Old Time Lights
( Originally Published 1914 )
The most prosaic object is not below the scrutiny of the amateur and as nothing has escaped the discerning glance of the craftsman in the search of homely things to make beautiful, why not beautiful candles, forsooth?
Most of us know little of old-time industries and nothing perhaps at all of old-time methods of lighting or of candle-making—the well-known bayberry dip or candle comprising the entire extent of our knowledge. These certainly deserve the popularity they enjoy, for what is more attractive than their mellow light and the soft sage green color of the wax which harmonizes with the copper and brass or even silver candlesticks. But they by no means cover the entire field of candle-making. Candle is only a generic term, for there are candles and dips, likewise "long smokes" and "short smokes," each of which is put to a special and particular use. Then there are tallow dips and candles, for the bayberry bush does not grow in all our States and besides the tallow light is much more easily made.
The bayberry candles are made of the wax coating the berry of the bay bush growing in our coast regions and sandy sail. In the late fall when the berries are ripe they are gathered and the wax is removed by putting them into boiling water. The wax floats and when the water cools, it hardens and can be easily skimmed off.
The day set aside for dipping candles must be solely devoted to that enterprise, for once be-gun there is no leaving off until done. If short smokes or lantern dips are to be made then the candle wicking is cut off in length of six inches. Each piece of wick is looped over a thick wooden knitting needle which accounts for the characteristic double wick at the lighting end of a bayberry dip, for the loop made by doubling over the knitting needle is cut and stands up in two ends.
The wax or tallow, as the case may be, is melted and poured into a kettle of boiling water. This is usually a big brass kettle of five or six gallons in order to give a large surface for floating the wax at the top. The kettle is placed on a board heated for hours in the oven. When the dipping begins each knitting needleful of wicking gets a bath in the kettle of hot wax and comes out coated. Each coating must be al-lowed to dry perfectly before the next coating is laid on, otherwise the unequal contraction of the wax will cause the dip to crack.
Mutton suet is used for tallow dips. Brook mint or spearmint is boiled with the suet to mitigate the odor of the tallow. It gives a faintish green color to the candles which are called spearmint dips.
Making candles with molds is a much simpler process. That is, if one has succeeded in getting a set of old candle molds. These molds come in sets of twelve. They are wrought iron tubes fastened together and narrowing to a point at the top where the wick is threaded in. The molds are filled with wax or tallow, which shrinks as it cools so that the hardened candle can be readily drawn out. Molded candles are not as attractive as the handmade dip. But they are more desirable than the artificially colored bayberry candles made for commercial purposes.
Another use for bayberry wax is the little bayberry ironing bag. The berries are gathered and a small bag of white cloth is filled with them. These bags make a charming little present to accompany a set of electric or de-natured alcohol sadirons, such as are found in a traveler's kit.