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Iron Candlesticks for Common Use

Probably the first settlers in America read or worked after sundown by a flickering rushlight or the murky glow of a betty lamp. By the time their children had homes of their own, there was sufficient leisure for candlemaking to be included in the household chores. Candles were dipped or molded from tallow or beeswax and holders for them were in demand.

Various inventories of estates in the latter part of the seventeenth century mention candlesticks. These were of pewter and brass for the moderately well-to-do and of silver for the mansions of merchants. For everyday home use, householders relied on the wrought iron stick, hammered out on the anvil of the local blacksmith.

In this period the candlesticks were simple in form, just a cylindrical column attached to a circular base. One side of the column was an iron spur which slid up and down in a slot, thus raising the candle as it grew shorter. Some of the candlesticks had a broad base with a loop handle on one side, like the one at center right which was found in Virginia. They were intended for bedrooms and for carrying from room to room. The neatly formed candle snuffer in front of this Virginia stick is of steel and probably came from Sheffield, England.

Probably the most interesting as a symbol of early American life are the candlestick called, "hog-scrapers" because of the circular base with sharp edge. This made such a stick a very adaptable piece of house hold gear. The primary use was that of a lighting device but the sharp-edged base lent itself neatly to barbering a freshly killed hog. In addition, the rim at the top of the column usually had a hook on one side which enabled one to hang the candlestick either on a shelf edge or on the back of a chair when a light for reading or working was wanted. It was ingenious but risky as charred spots often appearing on an old slat-back chair indicate.

Candlesticks so designed originated in England in the eighteenth century and were made there and in America until well into the 1800's. Being utilitarian everyday pieces of cheap and plentiful native iron, few if any of those made in the early colonial years have survivived. Most of those found today date from about 1790 to 1830 when tin began to replace wrought iron for candlesticks.

Less common but still in existence are the tripod-base floor candlesticks, ancestors of the modern floor lamp. With these, the candleholders were designed to be moved up and down as desired. Examples with only one socket were probably intended for workshop rather than home use. I know of one twosocket example that may well have stood in the best room of a comfortably furnished eighteenth-century house. Its delicately formed finial and other decorative details show what a good craftsman could do with humble material.

These wrought iron candlesticks are of interest to students and collectors of early lighting devices. They are also not without merit for the present-day country home.



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