs in the numismatic society. These dark brown or black spots appear on copper leafs and are formed when copper is exposed to the sulfur from the environment. Actually, it is quite normal for a vintage light to have some spots on it. In our case, however, they were all over and something needed to be done, desperately.

Sulfur spots on copper leaves

There are several different ways one can clean the copper leafs of a PH Artichoke. The chosen method depends on how dirty the item is. We were looking at the dirtiest end of the spectrum, basically everything from dust to tar, and nicotine to sulfur spots. The first three are really not a problem, whereas the sulfur spots change the game completely.

These anomalies on the surface finish are an outcome of the process called sulphatation and require a bit more intrusive method than just wiping to get rid of them. To remove the spots, Pekka first removed the clear coat finish. Once treated and cleaned, the difference between before and after was dramatic. A word of warning: if you choose to clean one, it is a one way road - to have an uniform look you have 71 more to go, regardless of them being in need of cleaning or not.

A piece of advice: work the leaves only in the direction of the brushed surface finish, and the end result will be fine. The observed down side was that by treating the leaves you also wipe off the years of patina. Unfortunately, in the case of the copper Artichoke is a major thing, but a compromise we needed, and wanted to make.

Old and new

When disassembling a structurally rather complex item such as the PH Artichoke, it was essential to do it in a systematic manner. There are 72 leaves of copper in 12 rows, all of which are different in size. After taking all the copper leaves off, all that was left was a bare steel structure.

Piles of copper

Steel structure

The steel skeletal was also disassembled down to single components enabling a more effective cleaning. For these elements a wash with warm water and soap was sufficient to rid the nicotine and tar accumulated over the years.

Clean steel skeleton

The painted components were first washed and dried. Afterwards, they all received a new layer of fresh white paint.

Warm bath

Once everything had been cleaned and re-treated, the big moment was finally there. Pekka was able to start the assembly, the moment everybody had been waiting for.

Installation of the copper leaves

After two and half months of intensive restoration this stunningly beautiful MCM light finally hangs above our dining table. It is unbelievably beautiful. Just gorgeous. And we are completely in love with it!

Finally, the Artichoke has found its place

And last but not least - what are Urho's thoughts on this? Well, as so many times before, he could not care less. In Urho's opinion, the best thing about the Artichoke is that the 300W bulb creates some additional heat to the chilly autumn days. We are nearing the time of the year Urho starts cuddling closer and closer to warm human bodies, or when there is no warm body around, he simply digs his way between the couch pillows. So any extra heat, even a fraction of a degree, is warmly welcomed by our heat-seeking sausage.

Between the pillow and a hard place


  1. 'heat-seeking sausage'...chortling merrily!

  2. Beautiful lamp, I'm so envious. :) In the best, most friendly type of way. What was involved in removing the clear coat finish and cleaning the copper? Did you have to use a chemical stripper of some sort, or just a lot of sanding? If chemical, how did you keep it from also stripping the underside of the leaves? And if sanding, what grits of sandpaper did you end up finding worked best? :) I'm living so vicariously though you guys right now.

    1. Hi Melinda!

      The Artichoke is our absolute favorite:) Though I have to say that some times the 300 watts are just too much. I think we will get a dimmer some time soon..

      Thanks for asking, yes I used chemical stripper and no, I don't think there is a way from keeping it going also to the other side. In our case this was no problem as also the paint was is a terrible condition. You can actually see the condition of the paint in the sixth picture. The under side of the leaves was sanded a bit with fine sand paper in order to create some grip for the paint, where as the top sides were carefully worked in the direction of the texture with ultra fine steel wool (0000) together with running water until all the black spots were gone. A lot of work, but also lots of fun!

  3. Amazing work you did on this light! It looks stunning.

  4. Hienoa käsityötä! Taas yksi upea esine pelastettu. Arvostan!

    1. Kiitos Vilja! Kauhean homma hinkata jokainen kuparilehti yksitellen, mutta vaivan väärti:)

  5. Hello,

    I am planning to buy a vintage copper 72cm artichoke later this week.

    Can you give me some points of attention to check the quality, condition and originality.

    Thank you in advance.

    Best regards,

    Bas (from Holland)

  6. hello Mina,

    we have recently acquired a large ph artichoke which unfortunately also presents dark stains on its copper leaves. We are very glad to have found your website since we were not sure what way to go from here. Apart from steel wool and water what is the product you have used to remove the stains please?

    We are wondering if there is not a protective coat on the copper leaves which we would also be removing by cleaning the leaves completely. Will we have to polish the leaves regularly in the future or have you protected the copper with a special final coat?

    Could you please confirm that you are still happy with the result of your restoration work? Have the black stains already returned?

    many thanks for your help!

  7. Hi Rudi,

    Sorry for a delayed answer! Nice to hear that you have acquired one of the most beautiful lights ever made. Sorry to hear that is has some issues. The dark stains are unfortunately common in these copper lights.

    Yes there is a protective layer, a clear coat on top of the copper and in order to get rid of the dark sports you have to go under neath it. To remove the clear coat and the paint (underneath) I used paint remover after which I switched to steel wool and water. Remember if you decide to do one leaf you have to do all 72 of them as the patina will be different. So yes, a lot of work!

    After I had cleaned all the leafs I repainted the under sides (with paint) and the top sides with clear coat (lacquer).

    Yes we and the new owners of the light are both very happy with the results!



  8. Can you tell me if there is simething I can use fir a few minor spots ?

    1. Dear Charlotte,
      Sorry for taking so long to answer. To answer your question it would be really helpful to understand a bit better how extensive the spots are and are they for example located above or under the protective top layer. Could you perhaps take a picture, so Pekka could take a look and perhaps be able to help? You could send the picture at