Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Historic Lighting

I am deciphering a coded advertisement
by Culper spy Robert Townsend.
My wife likes to chide me because of my historical lighting collection. Whenever she sees me looking at candle holders, lanterns, or oil lamps at an antique store, a flea market, or at a sutler, she tells me, "We don't need any more of those!"
"But I like them," I reply.
"We have enough," she'll tell me.
" you have enough yarn, dear?"
That's when I get---the look---the stink eye! But she knows it's true. I always get my crocheting-knitting-spinning wife with that one.
Every time.
I am a collector...and so is she, but only of different things.
It's all good, though, for I usually don't spend a lot of money on most items I buy - I like to wait for deals.
Understand, I didn't start out purposely to accumulate a period light collection. It just sort of inadvertently happened. It wasn't until I was attempting to clean out my stuff one day, including things stored away in the basement and garage, that I realized, "Hey! I got quite a cool collection of candle holders and oil lamps!"
Some of it I use on a regular basis in my home, mainly in the fall and winter months - during that time of year when the "old-time" feeling of the past is most prominent, and the non-electric lighting of candles and lamps of long ago helps to set the atmosphere; that's when we will often have candle-lit dinners and visits with reenactor friends, and even sometimes when our modern friends are over, and the natural light of a flame will simply add to the evening.
Of course, I will use the period lamps for living history purposes as well.
I am most certain that my love for the natural flame lighting is a direct result of when, right after Labor Day, my mother used to light candles and my father would light fires in our fireplace - both were a wonderful sign that autumn was here. And now I carry on that same tradition, but in a more historic way, for each of my lighting apparatus are very different and yet not of the modern Bed, Bath & Beyond style in any way.
All but one of the candle holders, lamps, and lanterns shown here are in my personal collection, and they certainly can light up a room in a very special style or manner:
What brings the past into the present better than candle light? 
Yeah, not even period clothing can hold a candle to...well...a candle.

But if you have candles, oil lamps, and period clothing...well, heck, you have just stepped through a portal to the past!

So, I'd like to show you my collection of lighting implements. All are replicas except where noted. And even though they are mostly based on originals, this is by no means a historical lighting history lesson. Please understand this before chaffing me on what's historically accurate or not.
You've been warned.
Here is a good part of my lighting collection - these are some of my favorites. 
There are 12 different lighting apparatuses shown here; in the photos below, you'll get a close up of each one....and of a few not shown here.

Let's begin by showing a very early style of "oil" lighting, the betty lamp, which has been around in some form or another for hundreds of years.  
Betty lamps were probably the most widely used lighting device in Colonial America:
The top picture shown here is a replica betty lamp that I purchased from the excellent reenacting site, Jas Townsend
No, I have not tried to light it as of this time.
Contrary to what many believe, oil lamps were used in the 18th century, with the most common referred to as betty lamps. The body of a betty lamp is cast with one solid piece of iron with a nose or spout for the wick. In these lamps were burned any grease, scraps of fat, fish, or whale oil. Wicks were usually pieces of twisted cotton rag, and when lit, they smoked considerably. The burning of fish oil had a rank smelling and gave the poorest light, which is why grease and fats were better. With whale oil, which was likely burned in betty lamps after 1760, burned the most satisfactory light, equal to two ordinary candles. 
These lamps had certain advantages over the tallow candle; there was no elaborate preparation or constant care, and there was the possibility of being used to cast light downward without spilling grease.

All of these lamps were to be set on the table, or to be hung on a hook on the wall, or on the back of a chair, or wherever convenience might require their placement.

(The picture of the lit betty lamp is one I took from the Jas. Townsend website - see link above) 

Now why don't we check out some wall sconces I have that are based on, but not necessarily replicated from, those found in the colonial period.
I bought this from a tinsmith at the Kalamazoo Living History Expo. He had such a variety, but I wanted something a bit more simple, and this is what I chose. I've seen similar styles in paintings of the inside of colonial homes.

Though not an antique, I have seen candle holders such as this on reputable web sites selling antiques. I bought it because I just happen to like it. And the fact that I could put the blown-out match in the base is a good thing.

I have seen this style of the back reflector in numerous photographs of colonial homes, but I am pretty certain the glass globe (or chimney) is not correct to the 18th century.

Candle holders and lanterns are next:
I sorta created a little "colonial vignette" for this shot. See the candle holder there in the center? I picked it up for a dollar at a colonial reenactment. It's a very good replication of one from the 18th century, and for only a buck, how could I go wrong?

I am not sure why this punch-tin (or pierced-tin) lantern, commonly referred to as the Paul Revere lantern, is associated with Paul Revere. I have tried to get the answer to that question, to no avail. 
But, what made this lantern popular was that once the door is closed after the candle is lit, the punched holes allow for air to get through but not wind. In this way the flame can continue to burn even during a windy day (though not allowing for much light).
By the way, the wooden item with the flags sticking out is a replica 18th century candle box. 

A tinderbox is a container made of metal or wood with a compartment containing flint or steel as well as tinder (anything that can easily catch fire such as dried grass, stick slivers, hay, etc.)  used together to help kindle a fire. 
Though they were in common use in the 18th and early 19th century household, tinderboxes fell out of general usage by the mid-19th century when friction matches were invented.
I was lucky enough to find this replica at the Greenfield Village gift shop a number of years ago - - I don't believe they make them there to sell anymore, so I am certainly glad I got it when I did.

A rushlight is a type of candle or miniature torch formed by soaking the dried pith (inside of the stem) of the marshy rush plant in fat or grease, allowing it to burn slowly once lit. For several centuries rushlights were a common source of artificial light for poor people throughout the British Isles (including my own ancestors). They cost almost nothing to produce and it was believed to give a better light than some poorly dipped candles.  Rushlights also have a scoop for a candle, which was more expensive to burn. 

For the folks who used rushlights to get some light in their homes after dark, using a candle would have been reserved for special occasions such as a holiday.
Many of the English who were able to cross the ocean to the colonies brought their rushlights with them and can still be found in historic home museums, such as at the 1750 Daggett farmhouse now located in Greenfield Village. 
In fact, I just so happen to have a picture of a rushlight in use inside the Daggett house right here, though, like mine in the previous picture, it is not burning a rush pith but, instead, is using the candle.

This next lighting apparatus I found to be very interesting from a historical standpoint. When I visited the Daggett House in 2017, I noticed this particular style of lantern hanging in the kitchen:
It is a “new” lantern made especially for the 1750 
Daggett Farm House in historic Greenfield Village.
It is very similar to an original from the 18th century you see here:
(Picture from THIS site) 
What is so interesting is that, before the widespread 
availability of glass, cattle horn was heated and 
flattened thin enough to permit light to pass through, 
and these thin sheets of horn glazing were used to 
protect a candle or other flame against wind, 
similar to a pane of glass.
They could also use talc, bladder or oiled paper
Inside the Daggett House we find the “Lanthorn,” which is an archaic word for lantern because of the translucent sheets of horn. By the way, note that the bottom of this particular lanthorn, where the candle sits, comes out.

As glass grew cheaper it gradually ousted all other materials, but the horn lantern was still being used in the early part of the 19th century.
Lucky for me, I found someone who made replica lanthorns.
Of course, if you know anything at all about me, you would know
that I would do my best to purchase one.
And I did - - 
This is how my lanthorn looks when lit in the evening.
It truly does give off a period glow unlike nearly any other I own.
I feel it's very cool that modern tinsmiths are learning this lost art of horn paning. Yes, you can thank living historians, whether they work at such places as Greenfield Village or Colonial Williamsburg, or even those who are under the reenactor umbrella, for keeping such crafts alive.

The next stop along the tour of my replica lighting apparatuses is this colonial-era wooden lantern. I've seen enough of these types of lanterns in various 18th century house museums in person and in pictures that I have little doubt they are correct for the period.
In fact, once again inside the historic 1750 Daggett Farm House, we see a wooden lantern in use. Greenfield Village is pretty particular  - dare I say anal - about what they allow to be shown and used inside their historic homes; I was told they require three sources before an item can be displayed. And that's a good thing...a very good thing, in fact, for us history nerds!

Here is a brass candle holder that looks just like a few I've seen in pictures of the inside of some of the homes in Colonial Williamsburg. I've also seen this style in antique stores and on-line antique auctions. It is a fine 18th century replica.

Now we have what I call my “prized possession” – it’s an authentic replica (love that term "authentic replica") of the original two lanterns lit and shown in Boston's Old North Church steeple on the night of April 18, 1775, signaling the movement and marching of the British Regulars toward Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.
This lantern was made and sold, with the blessings of the Concord Historical Society (owners of the original) in very limited supplies during the Bicentennial celebrations in the mid-1970s.
The original “was made by some unknown colonial tinker---probably for the purpose of illuminating his barn---so he could milk his cow before the light of dawn. Yet, incredibly, these same lanterns were destined to send the signals that would start Paul Revere and other Sons of Liberty ‘to spread the alarm’ to be up and to arm.”
This now sits on the shelf directly above my computer where I daily look at it for patriotic inspiration. That's the truth.
Oh! And, yes, I have taken it out to Colonial reenactments with me.
Here I am as Paul Revere speaking to middle school students about the importance of this lantern. Of course, Mr. Revere did not actually see the lanterns in the steeple of the church that historic night, but was, instead, told by a stable boy of the signal and to make ready his ride into the darkness of night to warn the people of Lexington and Concord. I brought it along for historical purposes.(For more on Paul Revere, please click HERE. And for more about my acquisition of the Paul Revere/Old North Church Lantern, please click HERE)
~(Photo courtesy of the Macomb Daily newspaper)~

Many of you may know that I am a fan of the AMC series "Turn: Washington's Spies," and, even though the show may not be 100% historically accurate, their accessories are pretty much spot on.
So, as I watched an episode near the end of Season 2, where Abraham Woodhall and Anna Strong were decoding a message in Abe's burned out cellar (yep, the picture above is from that episode, thanks to Marlene Di Via!), I noticed this particular lantern playing a prominent role in the accessory department. 
After doing a bit of searching, look what I found:

Yes, this is the one and the same style used on the show.
Now, we know we cannot depend on Hollywood to teach us accurate history, but folks I've spoken to tell me this is very close in a style accurate to the times of the Revolutionary War.
Did I say completely accurate?

But it is close.
And kind of cool to have after watching "Turn."
(see the photo at the very top of this post!)

What you see now is my tin candle mold that I purchased from Jas. Townsend, for we do make our own candles in the fall during our Harvest Home festival.

My daughter and I making the beeswax candles.

Pictured above is one of the brass wall sconces that my wife and I purchased many, many years ago. I've seen this style in colonial and Victorian historic homes as well as in quality period movies and TV series.  
If I could pinpoint the beginning of my candle holder collection, it would be right here. 
See the light-colored candles dangling? Yep – made ‘em with the tin candle mold! The two darker toned candles were made by dipping.
Here are candles made by my daughter and I (with a little help from a few of her friends, too) - dipped and from the mold.

Moving into the 19th century style, this is very acceptable for a tavern or a well-to-do home. It can pass for 18th century as well, or so I've been told. We enjoy lighting ours during our evening supper in the fall, when the sun goes down and the clouds all frown.

Another lantern that works well for 19th century but will handle the 18th century pretty good is this one made of tin. It is very close to originals I have seen.

See that cool round tin thing below the mirror? 
That's a candle box I purchased from Smoke & Fire. 
I know it's correct for the early-to-mid 19th century, and have recently been 
told by one who knows that it is also correct for the 18th century as well.
Yes, it holds many of our candles!
And here is a candlebox - exactly like mine - inside the 1850s Eagle Tavern located at Greenfield Village. Note the other ancient lighting apparatuses.

Now we have an original oil lamp from the 1870s/80s. I have another just like it, only the base is orange (which can be seen in the picture 3rd from the top). Surprisingly, I didn't spend as much money as you might think for them. But we do light them on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Up next is a wall oil lamp, a gem I found at Lehmen's, the 'non-electric store,' located in southeastern Ohio. It's pricey, but when I saw one being used at the 1880s Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village, I saved my pennies and got the rest of the cash during income tax return time and purchased one.

This is the reason right here why I purchased the above oil wall lamp. Doesn't it look great all lit up? We are in the 1880s Firestone Farm kitchen in this photo.

I found this for $15 from Lehman's in Ohio. You know, I honestly couldn't tell you if they used lanterns that looked like this one back in the day or not, but it is a very common-looking lamp that, in my opinion, can be used for nearly any period occasion of the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.

I suppose it would seem to those of us living in the age of electric light, even something as simple as going up or down stairs can not only be a chore, but a little spooky as well!

Remember the picture near the top showing the "line up" of my lighting collection? Well, here they are, all lit up just for you!
Recognize this mug?'s the very one and the same you see on the 'masthead' of Passion for the Past. I believe it shows well how it would have looked in the mid-19th century of someone writing in their journal during the evening hours. We sometimes tend to forget just how dark the world of our ancestors was, especially in the months of fall and winter.

There are more in my collection, but maybe I'll save those for a part two.
I have become pretty selective in the type of historic lamps and lighting I purchase now only because I want quality...authentic replications (or the real deal, if possible).
If you are interested in learning about living by candlelight in colonial times, please click HERE

By the way, if you'd like to read something much more extensive on driving the darkness away, please click HERE for an excellent site with wonderful explanations of early lighting and apparatuses.

I hope this post brightened your day.
Until next time, see you in time.