Shine a light

The candle lamp featured here is similar to the chamberstick (as carried by ‘Wee Willie Winkie) but with a tall glass cylinder added to give a steady flame in draughty situations. The piercing you can see in the body of the lamp, is there to allow an air supply to the burning candle when a glass chimney (funnel) is fitted above it.

This lamp was made in around 1790.

Today, a flick of a switch is all that is needed to flood a dark rom with light. The advent of smart home appliances can even remove the need to flick the switch and sensors are now a regular fitting in houses, turning lights on automatically when we walk into a room.

In earlier times lighting a home either used the dangerous fuel town gas or in less wealthy households, oil lamps or candles.

Prior to this,In the time of the featured candle lamp, before the introduction of gas lighting, candles or oil (often coming from Sperm Whales) was used in homes of the wealthy. Poorer people either went to bed when it got dark or burnt rush lights when the sun had set. A peeled bullrush was dipped in animal fat. Once it had dried it could be lit from the fire and would burn with a smoky, smelly flame - giving a good enough reason to go to bed at dusk.

From this we can assume the candle lamp would have belonged to a middle-class household. It looks like silver, a material that would only be found in homes of the wealthy, but is in fact made of copper coated in a very thin layer of silver. The material is called ‘Old Sheffield Plate’ and was created to provide a much cheaper alternative to solid silver that still looked like silver. It's a great example of a material that sought to deceive the casual observer. In this case “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. A person who aspired to be seen as successful and wealthy could furnish their house with apparently luxurious items at a fraction of the cost of the real thing (similar to today's fake designer goods).

Silver was hall marked to prove its validity but Old Sheffield Plate makers couldn't use the same marks without risking heavy fines or gaol. I'll be talking more about this unusual material in future items.

The candle lamp is a well-designed, practical item that sits beside my bed in case of a power cut. I know I could just use my phone torch but the atmospheric flickering light of a candle when the power suddenly goes off focuses the mind and is a good reminder of the things we now take for granted that would once have been beyond imagination.

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