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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Coach Lamps

For about fifty years, state laws have required vehicles to be lighted from sunset to sunrise. Before the motor-car era, whether a coach or carriage was fitted with lamps was a matter of the owner's preference. Then eight miles an hour was a fast pace. Night traffic was at a minimum and lighting one's carriage was not considered essential to public safety.

Yet coach and carriage lamps came into use quite early in the nineteenth century, and after 1825, as highways improved and cities grew larger, operators of stage coaches and affluent citizens who kept their own carriages began to equip their vehicles with side lights.

Dim as these lights were by present day standards, they were satisfactory to nineteenth-century eyes and their popularity grew. From about 1850 on, stage coaches, such as those first made at Concord, New Hampshire, and known as a Concord coaches in the East and as an Overland Mail coach further west, were not fully equipped without a pair of lamps placed just back of the driver's seat on projecting brackets. So it was also with the enclosed carriage for city use, whether a four-wheeled hired hackney, a two-wheeled hansom cab, or such private carriages as a brougham, landau, or barouche.

As the fashion grew, these lamps became larger and more elaborate. Their design was basically derived from the enclosed torch, sometimes called a link, in use in Europe during the eighteenth century and earlier. What had been the staff carried by a link-boy became the hollow container for fuel which, after 1859, was kerosene. Many of the lamps were elaborate in design and decoration (Illustration 118). They were usually of sheet iron, japanned black, and often trimmed with bands of Sheffield plate. There was glass on the front and on the outer side. The interior was of Sheffield or other silver plate for reflecting the light.

Many of the largest lamps were used on hearses or on the delivery wagons of department stores of the luxury class-some silver plated with the lantern part eight-sided and panes of glass all around. For simpler carriages, such as the buggy in which many a country doctor made his rounds, the lamps were smaller and more lantern-like. Occasionally, one sees an elaborate pair of brass lamps with a number in red, blue, or green on the glass. These were made for an early voluntary fire-company apparatus.

Most carriage and coach lamps found in good condition today date from about 1865 to 1890. They are now collector's items, much in demand as lights for the front doors of country and suburban homes. Electrified, they give a graceful touch to a doorway and shed much more light then they ever did when mounted on the sides of a carriage or coach.

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