EDINBURG, Ohio — One lantern started it all.
For Greg Diehl, a lantern collection covering his garage started with the one his grandfather gave him five years ago.
More than 160 lanterns later, the fire in Greg still burns for lanterns.
That first lantern, which he restored, was from 1965. However, his collection spans from 1914 editions to 1997.
Diehl said people would be surprised to learn that there are at least seven brands of lanterns besides Coleman. And Coleman doesn’t just produce lanterns. They produced heaters, spotlights, lamps, streetlights and stoves throughout the years.
Diehl has even collected a spotlight from World War II that runs simply on Coleman fuel. Of course, some of the lanterns Diehl has collected don’t just run on Coleman fuel. Some run on kerosene or another fuel source.
And the Portage County resident will travel almost anywhere to find them. He said he visits flea markets, antique stores, the Salvation Army and garage sales, searching for his hidden treasures. He estimates he hits at least 100 garage sales a summer.
While the early Coleman lanterns illustrate America’s past technology, today’s computer technology makes all the difference in Diehl’s collection.
He searches Craig’s List and eBay for any listings related to lanterns, Coleman vintage camping equipment and other fuel-burning lights.
In addition, there is a club for Coleman collectors, the International Coleman Lantern Club, and an online forum where collectors can search for ways to restore lanterns.
Diehl said when he began collecting lanterns he thought it would be a hobby for older people, but he has discovered most are between 25-40.
“Many say they began because of their memories from camping with them,” Diehl said.
Diehl said one of his best finds was a lantern he paid $4 for at a garage sale and found out it was valued at over $100. He said he has not paid more than $20 for any of his lanterns, except one that he paid $90 for.
“Most of the time, they come from people cleaning out a barn. They find it and they just want rid of it,” Diehl said.
The most expensive part of the hobby Diehl said is finding the glass for the lanterns.
The oldest lantern in Diehl’s collection is a 1914 Coleman outdoor lantern called an arc lantern. His collection also includes a military stove that came off the assembly plant in 1942. Others in his collection are from the 1920s.
“I never thought this hobby would turn into this,” Diehl said.
Other lanterns Diehl has discovered in his travels have been from the former Akron Lantern and Lamp Co. and even a company that manufactured military lanterns during World War II in Mansfield.
However, Coleman always seemed to be the industry leader. The Sears Roebuck & Co. even had Coleman design some for them over the years when mail delivery was so popular. It was fastened from parts of other Coleman brand lanterns.
“Coleman made so many styles and kinds. You’ll never find them all,” Diehl said.
Diehl said a lot of history is buried in the Coleman tradition because they were used in homes before the invention of electricity.
“There is a lot of history in them that people just don’t realize,” Diehl said.
At one time, he said some homes had lamps and a stove that were connected, and outside of the home was a tank that held the fuel. The family would have to pump the fuel through the lines installed in the house to the machines and then light them.
Other lantern designs were made exclusively for the military, including a marine stove and some lanterns that carried their own spare parts in a special compartment and had four-piece glass that was made from mica and did not shatter.
Most collectors in the United States are in search of the American-made lanterns. Diehl said, but a surprising twist is that the Japanese are becoming the biggest collector of Coleman lanterns and often want to pay more than USA collectors. That may be, he said, because the Coleman logo is a rising sun and it is stamped on many of the old lanterns.
New tradition born
Diehl said he often lights his lanterns on the weekends.
“It’s very rare I turn the lights on in my garage on the weekends. It’s cool just to see them working and they actually warm the place up, too,” Diehl said.
Diehl has started a new Christmas Eve tradition. He arranges at least 50 lighted lanterns in the front yard and on his porch. It takes more than 2 to complete the scene, but is a sight to behold.
“I can’t wait. There are many more of those to come,” Diehl said.
Diehl said his favorite part of the hobby now is the challenge of getting the lanterns to light, and then watching them with his young daughter and his wife.