This next great find from a recent New England Antique Shows event is so unusual that I couldn't help but want to shine a little light on its really interesting, and innovative (for its time) history and usage. Take a look at this very early fixture from more than a century ago. Before viewing the video, do you know what it is? And no, it's not a telephone, telescope, or elaborate pepper grinder!
Weaving the details together, what we have here is an early 19th century lace maker's lamp. The piece is very shiny, silver plated, and unmarked. It is about 14 inches tall and elaborately constructed. The top is shaped like a dome and can be removed. The base consists of a few interlocking tubes, designed to hold a lit candle exactly at the same height as it slowly burns downward.
Illuminating on its design, it is clear that this lace maker's lamp also makes the use of physics in its function. In the days before electricity, craftsman still needed to be see the details of what they were creating, especially in the fall and winter when the early sunsets made for very short days. This domed design allowed the light of one candle to be optimized and expanded - basically magnifying the light and making the most of a single flame. It would not be uncommon in the 1800's for several craftspeople to huddle around one of these basic lamps in order to continue their work into the late afternoon and evening.
It is interesting to note that this lamp, although seemingly basic in its design, is actually quite sophisticated and elegant relative to its origins. The earliest lace lamps were simply a candle placed adjacent to a glass globe of water. Later designs included elaborate wooden stool like stands that had large holes in the seat area. Depending on available resources and the logistics of the room, various arrangements of lit candles and water filled globes were placed securely in these holes - in essence, creating a reflective floor "chandelier." Historical records show that these early light sources provided enough illumination for up to eighteen workers!
I would like to thank Margery Bailit, owner of Golden Fleece Antiques from Auburndale, MA for spotlighting this fascinating example of early lighting ingenuity. Golden Fleece Antiques carries a general line on interesting and quality items from the early 19th through the mid 20th centuries. The company is a regular exhibitor at New England Antique Shows events and will be attending the upcoming Antiques and Vintage Holiday Gift Show in Concord, MA, December 10th and 11th. For more information on the silver plated lace maker's lamp, contact Margery directly at 781-444-8767.
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