Daily Archives: January 7, 2011

Of Wicks and Wiring

Sandwich Glass Whale Oil Lamp, c. 1830-40, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Our house was built in 1827 and “improved” in several phases in the mid- and later nineteenth century, so I’ve chosen period-appropriate lighting throughout in the form of electrified whale-oil, camphrene, and kerosene lamps.  It is relatively easy to find both the antique lamps (so many were made!)  and the requisite wiring kits and do the wiring yourself—remembering to proceed in a “non-invasive” manner as the venerable lady from whom I bought my first lamp instructed me and which several YouTube videos illustrate.  I have both clear and colored-glass lamps,  as well as cut-to-clear and etched examples, but my most prized possessions are those made from pressed glass made at the Sandwich Glass Works (1825-1888) on Cape Cod.

Boston & Sandwich Glass Company Manufactory circa 1830, Sandwich Glass Museum

Some of my lamps are below, with a clear  “heart and moon” Sandwich glass lamp in front.  This is also the earliest lamp; the marble bases and brass columns of the others are indicative of the change from whale oil to kerosene after about 1850.  Kerosene, following the earlier introduction of the cylindrical wick and chimney by the Swiss inventor Ami Argand, really revolutionized the interior lighting industry because it was so much cheaper than whale oil and produced a much brighter light.

As revolutionary as kerosene was, the quest for a cleaner, safer, cheaper, brighter light continued, as illustrated by this 1860 advertisement from the Salem Gazette and ultimately leading to electric lighing.

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