The evolution of PH 5 – and how to date yours

Filed under Design on April 22, 2017

Did you ever notice, that not all PH 5s look completely alike? Actually we have found there are at least 6 original versions! This is our guide on how to date your PH 5, based on the knowledge we have gained through our works and general passion for all things PH.

One of the most recognizable lighting designs of all times, the PH 5 pendant is an iconic piece of Danish design history. Designed in 1958 by Denmark’s most renowned lighting designer, Poul Henningsen (PH), and based on his multi shade system, developed for presentation at the 1925 World’s Fair in Paris. Henningsen took home 6 gold medals for his lights on that occasion.

The PH 5 was introduced as “a classic novelty”, but little did anyone know, that this design would eventually become synonymous with the PH lamp. The PH 5 pendant quickly gained immense global popularity and is just as popular today as it was almost 60 years ago – now THAT’s a timeless masterpiece in every sense of the word.

The name PH 5, has it’s roots in the naming system of the multi shade system, and thus confirms this relation. The 5 refers to the main shade’s diameter of 50 cm (19.7″). The design is both elegant and innovative, in comparison to earlier more simple designs. Delicate shades made from spun aluminum with wet lacquered finish, carefully arranged on purple lacquered brass spacers (struts) around a cone shaped inner, coated in red and fitted with red and blue reflectors. The bulb is completely hidden within the fixture, to ensure a glare-free light, and the red and blue insides add warmth to the ambiance. Light emits both downward and lateral, and illuminates the fixture itself.

Poul Henningsen and PH 5

Though out his life it was a mission for Henningsen to create and perfect “the glare-free light” – excluding sharp direct light emission from the bulb, and directing the light to where it’s needed, and at the same time casting off soft shadows. The principle behind being the reflecting multi shade system, based on a logarithmic spiral, where the focal point of the light source is placed in the center of the spiral.

With the PH 5, Henningsen passionately sought to improve the color rendering properties of the light source. Developed and conceived in pure raw unadulterated fury, over the myriads of bulbs in a variety of sizes available to the contemporary consumer, the PH 5 pendant was designed to handle a wide array of light sources.

The solution Henningsen came up with, meant fitting red and blue reflector-shades to provide color supplements, in the spectrum where the eye is less sensitive – namely red and blue. In turn weakening the light in the middle area – the yellow-green – where the eye is most sensitive. Another feature was the ability to change the hanging height of the bulb, inside the lamp fixture, to accommodate different bulb sizes.

Although the ultimate glare-free light has emitted from the unique PH 5 multi-shade system for almost 60 years now, the design has changed a bit along the way. All original PH 5 pendants are still produced by Louis Poulsen, however the design has been updated over the years, partly to accommodate the technology in light sources, and partly in attempts to re-market the PH 5 in new (contemporary) colors.

PH 5 (1.0) produced 1958-early 1960s

The first version, produced from 1958 and a few years into the 1960s, is distinguished by it’s top shade and the special spring bulb socket fixture. Also the bottom blue reflector deviates from later versions, in the sense that it is open, and readily reveals the three stem ends.

The top shade was comprised of two pieces of spun aluminum, shaped to form two cones placed opposite each other, held together by rivets. Inside the ‘double cone’ shaped top, a socket fixture with a spring holds the bulb socket.

The special spring fixture was meant for adjusting the bulb’s placement, to accommodate different bulb types and sizes, and thus effect the emitted light.

Louis Poulsen paper and metallic labels placed inside the top shade near the bottom, featuring the old LP logo.

Recommended bulb max. Wattage was 200 W and the original color choices were; white, purple, blue and red.

Telltales of the first edition PH 5: Hollow bottom blue reflector, 200 W max, two-part cone top shade, spring adjusted bulb socket

PH 5 (2.0) produced early 1960s-1970s

The second edition PH 5 was produced from the early 1960s and into to the mid-1970s.

It still featured the double cone shaped riveted top shade, however the spring fixture inside had been replaced by an orange disc (called the carrying plate), two white plastic ‘spacers’, and a patented plastic connector for fitting to top of the bulb socket.

The two white plastic spacers are placed on the cord above the bulb socked, while the orange carrying plate, which has an open side, fits over the cord, and onto the spacers. Together they lock inside the top shade, and onto the bulb socket. The bulb hanging height is altered by rearranging the carrying plate on the two white spacers.

Another design change was made to the bottom reflectors, in that the former hollow blue reflector, was replaced by a (smaller) red one, and covered by a new flat blue reflector disc.

Louis Poulsen paper and metallic labels placed inside the top shade near the bottom featured the old LP logo. Recommended max. Wattage changed to 100 W.  Produced in the original white, purple, blue and red colors.

The second edition PH 5 traits: Flat bottom blue reflector, 100 W max, two-part cone top shade, carrying plate bulb socket suspension

PH 5 (3.0) produced 1970s-1994

Sometime during the 1970s an updated, and thus third, edition was introduced.

This version featured a new top; the former double cone shaped top was replaced by a single cone shaped top, thus making the structure of the pendant sturdier, but probably also to create more room inside for different bulb sizes.

The carrying plate and plastic spacer solution, was still used as a mean for customizing the bulb hanging height.

The Louis Poulsen paper and metallic labels were now placed near the top, inside the top shade. And during this period the old LP logo was gradually replaced by the new Louis Poulsen logo, and as such labels in these editions can been found to carry both logos. The paper label also began to feature a production code, which identifies the production year and week.

The max. bulb Wattage recommendation remained 100 W. Still produced in the original four colors; white, purple, blue and red.

The third edition PH 5: Single piece cone shaped top, carrying plate bulb socket solution, labels placed at top inside the top shade

PH 5 Plus (4.0) produced 1994-2013

In 1994, the next (and fourth) version PH 5 was introduced to accommodate the demand for utilization of energy-saving bulbs.

The first generations of low energy bulbs, were generally larger than the old incandescent bulbs, which meant that they did not fit inside the PH 5 top. This meant alterations to the design were necessary to keep the PH 5 relevant to the contemporary market.

The top was reworked, and emerged taller and wider, to allow space for the larger bulbs, and the bulb socket became an integrated part of the top shade. Mounted to a track, the bulb’s height inside the fixture could now be adjusted, by turning a small screw on the top side. As such the plastic spacer bulb socket solution became obsolete.

Another challenge posed by the new energy-saving bulbs, was the lack of light (i.e. strength) they produced. To counter this Louis Poulsen turned to using a purer white lacquer finish to get obtain even more reflection. An option of having the blue bottom reflector plate replaced with a frosted glass plate (for more downward directed light) was also introduced. Please note here, we have seen very few of the frosted glass bottom versions, and as this appears to be the only difference, we count both versions as the fourth edition.

The paper and metallic Louis Poulsen labels were replaced a single plastic coated digitally printed label, placed inside the top shade near the top.

It seems like the red and purple colors were abandoned, and now only white and blue PH 5s were produced (based on the fact that we have never seen this edition in other than these colors).

The recommended Wattage was 30 W for energy-saving bulbs and 200 W for incandescent bulbs.

The fourth PH 5: Track mounted bulb socket, single plastic coated label, adjustment screw for altering bulb height


PH 50 (5.0) produced 2008-

The fifth version, the PH 50 marked the 50th anniversary of the PH 5 and was introduced in 2008.

In contrast to the matte finish of the earlier versions, the PH 50 was launched with a high-gloss finish in five new colors; Chili Red, Mint Blue, Wasabi Green, Coconut White and Olive Black.

The brass spacers between the shades were colored aluminum instead of purple as on the previous versions. All the PH 50s have a red middle reflector, and the glass disc bottom.

The label and electrical specifications did not change with this PH 5 edition.

PH 5 Contemporary (6.0) produced 2013-

The latest PH edition is the PH 5 Contemporary from 2013. Louis Poulsen introduced 4 new matte color combinations with bronze colored spacers.

The new color combinations were; army green with dark gray reflector, dark gray with turquoise reflector inside, pale rose with green reflector, and white/pale rose with pale rose reflector.

The white with red inner cone and blue reflector is the only original color combination that remains in production, and it has changed name to PH 5 Classic. Otherwise it is only the PH 50 and the PH 5 Contemporary that are in production today – and still by Louis Poulsen of course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.