Silverplated oil lamps still light up lamp lovers


Persons, places, events and things often have an effect on fads and fashions.

When the movie Gone with the Wind came out, the attractive decorated glass shades and fancy metalwork bases of the 19th century oil lamps attracted the observant eye of many viewers.

These lamps have been part of more than a few decorated interiors ever since. They add a touch of yesteryear, and are commonly found in homes, antique shops, and lighting displays. The glass types are well known, but many are not as aware of the old silverplated oil lamps.

Although not as efficient as the illuminating devices of todays lamps, the oil-burners that produced light by burning a wick were once a thoroughly modern convenience.

In the early 19th century lighting was still usually only by fireplace or from a small, crude lamp, or even a candle, which often issued about the same amount of illumination.

A bit of daylight. The dimly lit oil lamp served to add a bit of daylight to otherwise dark interiors of the homes of that era.

After the development of commercial oil at mid-century, and the eventual production of kerosene as an illuminating and burning fuel, homes were could be supplied with artificial lighting. The monumental discovery of kerosene, followed with gas lighting and later with electricity, has extended the hours of activity that were only limited only to the hours of daylight.

But the first lighting improvement that sprang up in mid-19th century was the simple but significant addition of a glass chimney to the oil base to shelter the flame from drafts.

The predecessor to International Silver Company, Meriden Britannia Company, began producing whale oil and grease lamps at that time. By 1882, with the general availability of kerosene, they introduced 22 lamp types and designs, with a variety of metal plated styles. They made lamps from bright copper and from “old” silver. the silver bases could be inlaid with gold.

The glass shades and chimneys were sold separately for $1.25 to $2.50.

Many styles. By 1887, Meriden Britannia had 29 different lamp styles, including a titled extension lamp and a standard table lamp on a flat base that could be altered in height.

These Meriden lamps use the Rochester burner, featuring a round wick surrounding a draft vent in its center.

Kerosene burning table lamps sold for $48 to $62 depending on the finish.

These lamps would have been very much at home at Tara. As the price indicates they were being sold for the well-to-do, and only a limited amount were produced. A $50 lamp would have taken three-months wages for the middle class to purchase.


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