Brass And Copper Utensils

( Originally Published 1905 )

ALTHOUGH we read in the Bible about " a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal," it was not the yellow metal which we know as brass that was meant, but something which more nearly resembled bronze.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. " English brass," as it is called, contains about seventy per cent. copper and thirty per cent. zinc. While brass is of comparatively modern origin, copper, on the other hand, has been in use from the most remote times, and when alloyed with tin in the form of bronze, was the first metallic compound used by mankind. Indeed, so general was its use at one distant period, when arms, implements, and ornaments were made of it, that we call that time the " Bronze Age." In museums and historical collections the world over are found metal objects belonging to this time, and wonderfully beautiful many of them are.

It was the Romans who spread the art of working these metals over Europe, and the first traces of yellow brass which we find in England is in the form of monumental brasses, which took the place over tombs of carved effigies and figures made of stone. These brasses are made of sheets of the metal and set into the pavement. Although they began to be used as early as 1230, the most famous one I know of is in the church at Stratford-on-Avon, where it was placed in 1616 over the grave of William Shakespeare. This is what it Says :

" Good frend for Jesus' sake forbeare to digg the dust encloased heure ; Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones and curst be he yt moves my bones."

Shakespeare himself says in the " Taming of the Shrew," when Gremio is describing all his wealth :

"First, as you know, my house within the city
Is richly furnished with plate and gold ;
Basins and ewers to lave her dainty hands;
My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry ;
In ivory coffers have I stuff d my crowns ;
In cypress chests my arras counterpoints,
Costly apparel, tents and canopies,
Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss'd with pearl,
Valance of Venice gold in needlework,
Pewter and brass and all things that belong
To house or housekeeping."

Truly the young man seems to have been well fitted out.

The most important domestic uses to which brass was put was in utensils, if I may so use the word, for heating and lighting.

In the most interesting history of " Isabeau de Bavière," by Vallet de Viriville, he gives extracts from the records of her household expenses which are still preserved in the French Archives. This Queen was the wife of Charles VI, called " the Well-Beloved," and she lived from 1371 to 1435. She had more idea of comfort than many of her predecessors, and in her rooms were chairs covered with red Cordova leather, and baths of oak. She used suspended carriages " and had one chariot on purpose for thunderstorms, " pour le tonnere," but just how it was arranged the records do not state. Queen Isabeau had also to warm her rooms calori f ères, like little iron chariots filled with red-hot ashes which could be wheeled about, and also hollow balls of gold and silver full of hot cinders to hold in the hand, which comforts were hitherto unknown.

From this time on, articles for holding hot coals have been in use for heating, and still are largely employed in Spain and Japan and China, where the metals used are brass and bronze.

The usual name given to these inadequate heaters is brasier. One form is shown in Figure 167.

Another kind is given in Figure 168, and these were carried about from room to room. There are peculiarities about this heater which make it unusual. It is of English manufacture: the bottom part is of copper with figures of brass, and the top is of brass with figures of copper. It stands on brass feet and has a brass handle. Although the lower part is not in one piece, it is entirely hand made, and the bottom of it is curiously bent up on the sides. That this was not an ordinary article is plainly to be seen by its decoration, and, though it has found its way over here, I am sure it served its turn in some old manor or castle, which, though high-sounding places of residence, were none too comfortable.

Still another brasier is shown in Figure 10. This is made of brass, very solid and heavy, as may be seen, with two handles to carry it about conveniently. It is of Spanish workmanship, but the shape was approximately the same in all countries.

The old English records of about Queen Elizabeth's time show how highly considered all metal objects were, and display some curious facts as well. John Fuller, of Rednall, Norfolk, England, had his will probated in 1598. He gives to his wife Ann ' all the household stuff she brought me, such as brasse, pewter, fowles, etc., at her death to go to Thomas Fuller the younger." This was only one of several cases where I have found that there were two children in one family given the same name. The confusion in the Fuller family must have been something dreadful, since there was " oulde William " and " young William," " Thomas the elder," and " Thomas the younger." The father says in his will, " to young William my sonne, the lesser brass bason and the platter on the cupboard," and to " the children of oulde William my sonne, the cupboard and the long table in the hall. To Thomas the elder a milch cow and to daughter Batriss a great bason and a pewter dish."

Amid the belongings of those who first sought the shores of this country when the Mayflower took her troublous way hither from Delfshaven, there were cop-per kettles, no doubt, carefully packed within the iron pot, which was the most necessary article of household gear which they brought with them.

The records seem to point that they were better off for such utensils than one poor village in County Craven, England, in Cromwellian times. The story goes that the village had been so completely gutted by the soldiers of the Commonwealth that not a single kettle remained, and that an old helmet travelled from house to house and was used to boil the broth and pottage in. But to return to our own early settlements.

I find in the inventory of the Widow Coytemore, dated 1647, when she married Governor Winthrop, " one copp. furnace." This was, I am inclined to believe, a small, box-like affair on legs, into which live coals were put to keep the kettle warm on the hearth. There is such a one at the Antiquarian Rooms at Con-cord, Massachusetts.

John Stevens, of Guilford, Connecticut, died in 1670, but he was one of the old settlers of the place, since the town records state that in 1645 he was fined for neglecting to do his share of the fencing. To his son, Thomas, he bequeaths " the mare I usually ride on and my biggest brass kettle, my best sute and my cloak and my bed and one payre of sheets and all my other bedding." Such a kettle as the one he mentions is shown in Figure 170. These great kettles bear on their sides not only the scars of time but the marks of the mallet as well. Brass utensils have been made in this country for a century or more, but the first one is not a matter of record, as is the first iron pot, the story of which, though not quite within the province of this article, I shall tell here.

In 1630 Thomas Hudson came to this country and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts. He took up land on the Saugus River, near the ford, and found in the nearby marsh bog-iron ore. This find led to the establishment of the first iron works in this country, and in 1642 the first casting, an iron pot, was made. This pot remained in the possession of the descendants of Thomas Hudson till 1892, and in that year it was presented to the city of Lynn, where it may now be seen.

Another iron works was set up at Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1646, and here " pots, mortars, stoves and skillets " were made, but the works did not continue long in operation, as the good people of Braintree were afraid that the necessity for charcoal would consume too much wood, and so did not allow the works to remain operative long. Besides they had religious differences with Dr. Child, the owner, and made it very unhappy for him.

" Open kettles," as they were called to distinguish them from tea-kettles, were made here at an early date, and were hammered out of sheet brass and copper which was brought here chiefly from Wales. We know that Captain Myles Standish had three brass kettles, four iron pots, a skillet, and a warming-pan. It is also set down in Colonial records by Governor Bradford that the second contingent that arrived at Plymouth, in the ship Fortune, besides being a " rollicking lot," had no bedding, " nor any pot or pan to dress meat in."

Perhaps Captain Standish loaned them some of his seven.

Large brass kettles were put to other uses besides cooking. Michaud's Early Western Travels " has this to say about a brass furnace :

" About two miles from West Liberty Town I passed by Probes' Furnace, a foundry established by a Frenchman from Alsace, who manufactures all kinds of vessels in copper and brass, the largest containing about 200 pints, which are sent to Kentucky and Tennessee, where they use them in the preparation of salt by evaporation. The smaller ones are for domestic uses."

This was in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania in 1802.

A little later on in his narrative he says:

" At Springfield or near it is Mays-lick where there is a salt-mine. For evaporation they make use of brazen pots, containing 200 pints, and similar inform to those used in France for making lye. They put ten or twelve of them in a row in a pit 4 ft. deep, and at the ends throw in billets of wood and kindle a fire. These sort of kilns consume great quantities of wood."

I have never found any of these kettles marked or stamped in any way. They are not difficult to find, and, brightly polished, are always ornamental.

Among the lists of goods belonging to the pioneers who came to this country are often to be found objects of " Prince's metal," as it was called. This was a composition of brass, arsenicum, and copper. " Latten ware," was used also, and this was largely composed of brass as well.

By 1700 the records show a great variety of household articles, and make interesting reading. Cornelius Jacobs in this year had several pairs of brass andirons, and two pairs of iron " dogs," though just what the distinction was it is hard to tell.

Captain Giles Shelly, of New York, had in 1718 a fine lot of household goods, including .seventy chairs, which would seem an ample allowance to most of us, even in these days of machine-made furniture. He had as well a pair of brass candlesticks with snuffers, a brass hearth with hooks for shovel and tongs, a brass lantern, two warming-pans, a chafing-dish of brass and two of silver. In fact it was a great surprise to find how general was the use of chafing-dishes. Although brass ones are frequently mentioned, I have never seen one, but copper ones are not unusual, and there is a fine one, made by Paul Revere, at the Rooms of the Antiquarian Society at Concord, Massachusetts, which was presented to the Society by his grandson.

In 1720 Judith, the daughter of Judge Samuel Sewall, was to be married, and as the bridegroom was well-to-do, the Judge proposed that his daughter's outfit should be of unusual elegance for that time. They sent to England for it, and I shall give a list of the metal objects only which were included in it :

" One bell-metal Skillet of two quarts, one little one ditto.

One good large warming-pan, bottom and cover fit for an iron handle.

4 pair of strong Iron Dogs with brass heads, about 5 or 6 shillings a pair.

A Brass Hearth for a chamber with Dogs, Shovel, Tongs and Fender of the newest Fashion (the Fire is to ly upon Iron).

A strong Brass Mortar that will hold about a Quart with a Pestle. 2 pair of large Brass sliding Candlesticks about 4 shillings a pair.

2 pair of large Brass candlesticks, not sliding, of the Newest Fashion, about 5 or 6 shillings a pair.

4 Brass snuffers with trays.

6 small strong Brass Chafing-dishes about 4 shillings apiece. 1 Brass basting ladle; 1 larger Brass Ladle.

1 Pair chamber Bellows with Brass Noses.

1 small hair Broom suitable to the Bellows.

1 Duzen of large hard metal Pewter Plates new Fashion, weighing about 14 pounds.

1 Duzen hard-metal Pewter Porringers."

Perhaps in Judith Sewall's outfit, to go with her brass hearth and " Fender of the newest Fashion," was included a handsome stand like the one shown in Figure 171. This is of brass, and has places for two candles at the top. The lattice-work shovel was for scooping up the live coals and letting the ashes drop through. Of course she did not have such a splendid coat of arms for decoration, but some ornament was usually put in this place. There is a stand similar to this, but of brass and steel, at Van Courtland Manor, New York. It belonged to Colonel John Chester, of Wethersfield, Connecticut, who was born in 1748. The candle-holder in this latter case was movable.

Governor Montgomery's effects were sold at Fort George, New York, early in the eighteenth century, and among the unusual things specified were the following : " A large fixt copper boyling pot. A large iron fireplace, an iron bar and doors for a copper."

A very charming fireplace, dating from about the middle of the last half of the eighteenth century, is to be seen in Figure 172. The brass mountings are patriotic, since, besides our familiar eagle, there are medallions of Washington and Franklin. This fire-place is fitted with a crane, and has a delicate pair of firedogs also. One may grieve to see such a generous old fireplace walled up, but if it must be, it is fortunate that so agreeable an object has been found to take its place.

Sea coal was advertised for sale in 1744, and about this time Philadelphia fireplaces came into use. This was shortly before Franklin had invented his grate. Steel hearths and stove grates came into use by 1751, and iron stoves with brass feet were advertised for sale. Copper was sometimes used for making grates, and copper furnaces were plenty, - that is, little affairs standing on legs and holding a few coals to keep a kettle warm on the hearth.

Among the pieces of brass shown in Figure 173 is a smoothing iron with a drawer that pulls out to receive hot coals, and the thing that looks like a clumsy spoon is a spoon mould, also of brass. Into this mould was poured the spooning pewter, and then al-lowed to form in shape. The Colonial village which owned one of these moulds considered itself rich, and it was passed around among families as they needed it. The spoon at the back with the long handle was for basting, the handle being necessary to prevent the hands getting burned. The little candlesticks were for tallow dips, and the tall one stood in the best room. The noggin was for a nightcap of peach brandy, schnapps, or that beverage which is put down in so many old account books as " W. I. Rum."

There lies before me as I write the diary of a New England judge, a man of high standing and dignity in the community in which he lived. The diary covers that eventful period in our history which was included between 1754 and 1788, and presents a wonderful picture of the life in a New England town. The noggin brought to my mind what hard drinkers our ancestors were, and I turned at random to this diary to see what the judge had to say on the subject. The page where I have opened is dated August, 1772, and I find the following entry for the first day of the month:

" I went to MacGregores and got the bushell of salt that I paid him for last fish time in shad, and a bottle of snuff, and a pair of brass sleeve buttons for which I paid him 44/ Hampr old Tenor."

On the 3d he and his son went out to mow, and after mowing " the path to the meadow, I borrowed a flask full of Rum from Wm. Caldwells wife."

On the 4th (next day), " I went and got two Quarts of Rum at Hugh Campbell's on credit." On the 13th, " I sent David to Means to get 1/2 Gallon of Rum and 1/2 pound of tea," and on the 24th he got two quarts more of " Rum on credit from Campbells." Such little utensils as are shown in Figure 174 were used in the preparation of the drinks which were often compounded of the rum, which our good judge always spelled with a capital letter. This drink was used universally in all homes from that of the parson down. It was cheap. In another place the judge says he pays a pistareen for two quarts; this was about twenty cents. The liquor was pure, and their lives were so filled with hard work out of doors that they seem somehow to have lived through their excessive drinking.

Tea was more expensive than intoxicating liquors, — about four shillings a pound, though the value of money varied so, " old tenor," " lawful tenor," pistareens, and Spanish silver, all being in use. Such a little kettle as is shown in Figure 174 had many uses. I do not doubt that the housewife boiled her tea in it, and that it heated water for many a glass of toddy. Every family had a warming-pan, and most necessary they were in the cold, damp houses which were seldom warm from autumn to spring. They were commonly of brass, but this one is of copper, as is also the ladle. The large kettle is of the ordinary type and is of wrought copper, as were most of them. :[t is exactly like a kettle which belongs to a collector who has a number of beautiful and valuable objects, — old china, glass, pewter, and brass. I asked her once what thing among all her treasures she liked the best, and she said, without a moment's hesitation : " That battered little old kettle, for it took me nearly two years to get it, and in all that time it was scarcely out of my mind."

She had seen it in a tumble-down old cottage where lived an old man with his daughter. They were neither of them ornaments to society, and were scarcely ever at home at the same time, since their love for the flowing bowl caused them to spend much time in retirement — at the town's expense. Her first offer was the modest one of fifty cents, as the kettle was in very bad condition, — battered and rusty. This sum proved no object to them, and during the time she was in pursuit of it she rose little by little till she finally paid five dollars for it, — a preposterous price, truly, but she had become so wedded to the idea of owning it that she could not give it up.

In Figure 175 is given a group of utensils of various kinds of copper, with a kettle of different shape. It was such a kettle as this which met a curious fate at the time of the famous Boston " Tea Party." It be-longed to the family of Benjamin Fish, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Now, although a Friend, Mr. Fish was a loyal American besides, and showed his devotion to the Federal cause by jamming and battering, and then throwing away the copper kettle because his daughters persisted in brewing tea in it. The women, however, kept an eye on it, and when the Revolution was over they brought it out, and Artemus, one of the sons, hammered it into shape again, and it once more took its old place on the family hearthstone. They all be-came much attached to it, and when one of the daughters, Peace by name, went to live at Rensselaerville, New York, she took the old kettle with her.

One can hardly realise what a change in many ways the banishment of tea from the usual dietary caused.

Even the Southern States were up in arms with New England, and June 1, 1774, was appointed a day of fasting in Virginia. Tea was sealed up and destroyed. Money and provisions were obtained by canvassing the counties, and were dispatched to Boston. But there were some royalist hearts which beat in Virginia, and one owner of such an one, she who had been the lovely Kate Spotswood, but who had married Bernard Moore, has had her name come down to us as continuing to sip her tea in the privacy of her closet after it was banished from every table.

Indeed, " tea was no longer a popular meal; its place was taken by " coffee." Philip Fithian, a tutor in a Virginia family, left a very full diary of what was done among the families with which he came in contact at this time. He enters in his diary from " Nomini Hall " the following:

" Something very merry happened in our palace this Evening. Mrs. Carter made a dish of Tea ! At Coffee she sent me a dish — and I and the Colonel both ignorant. He smelt, sipt, look'd! At last with great gravity he asks, ` What's this?' ' Do you ask Sir? ' ` Poh !' and out the throws it, splash, a sacrifice to Vulcan."

Colonel Carter was always a patriot, you see!

Three other kettles, two of them of unusual shape, are given in Figure 176. I am very sure that, if we could find their histories engraved on their sides, they would prove interesting reading. They belong in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a town settled as early as 1633 by John Winthrop and his twelve companions.

Though these hardy spirits suffered from Indian raids and all the hardships incident to a pioneer settlement, the town grew, and soon numbered among its residents Deputy-Governor Symonds and his wife. Madam Symonds was a very fine lady, and sent to London for all her clothes, wore red Spanish-leather shoes, and kept herself cool with a fan of feathers mounted on tortoise-shell sticks, even when she was turned sixty years of age, and included in her orders such trifles as needles and pins, spices and figs. The tall vessel looks more like a coffee-pot than a tea-kettle, but no doubt served its turn in many ways.

Among the articles mentioned in Judith Sewall's wedding outfit is " A strong Brass Mortar that will hold about a Quart with a Pestle." Two such mortars are shown in Figure 177. They are handsome and must have been an ornament to the kitchen dresser when brightly polished and set on the shelf. The swinging-kettle of brass is not so modern as we are apt to think, and a fine specimen is shown in Figure 178, with handles on the base to carry it about. There is a lamp of some kind with places for three wicks, and this kettle is much later than the old coffee urns, which were made to have a piece of hot iron placed in the centre to keep the coffee warm.

The Dutch settlers who brought so many comforts and luxuries to this country did not forget to have their fine brasses come from the old country in many a ship. Among such utensils were many milk cans like the one shown in Figure 179. This one has seen service, but it is handsome yet, and made of a wonderfully fine quality of brass. The little stand on three legs was often placed among the ashes to warm something, — a mug or cup, — and it, too, is " far in years," as they say in New England, and more or less damaged.

Figures 180 and 181 show other copper vessels, the great two-handled pot in Figure 180 being made from a single sheet of copper. To what use the vase-like piece was put it is hard to conceive, unless it was for ornament only.

Of the pieces in Figure 181 the covered dish and the battered pot were used for cooking. The two-handled cup is a sada, or Jewish utensil, their ritual forbidding them to grasp the cup from which they drink with an unwashed hand. The flight of Russian Jews to this country has brought here much beautiful old copper and brass, in quaint and curious forms. While nearly every country has been despoiled by the collector for the enrichment of his shelves, Russia was one of the last to be invaded. In the Russian kitchen are to be found stores of beautiful shapes in brilliantly polished metal, for the marriage portion of most daughters is a stock of kitchen utensils, and these are of such admirable workmanship that they last a lifetime. Indeed, in the poorer families they descend from one generation to another; and it is heirlooms like these that the collector wants for his own.

It was not to be expected that when the demand arose it should not be supplied, and to-day, in the streets of New York which are in the great Russian quarter, you may find copper and brass utensils to satisfy the most grasping collector. You may hear, too, the tap-tap of the worker, who in back shops and cellars is making these objects, and battering and denting them to suit the taste of the most rabid gatherer of " antiques." Of course these articles are hand-made, being fashioned from great sheets of copper and brass, which are first heated in rude furnaces to make them malleable, and then hammered into the same shapes which the Russian peasants have used for years. There are merchants who have the old articles, and many of them are honest enough to tell you which they are. One progressive Russian, who has become imbued with the American spirit of hustling, for several years has made an annual visit to his native country and bought up many of these articles and brought them over here. There is a fierce spirit of rivalry among these merchants of the Ghetto, and they will cry down one another's wares with the greatest vigour. The true collector with " the gift of tongues will be able to make many a bargain, and, after all, the bargaining is almost as dear to his heart as possession.

Some beautiful Russian pieces are shown in Figure 182. The middle one is much like the Turkish shape for coffee-pots, and the genuineness of these articles is assured, since they were obtained from the Russian peasants on landing. The samovar, a peculiarly Russian utensil, had also come in for its share of popular favour, and two very fine antique ones are shown in Figures 183 and 184. They belong in one of the most noted collections in New York City.

Figure 185 has, besides the brass samovar which stands on an antique tray of beaten brass, an incense burner, used on festival days for sprinkling the guests when seated at table with incense. The strange old vase with Arabic characters upon it is made from a single piece of brass, and the candlestick betrays its nationality so plainly that it is hardly necessary to say it is Chinese. These pieces make quite a polyglot company.

The only sugar-bowl which I ever found in brass is given in Figure 186, and with it, but not like it, is what might be called by courtesy a creamer. The pitcher is much the more venerable of the two, for the bowl has handles of cast brass. Both pieces are either of English or American manufacture.

In Figure 187 are some other Russian brasses, — a coffee-pot and two bowls, the bowl which stands flat on the table being of extremely crude workmanship and very old. The other is in two pieces, and they are riveted together. Figure 188 shows the metal work of three nations. The kettle to the right is a handsome piece of brass repoussé work, with a fine coat of arms for decoration. Once upon a time it had a piece of wood upon the iron bar which holds the two ends of the handle together, but this was burned off long ago, and even the iron is much corroded. This came from England. The brass tea-kettle in the centre is home-made, and furnished to cold and tired travellers hot water in plenty for their toddy. The brass pitcher with upturned lip is Dutch, and seems as if it might have borne company with the old brass shaving-bowls of a century or more ago.

Travellers from Holland bring home much brass these days, — dust-pans, snuff-boxes, and various small kettles, and once in a while one of the huge old milk-cans which are such a picturesque feature of the country. These, while pleasing, are generally quite modern, and will not keep company with the pots and pans shown here, all of which belong to the old régime.

Having all too briefly considered the brass and copper utensils used for heating and cooking, it is next in order to consider their use in holding a light. Before we can properly speak of the way our ancestors lighted their homes and buildings, we must glance at the scanty means which they had at command for getting that light started. There were, of course, no friction matches, their invention taking place about 1827. The earliest friction matches which were used in this country were imported from France, and there is a story concerning their early manufacture in America which goes to prove how seldom the inventor profits by his invention. In 1836, nearly ten years from their first use, friction matches imported from France were clumsy phosphoric ones. They were made by dipping the match-stick first into sulphur and then into a paste composed of chloride of potash, red lead, and loaf sugar. Each box of matches was accompanied by a bottle of sulphuric acid, into which every match had to be dipped in order to light it.

The attention of a young man living in Springfield, Massachusetts, L. C. Allen by name, was attracted to this subject, and he set to work to invent a match which could be lighted by drawing it across a rough surface. He succeeded, and was urged to take out a patent. This he neglected to do, and when at last he took steps in the matter he found that a patent had already been obtained by a pedlar from Chicopee, Massachusetts, who had picked up in some way the results of Mr. Allen's labours. The end of the matter was that Phillips, the pedlar, gave Allen leave to make matches under his patent, in consideration of Allen's waiving his claim and not instigating any litigation. So the inventor of friction matches became a manufacturer of matches under another man's patent.

Before the use of matches all lights had to be produced by hot coals which were kept glowing by being covered with ashes, or by flint and steel. The practice of carrying coals from one house to another when a light was needed became so common that the danger of fire to the settlements was much increased. Stringent laws were framed in many towns, ordering that " fire shall always be kept covered when carried from house to house." Among the early laws of New Amsterdam were those regulating the moving of hot coals, and several Dutch vrouws were brought to court for breaking them. The danger of fire was a constant menace, and every house was provided with fire-buckets, which were hung in some handy spot.

As late as 1742 an inventory of the belongings of Peter Faneuil, Esq., of Boston, was filed. He was a wealthy man, with a large house and rich furnishings, yet in the " great centre hall " hung " one large entry lantern, twelve baggs and bucketts and some books." Apparently the bags were to carry out the goods if it were necessary.

The method of using flint and steel is unknown to most people of this generation, but it was a process which is said to have caused more strong language from our ancestors than anything else with which they had to deal. The flint was a bit of stone, as the name implies, which was roughly shaped, oblong, square, or round, about two inches in diameter with a sharp edge, which was smartly struck against the steel. This latter object was hung over the the fingers of the left hand and the handle of it firmly grasped; the flint was held between the finger and thumb of the right hand, and the steel struck quickly with. the flint from above downward. This caused the sparks to fall upon the tinder in the box, the tiny spark was blown into a flame, a match covered at the end with sulphur was soon burning, and was quickly applied to either fire or candle. At the very best this process took from one to three minutes, and if the materials were damp, if the striker's hands were chilled, or if in the dark the steel was not successfully struck, it might take as long as thirty minutes to perform the operation. Many were the bleeding knuckles which were the portion of the unskilful. No wonder that the friction match was hailed as one of the greatest marvels of the age. Before friction matches were made something far more wonderful could be seen in New York City. That was the house at No. 7 Cherry Street, which was lighted throughout by a marvellous and dangerous material known as Gas. This was in 1824, and the house be-longed to Mr. Samuel Leggett, President of the New York Gas Light Company, who took this method of showing how little danger there was in the new illuminant. The method of lighting it was by the sulphur match, which was lighted in its turn by the tinder-box, if no hot coals were at hand.

Figure 189 shows two styles of tinder-boxes. The round one on the left is closed, and the little tube on top held the candle. When the cover was removed the candle-holder came too, and within were the flint and steel, and a round bit of tin with a handle called a " damper," and used to put out the sparks in the scorched linen when no longer needed. The other box, somewhat like a wheelbarrow in shape, has within it yet the old sulphur matches and the flint. The steel forms the wheel. In all cases it was necessary to keep the boxes carefully covered, so that the contents should not get damp, for this added to the difficulty of getting a spark started. We can see why " early to bed be-came a household word !

Wood, in his " New England Prospects," says :

" Out of the Pines is gotten Candlewood that is so much spoke of which may serve as a shift among poore folks, but I cannot commend it for Singular good because it is something sluttish dropping a kind of pitchy substance where it stands."

Higginson, writing about this same early period, says:

" Our pine-trees that are the most plentiful of all wood, doth allow us plenty of candles which are very useful in a house. And they are such candles as the Indians commonly use, having no other, and they are nothing else but the wood of the pine-tree cloven in two little slices, something thin, which is so full of the moisture of turpentine and pitch that they burn as clear as a torch."

We do not seem to have made much use in this country of the " light of antiquity," as the rush-light may well be called, and I have never come across a rush-light holder, nor seen one exposed for sale in this country. Rush-lights were easy to make, and in Walter Harris's translation of " Ware's Antiquities of Ire-land " there is the following:

" They made use of lights made of the pith of rushes, which they stripped bare of the skin, and left only a small ridge at the back to keep the tender pith from falling asunder. When these were thoroughly dried they dipped them slightly in grease or other unctuous matter, and then had no further trouble in the preparation. This sort of light is to this day made use of among the meaner sort of Irish, and people of condition (be-fore the use of the tallow candle which was introduced into Ireland from England) twisted a great number of these rush lights together, sometimes to the bulk of a man's arm. Nay, we have instances in the Irish annals that even within these 200 years they made them the size of a man's middle."

Rush-lights were in use among the cottage folk of England long after the first settlers came to these shores, but it was not long before oil was to be had here, which was better than candlewood or rush-lights, and less precious than candles made of grease, even though the tallow came from deer suet or bear grease. One of the earliest and poorest styles of light-givers was called a betty lamp. It was little more than a metal tray with upturned edges, so that the grease would not drop out. The light was provided by a bit of twisted rag which burned in the pointed nose. It had to be constantly attended to in order to give the faintest light. Lamps similar in principle had been in use centuries before the Christian era and were made of pottery, with a spout for a wick and a hole in the top into which the oil was poured. The form our ancestors used was something like the one in Figure 190, except this one could carry four wicks, one at each corner. The tall lamp at the right is also a crude form for a round wick and oil, and known as a " baker's lamp."

When the early colonists looked about for other material than grease to use for lighting purposes they found it near at hand in the sea, where there were abundant fish. Higginson, writing in 1630, says that though there is " no tallow to make candles of, yet by the abundance of fish thereof it (the colony) can afford oil for lamps." In another quaint old record, called Josselyn's " New England Rarities," which was written between 1663 and 1671, there is another reference to oil :

" It was not long since a Sperma Ceti Whale or two were cast upon the shore not far from Boston in the Massachusetts Bay, which being cut into small pieces and boyled in Cauldrons, yielded plenty of Oyl, the Oyl put up in hogsheads, and stow'd into cellars for some time, candies at the bottom, it may be one quarter; then the Oyl is drawn off, and the candied stuff put into convenient vessels is sold for Sperma Ceti, and is right Sperma Ceti."

In 1686 Governor Andros of New York asked for a commission for a voyage for " Sperma Coeti Whales," and in 1671 Nantucket, then known as Sherburne, began whaling operations, growing to be known as the greatest whaling town in the world. Oil for burning was soon in demand in all parts of the colonies. But candlesticks of brass, copper, pewter, and later of silver and Sheffield plate, were not crowded out by oil. They were considered more elegant than oil lamps and held the choicest wax candles which the housewife could make. If possible she used bayberry-wax, which was highly esteemed from New Orleans to Canada. Of so great importance was this vegetable wax that at Brook-haven the law forbade the gathering of the berries before September 15, under penalty of a fine of fifteen shillings. In Louisiana the bushes were planted on the borders of the bayous which formed the water-ways and in some cases marked the boundaries of the plantations. In 1705 Robert Beverley described it as follows :

" A pale, brittle wax of a curious green color, which by refining becomes almost transparent. Of this they make candles which are never greasy to the touch, never melt with lying in the hottest weather ; neither does the snuff of them ever offend the smell like a tallow candle, but instead of being disagreeable if an accident puts a candle out it yields a pleasant fragrancy to all that are in the room, insomuch that nice people often put them out on purpose to have the incense of the expiring snuff."

In Figure 191 a row of stout candlesticks of good Colonial types is shown. A " sliding candlestick," a pattern much used among the thrifty, is given in Figure 192. As the candle burned away it could be moved up, so that there was no waste. There is also another early pattern of a stick with a grease tray, which caught the drippings as they fell from the burning candle. This was very necessary in the case of tallow dips, or any candles not made of wax. The big candlestick in the centre is a Russian church stick. Other candlesticks of Russian and often Jewish origin are shown in Figure 193, and all were used for religious purposes. The Jews were noted long ago for their proficiency in metal work. In Bible days at Tyre and Sidon " they traded in vessels of brass in thy markets."

The Chinese also worked in brass and other metals centuries ago, and embodied many of their strange artistic ideas in domestic articles. One of their temple sticks is also shown ; it is the one with the two birds on it.

The two candlesticks with glass shades are of English make, one of Sheffield plate and one of mahogany (see Figure 194). The smaller one was for bedroom use, and the shade prevented draughts from extinguishing the candle when it was carried about. These are reproduced today in brass as well as plated ware, and are quite as useful in country houses as they were in the days when they were the latest thing out. The tall mahogany candlestick is one of a pair which are in as fine condition as they were the day they were made. For many a long year they graced the mantel-shelf of a fine old house, being one of the chief ornaments of the best room, and lighted only when company was expected. On such occasions conversation or cards were the amusements, and such sticks never left their dignified retreat on the shelf. On the card-tables, many of which were provided with round, flat places for the candlesticks to stand, would be found tall candlesticks like those seen in Figure 195, which belonged to General and Mrs. Washington and were in use at Mount Vernon. This pair are silver, but there were few per-sons who could afford that metal, and, provided the stick was tall enough, it did not matter of what material it was made. I find in old records and inventories many references to candlesticks, and it is easy to see that they were important objects of domestic economy. As early as 1489 I find mention of a bell candlestick," the word " bell referring to the shape of the base, which was somewhat in the form of a bell and very solid and heavy. In the next century the candlestick was still of enough importance to be an object of bequest, and a Mr. Thatcher of Pirton, England, gave by will " to my grandson one fallowe cowe and best bed and one greate Brasse Candlesticke." To his youngest grandson he gave " one fallowe heifer with bed and payer of sheets of the thirde sorte and one Brasse Candlesticke."

The process of making the candles to go in these sticks was long and trying, but casting them in moulds was easier than dipping them. The moulds were made either of tin or pewter and would hold from two to eight candles at a time. Not every family owned a set of moulds, but in those pleasant days of village life a mould was passed about from one family to another at need, just as they passed the spoon mould when new pewter spoons had to be run.

Anyone who has travelled abroad, particularly on the Continent, knows how important a part candles play among the charges on the bill even yet. Some thrifty souls take with them from place to place the candle ends for which they are charged, and are enabled to get up quite an illumination at the end of a week of travelling by lighting all the bits. I think that the penurious feeling which exists in the breast of nearly every Frenchman with regard to candles has come down for over a century or more and become ingrained in his nature.

In the days of the greatest glory of France, during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV and even in the lifetime of the unhappy Marie Antoinette, candles were one of the most valuable court perquisites. During the reign of Louis XV the ladies attached to the Queen's bedchamber were paid but one hundred and fifty livres a year, — that is, about thirty dollars, which seems a beggarly sum. This they were allowed to increase by selling the candles which had been once lighted. These ends of candles would not seem to be a large item, yet it brought them an income of five thousand livres—over one thousand dollars. The profit on candles was so great that it was shared among many of the courtiers. For instance, those candles which were not burned up when the play was over went to the members of the guard, while those which remained after the king's meals were finished went to other retainers of the royal family.

There was, and is, a certain elegance to wax candles ; they give such a mellow and becoming light. Consider how handsome the dining-table at Mount Vernon must have looked when guests were bidden and the board was graced by the handsome candlesticks which may be seen on the upper shelf in Figure 195. All the arrangements of lighting at Mount Vernon were hand-some, and the hall lantern, as well as some lamps of silver, can still be admired. They are in the National Museum at Washington.

Almost as necessary as the candlesticks themselves were the snuffers and tray to go with them, and it was a much sought privilege of the children of the house to be allowed to use them. Just how early they came into use it is difficult to say, but in the old play of " The Miser," 1733, one of the characters, Charles Bubbleboy, is made to say: " I have brought you a pair of the new invented snuffers, madam, be pleased to look at them; they are my own invention; the nicest lady in the world may make use of them." A pair of nice, plain, old brass snuffers and tray is shown in the next figure (196), and they probably are well along in their second century, though their present owner cannot tell. They are owned in Salem, Massachusetts, and are some of those things which the owner " always remembers." Those made of other metals than brass were sometimes quite ornamental, but the brass ones are generally plain.

Brass sconces were also sent here from London and Paris, and a choice pair, rather florid in design, are shown in Figure 197. I have seen Dutch warming-pans made into sconces, the very handsomely ornamented lids being used, and arms for the candles set on to thym. The owners had no idea what was the original purpose of the slightly convex circle which formed the most important part of their sconces.

The first invention to benefit the simple lamps which had been in use so long, as I have said, was in 1783, when Leger of Paris invented the flat wick and a burner to go with it. In the next year Ami Argand, also a Frenchman, invented a burner to which he gave his name, and which is still the parent of innumerable modifications. With all these means for illuminating at hand, it was certain that some choice lamps should find their way over here. And they did. I show two of these lamps with handsome globes (see Figure 198) . Many such lamps have been resurrected within the last few years, but something is wrong with them. We either do not know how to manage them, or we expect too much, for they give a poor light unless refitted with modern burners. A friend of mine who is rather antique mad secured some time ago a lamp like one of these, but, alas ! it had no shade. Being a lucky collector, he laid it aside for the moment, and shortly after, being on a visit to a neighbouring city, during his rummages in second-hand shops he found a shade. He bought it on the chance that it would fit, and carried it home carefully in his hand. His luck stayed by him, and it did fit the lamp as if made for it. He fussed with wicks and burners till at last he got a light, but a feeble one. He never tried it more than once or twice, and he is now content to let the lamp stand on a nice old table and look well. I asked his wife how it happened that she was so complacent with his collecting so much miscellaneous stuff. Her reply was a wise one, and I have often thought of it: " He has no vices," she said; he does not use liquor or tobacco in any form, so, as I think he ought to have a fad in some direction, I encourage his collecting." It is a strange thing, but judging from the hundreds of letters I receive, men compose the great body of collectors. They outnumber women two to one, and, as a rule, are quite as vague in describing some treasure which they want judged, as is the gentler sex! A fine lamp shown in Figure 199 once belonged to Governor Pierce, whose son was President Franklin Pierce.

In Figure 200 are seen lamps of a more usual form than those just shown. They belong to about the same period and were for use on the mantels, the crystal drops making them very brilliant. The reservoir to hold the oil was in the centre of the lamp, and as these were made before the use of petroleum as an illuminating fluid they must have burned paraffin oils. Another pair similar to some used at Mount Vernon are shown in Figure 201.

There was not an abundance of petroleum to be had until after 1855, although it had been known from most ancient times. In 1847 and during the next few years experiments were made in Manchester, England, with regard to using this oil for illuminating fluid. It was not till 1875 that one of the most productive oil fields ever known was developed in this country, making the oil abundant and cheap. Petroleum was first noted in this country, in the State of Ohio, in 1814. It was frequently found when digging wells for brine, and in 1829 a brine-well in Cumberland County, Kentucky, yielded such an enormous quantity of petroleum that it was regarded as a wonderful natural phenomenon. There were so many thousands of barrels of' it going to waste that at last some ingenious Yankee bottled some up and sold it as a " cure-all " under the title of American Oil.

Public buildings were as badly off for lighting facilities as private, and churches were dependent on candles and oil lamps. Some rich parishes, like that of St. Michaels in Charleston, South Carolina, imported from England chandeliers of brass, which were hung by a chain from the ceiling, so that they could be raised or lowered. Some of these chandeliers held as many as forty-five candles, and it required constant snuffing to keep them in order. This same old chandelier in Charleston still hangs in St. Michaels, but within recent years it has been fitted for gas. Under its light have worshipped both Washington and Lafayette, and it has seen pass beneath it victims of war and pestilence and has withstood fire and earthquake. Amid many other interesting relics which the church contains, the old chandelier still bravely holds its own.

So far all the lights shown did duty within doors. When one stepped abroad, so dark were the streets and so badly paved that, after cocking one's bonnet and throwing on a roquelo, a stout staff was a necessity.

In Scott's Somers' Tracts, 1685, under the head of " England's Wants," is the following with reference to the lights :

" There is wanting a law wherein, although not all England is concerned, yet a great part thereof is, that, in the capital city of England, not only all the streets and lanes should be kept clean, that all sorts of persons might walk as commodiously in winter as in summer, which is of late years brought to pass in that great and populous city of Paris, in France ; but also, as is done in that city all the winter nights, in the middle of the streets there should be hanged out so many candles or lamps, as that all sorts of persons in this great trading city might walk about their business as conveniently and safely by night as by day."

We did not suffer from highwaymen in our country as they did in England, such gentry being seldom met with here. To be sure, the " watch " had a lantern, — you can see one in Figure 202, — and you were lucky if you were going his way. Even New York in 1789 was a dirty city. Pigs were the only scavengers, and as they did not do their duty very thoroughly an appeal for relief was made to the High Constable of the city. It was printed in the " Daily Advertiser " of December 19, 1789, and begins as follows:

" Awake, thou sleeper, let us have clean streets in this our peaceful seat of the happiest empire in the universe."

Street lamps had been introduced in 1762, but they were few and far between, apt to go out, and often unlighted. In December, 1778, the firemen of the city formally complained that they had been greatly hampered at a recent fire because most of the lamps had gone out. Things improved slowly, for in 1789 a citizen prayed for relief because, as not a lamp was burning, he had walked into a pump in Nassau Street, near the mayor's house. In the country districts the lantern was a positive necessity if one had to be abroad at night. Nor is it yet a thing of the past, as I very well know, since I have found my way about several New England villages lately by its kindly aid.

The old lanterns were similar to the one pictured in Figure 203, and sometimes I find such as these hanging comfortably on a wooden peg in barns where the ox-bow is still in use.

Home | More Articles | Email: