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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Old Lamps And Candlesticks
(Part 2 Of 2)



The girandole or candelabrum was a development or elaboration of the candlestick. A century ago every well regulated New England parlor had a set of them on the mantel. There were usually three in a set, the middle one holding three candles, and those at the sides one each. Occasionally the centerpiece had five branches.

At first these girandoles were very simple, being usually little more than plain candlesticks supplied with five or six glass prisms. These glass ones are not so old as some of brass, but are very rare and valuable.

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century girandoles were made in more elaborate forms, and some of them possess no small artistic merit. All are of peculiar interest to the collector. These were sometimes made of brass, or bronze, or some cheaper alloy, and were gilded. They generally bore figures at the base, representing Washington, Tecumseh, a viking, an American pioneer, Paul and Virginia, etc., and pastoral and idyllic subjects. They were almost invariably made in sets of three, the middle piece holding three candles and the other two one each. They were further ornamented with glass prisms or "lusters," and sometimes stood on marble bases. These girandoles were made in this country the majority of them as late as 1825 the glass prisms being imported from France, where they could be made more cheaply than in this country.

I have never known any one to make a specialty of collecting these nineteenth century candelabra, but such a collection would be most interesting from a collector's point of view. There would be certain definite limits within which to work, and the col lector might hope for a reasonable degree of completeness and continuity in such a collection more than in any other group of old lamps or candlesticks.

Just one word to any who may by chance possess a set of these candelabra. Under no consideration split up the set. If you must part with any of the pieces, let them all go together. Collectors place a far greater value on full sets than on broken ones, and one piece out of three is not worth as much as a single old plain candlestick.

Now as to Colonial lamps. When whale oil became common, there was a demand for better lamps. Consequently their design and efficiency improved greatly during the eighteenth century. The old round wick was not good enough, and so a flat wick burner was invented about 1763. One form of the Argand burner is said to have been invented by Thomas Jefferson. The light that these lamps gave was thought very brilliant then, but would look pretty yellow and ghastly beside our modern duplex and center draft burners. Owners of Colonial lamps who wish to put them to actual use find it desirable to have them fitted with modern burners. This can easily be done without making any change that is easily noticeable.

Many of the Colonial lamps are very graceful in form, and the glass globes are often quaintly beautiful. Most of them are of opaque glass with trans parent or semi-transparent patterns. The bodies are made of bronze, glass, china, and other materials, sometimes having marble bases.

Mantel lamps often resembled contemporary candelabra in many respects, being frequently supplied with glass prisms or crystal drops. Some of them were placed out from the standards on arms both single and double and were fed from a central reservoir, like the modern student's lamp. Like girandoles, they are frequently found in sets of two or three.

Taller lamps, used generally on the dining-table, were imported chiefly from England and France. Many of them were exceedingly graceful in form. They were often of brass or bronze, coated with watergilt, and had glass globes and sometimes prisms.

I have not attempted to enter the field of Old World lamps and candlesticks, though these are collected to some extent in this country, and I know of two or three devotees who certainly have many good arguments in favor of this form of collecting. Ancient Greek and Roman lamps, and those of an even earlier period, are sometimes found in private collections as well as in museums.

Hebrew candlesticks and their Russian successors of the ecclesiastical type form a field for the collector, of unusual value and interest. French, Italian, and Spanish lamps of a later period are also worthy of study from an artistic standpoint.

These classes of antiques, however, are so largely confined to museums, and their collection proves so difficult and expensive, that I would not recommend it to the average collector. The collecting of American Colonial specimens is less discouraging and more satisfying to the average amateur.

In purchasing old lamps and candlesticks, the chief concern should be for beauty. In general, the simpler, less ornate specimens are better, both for the collector and for the furnishing of the Colonial room.

There is little danger of purchasing a fake, except in the case of simple brass candlesticks. The market is flooded with these, as with many other spurious brass articles. The East Side of New York has become very expert in their manufacture. Some are good imitations, and worthy of a place on the mantel when genuine pieces are not to be had, but if the purchaser wishes the real thing, he would better be on his guard. If he has studied old candlesticks, he can probably detect signs of recent workmanship on spurious pieces, but the novice cannot be quite sure. If a brass candlestick is offered at a low price, as a bargain, let the buyer beware. These reproductions are treated with acids, rolled in barrels, dented and scratched, but nearly always the expert can find evidences of recent casting; the novice must needs be very wary. It is safe to say, however, that lamps and girandoles are seldom counterfeited.

The estimated values of old lamps and candlesticks vary widely. There is no fixed standard.


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