I have collections – completely by accident mind you. I never go out and think, “I collect this so I should buy it”. Somehow these collections just happen at my house. And I love them.
Well last week’s article was accompanied by a photo of a coal oil lamp that I don’t even own. My Aunt Roberta had it nicely displayed in her kitchen and I snapped the picture just for the blog. However, the responses I received on Facebook made me think about all of the lamps that I’ve collected and I wanted to share some of them with you.
It goes without saying that in the pre-electric homes of our grandparents coal oil lamps were indispensable. Yet they were precious and therefore protected and that means they’ve been handed down. If you’ve inherited one of these treasures, did you ever think about how much it must have meant to the people who had it before? They touched it every day – or else they went to bed with the sun and didn’t rise until good daylight. It had to be cleaned and filled regularly and would have set near the center of the home – for no one wastes their only light on a corner. One reader mentioned that she “got her lessons” by this type of lamp, and many children would have spent time hunched over tablets or slates near the lamp.
Now if this was my principle means of light I imagine I’d find a few minutes during the daytime to do my needlework despite the quaint picture Hollywood paints of women sewing by lamplight. However, I know there’s been many pages from The Good Book read by coal oil light for daylight hours are valuable and the quiet family time of an evening are ideal for studying The Bible.
Even understanding how much it would be used and how important the lamp was to the home, there was not a lot of money to be spent on them. Therefore as with most products, there were models offered at varying prices. I tried to do some research to learn what I might about these models I’ve inherited and was amazed how difficult that was.
I did learn that oil lamps were produced all the way through the depression years. It was after World War II that electrical power really reached to the rural areas therefore there would have been demand for new lamps until then. In fact, there were improvements being made to lamps well into the 20th century. The Aladdin Lamps which offered incredibly bright light for their day were first sold in America in 1909. The burners were imported from Germany where the technology for a center draft burner had been developed just three years earlier. And of course fuels were always evolving from the olive oil used in biblical times to the refined kerosene that we can still buy as “lamp oil”.
Several folks said they have lamps just like the one pictured in last week’s article. I’ve seen a LOT of these on the mountain and I imagine it was an economy model. In fact, I have a pair of lamps with a beautiful scroll pattern around the foot of the lamp and I found the same model for sale at www.oillampantiques.com for about $84. The site mentioned that it dates from the early to mid-twentieth century. So that answers one of my questions – I’m always curious to know how old some of these lamps are.
All of my old lamps have flat wicks – although I recognize they may not still have their original burners because that part of the lamp seems to wear out. In fact, I've replaced a few burners and I'm thrilled replacement parts can still be found pretty easily for my lamps. I have new lamp that has a round wick – or rather a flat wick in a circular burner. This is similar to the Aladdin lamps but those have the addition of a mantel that glows when heated and produces significantly more light. The center-draft wick is supposed to put out 3-4 times more light than a flat wick.
A repairman came into my home one time and commented on my lamp “collection” – that was probably my first realization that I was collecting them. It turned out he was an avid collector of antique lights and had a lot of information about their ages and origins. Maybe one of you have similar information – I’d sure welcome your comments!