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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Lamps And Lighting



Isn't it annoying when a fuse blows! You have to fumble around in the dark looking for the flashlight and go out into the kitchen, or even worse, way down into the basement to put in that new fuse. This task amounts to about the same amount of effort as unscrewing and replacing the cap to a tube of toothpaste. A murmured sigh of satisfaction escapes your lips with the return of the lights and the sound of the radio once again. You flip off the flashlight and mumble something about, "Why doesn't someone invent something so we can avoid this sort of thing!" Blown fuses are annoying even if they only occur occasionally.

But, think how much more annoying was the constant tending required of oil lamps: cleaning, filling, rewicking, picking up the wick, trimming the wick, adjusting the flame, refilling. The total result was flickering light which was often sooty and always evil smelling.

The history of lighting is one of the most fascinating of all the antique-to-modern developments.

The very first lights were from fires. After man had conquered fire he discovered that it was an excellent source of light in those dark hours past sundown, and began a long series of attempts to produce this light for his purposes.

Fire has been the chief kind of light ever since, taking many forms to keep it going from many kinds of oil and animal fat, and including such familiar forms as candles and our present-day light ing of street obstructions with the round, fat little open flame markers lined up around the danger area.

The first actual lamp was little more than a concave stone or a crudely shaped metal vessel to hold meat drippings and a little floating wick.

The Betty lamp was an improved version of the grease lamp and continued in use over a tremendously long time. Starting some time around 6000 b.c., these lamps were used in the same form A.D. 1620 when our country was first being settled. The little cloth wicks merrily burned their feeble lights in countless grease-filled Betty lamps for many generations of Americans, in designs hardly different from those used by the early Romans. There was a patent issued to a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, firm as late as March 13, 1860, for a Betty lamp, which shows that they were probably used into the 1870's.

By far the most widely used fuel for lamps was whale oil. The great whaling industry was flourishing along the coast and whale oil had a less obnoxious odor than the lard which was also burned during the same period.

Made of several materials including tin, iron and pewter, whale-oil lamps may be easily distinguished by their little wick tubes: small round wick tubes for the whale oil in sharp contrast to the broad, flat ones for lard oil.

Similar in shapes were the lamps that burned camphene. This fluid was a product of refined turpentine which was in general use from about 1845 to 1850. Unlike whale or lard oil, camphene was highly explosive, therefore, the wick tubes were made longer to prevent the flame from getting into the oil font. Also, camphene lamps had tight-fitting brass caps attached to the wick tubes by tiny chains; these little caps wefe used to extinguish the lamp because the usual method of blowing out a lamp as for whale oil, was too dangerous with explosive camphene.

Many varied and interestingly collectable shapes can be found in lamps of all these kinds.



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