Balafire flicker bulb

Balarfire flicker light - flicker bulb

This is a “flicker light” from my childhood. The green lacquer coating on the bulb is coming off, but amazingly it still works. It makes a soft tinking sound as the filaments hit the glass on either side. You can still find these on occasion, though increasingly seldom as they burn out one by one. It’s been forty years, after all. Mine is an oddity, apparently; it’s been going for decades. The bulbs have now been reissued but in the more typical edison bulb shape, and they don’t come with this cool, heavy base, which was made by stacking two alternating colours of opaque plexiglas. Mine is white and green, while my sister had the red and white version of it with a red bulb. I think they also came in blue, yellow and clear. I used to read by the light of this thing under the covers, and I loved the sound of it. I still do.

A friend and I tried to reissue this base a few years ago but the safety accreditation process for electrical appliances was too much of a hassle, and plexiglas is now more expensive. I love the label on the base: ICHOPHOS, 1135 Robson St, Vancouver. I think that typeface was called “Data 70.” Ichophos was a florist shop that also seemed to specialize in lucite.

flicker light base from Ichiphos at 1135 Robson St, Vancouver

Via Chris Millinship:
“A product of the Kyp-Go company originally in the 1970s, these unique lamps utilise a thin and very flexible carbon filament in the shape of a flame. In the centre of this filament loop a small magnet is supported. When AC electric current passes through the filament 2 things happen. First, it glows. Second, it vibrates around inside in a very wild flame-like way. This occurs as a result of the electric current flowing interacting with the magnet although I don’t fully understand why. If you hold a magnet near a normal carbon hairpin filament lamp you will observe that when lit the filament vibrates—be careful not to let it vibrate too much though. The carbon filament in these lamps is specially made to be very springy and flexible.” Copyright © 2001 Chris Millinship (The original link to this text is no longer active. The following two photos are also his.)

He also says that that in the UK the filament won’t flicker properly, possibly because the lower frequency of electricity in the UK doesn’t excite it as much, but he says you can set it going by holding a stronger magnet next to it. (I now sometimes have to tap my flicker bulb to get it to move from simply vibrating to actually flickering back and forth, but that may just be because it’s dying.)

balafire flicker bulb box

Some called them “crazy flicker” bulbs. One version came with a base that looked like a Budweiser or 7-Up can. More on Youtube. There is lots of discussion of this on this forum. If you search on eBay for “flicker bulb” you will find mostly find new ones. I hope they’ll consider returning to the spherical shape at some point in the future.

As one collector wrote me, “There are also tubular and flame-shaped bulbs which use the same effect, but don’t flicker as wildly due to the envelope constraining the filament…  Regarding the apparent disappearance of Balafire bulbs, it may be due partly to low production quantities as well as short lifetimes (500 hr. avg.), along with the usual “disposable” nature of light bulbs in general, and the contempt that many people had (and some still have) for all things ’70s.”

As a child, this was possibly my most magical possession. Maybe we were more easily pleased.

balafire flicker bulb blue

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One Response to “Balafire flicker bulb”

  1. Owen Rubin Says:

    I used to make 7-up can lights with those bulbs 40 yeas ago. Loved those things. Can’t really find them anymore. I used to have about 5 spare bulbs, but I can no longer find them. Must have been give away. Sigh. Thanks for posting. Brought back some good memories.

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