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Tin Sconces

Candlelight was the chief means of lighting American homes before the advent of various types of whale-oil and kerosene lamps. Whale-oil lamps first appeared about 1815. Those using kerosene, at first called "coal oil," did not come into general use until several years after the discovery of petroleum in 1859.

Candles continued to hold their own during most of the 1860's, especially in rural sections. They gave no more light then than now, so to supplement those used in various kinds of candlesticks, there was widespread use of wall sconces. The majority were of tin, but a merchant or a wealthy land owner might have a pair or two made of silver for the best rooms.

Just how early such sconces were used in American homes is not known definitely, probably about 1700. The first ones were imported from England, were expensive, and few in number. Then in 1740, William and Andrew Patterson emigrated from Ireland and opened a tinsmith's shop in Berlin, Connecticut. Other tinsmiths opened shops elsewhere in that colony and in such Massachusetts towns as Dedham and Hingham. Working with sheets of tin plate about two feet square, imported from England and known as "best charcoal tin," these tinsmiths made a wide variety of lanterns, sconces, and candlesticks, as well as plates, teakettles, and coffee pots which they supplied to tin peddlers.

These peddlers, from early spring until late fall, followed their routes through the farming country. They first traveled on foot, carrying their wares in large baskets on their shoulders. Later came the picturesque tin peddler with horse-drawn cart piled high with an assortment of tin wares, mainly candlesticks, sconces, and lanterns. Many of the peddlers came from Connecticut and since, by the early nineteenth century, they were often away from home for months at a time, warehouses where they could restock their wagons were established in such cities as Albany, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Charleston, and Cincinnati.

The sconces and candlesticks were usually simplified copies of more expensive ones of silver or brass. The first sconces were of the tall oblong type, circular or shield-shaped sconces, often with inserts of mirror glass to aid in reflecting the light of the candle flame, date from a little after 1800 to about 1850.

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