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
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
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
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
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
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
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.