Light Up Your Life at The Black Penny

By Claire Stuart

Looking for a special 1930s table lamp for the bedroom? Or a replacement globe for your “Gone With the Wind” lamp that the cat knocked over? And speaking of lamps, how about that weather vane from Great Grandpa’s barn that’s been stored in your attic forever. Wouldn’t it look great as a lamp in your country kitchen?

Solutions for all of your antique lighting needs will probably be found at The Black Penny Custom Lighting and Antiques in Millwood, Virginia. It’s an antique shop with a bit of everything, but lighting is their specialty. They sell, repair, restore and repurpose antique lamps of every description as well as carrying replacement parts and accessories.

Bill and Virginia Elliott, sharp and active at 90 and 88 respectively, have been operating The Black Penny since they “retired” some 40+ years ago. The shop will celebrate its 40th anniversary in April 2016. Their daughter and son worked for them for years, and now their grandson helps them part time.

The shop is located in what was a 1830s milk barn, and milk was delivered from there into Millwood proper by horse and wagon. The Elliotts live next door, a commute of about a minute’s walk. Bill explained that their house was once a summer home for two sisters from Pittsburgh in the 1930s-40s who used a small room in the front of the barn as a gift shop in the summer months. They called it The Black Penny, and the Elliotts liked the name and kept it.

Virginia’s mother, Lola Jenkins Weis, was born in Millwood and moved to Baltimore when she married. Virginia and Bill met in Baltimore and were married there 64 years ago.

The Weises returned to Millwood in the 1960s and, said Virginia, “My mom hoped one of her children would come back to Millwood.” Virginia was the one who did.

The Elliotts moved to Millwood when Bill retired. The old milk barn was on the property they purchased in 1969, and it had been abandoned since the sisters left. Bill and Virginia started restoring it about two years before opening their shop. They pointed out where a tractor shed and corn crib had once been. Steps to a lower level were carved out of the natural rock ledge that underlies the property.

Additional rooms were added to hold more stock as well as workshops for electrical, welding and machine work. Woodworking is done in a separate building. The Black Penny also works with other machine shops, including a foundry that does brass, bronze and other non-ferrous metal casting that cannot be done in- house.

The Elliotts liked antiques, and they began business as an antique shop with furniture restoration, but demand for lighting work increased.

“The shop evolved over 40 years,” said Bill, “to antiques, lighting and accessories, heavy on restoration.”

In addition to lamps and chandeliers, you can find everything from furniture to glassware. Bill pointed out a huge solid cherry desk and noted that he especially likes American wooden furniture. Metal polishing is another service offered, as evidenced by a nearly blindingly-shiny brass samovar and a pair of gleaming brass andirons.

“We do a lot of fireplace work,” said Bill.

The Black Penny is most well-known for lighting repair and restoration. Some of their work involves converting oil, gas and candle-burning lamps to electricity. A pair of candle-burning brass carriage lanterns topped with eagles was in the process of restoration and metamorphosis into electric lights.

They are also adept at making objects of all sorts into lamps. Two antique brass fire extinguishers, polished to mirror finish, had become lamps, as had a champagne bottle and a newel post from the bottom of a staircase. A gigantic wooden wagon wheel was becoming a chandelier to be hung from metal rods in a very high ceiling.

One of their most impressive pieces is an 1890s crystal chandelier that they converted from gas to electricity. It has 12 arms and somewhere between two and three hundred crystals. Bill noted that the gas lighting period was very short because gas was not readily available. He said that some farms in the area did have equipment for generating methane gas from farm manure.

One whole room is devoted to glass lamp globes in all sizes and shapes, some hand-painted. Another room is devoted to lamp shades. This is Virginia’s domain, and if she doesn’t have a globe or shade for your lamp, she will find one for you somewhere. A glass cabinet holds lamp-topping finials made of everything from metal to crystal, mineral stones and ceramic.

The Black Penny’s customers come from all over, including electricians and decorators. Bill recalls meeting someone at the Statue of Liberty, who greeted him by saying, “You’re from the Black Penny, aren’t you?”

The Black Penny is located at 1131 Bishop Meade Road, Millwood. Their formal hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 PM, but they will arrange to open at other times if you give them a phone call at 540-837-2150 .

They do not have a web site, but you can visit their Facebook page: Black Penny-Custom Lighting and Antiques.