Romans introduced fish oil as a fuel for lighting, utilising a fibrous wick in
a ceramic or metal 'crusie' lamp, thus superseding animal fat as a medium. This
in turn gave rise to the candle. Another Roman innovation was the rush-light,
basically an impregnated cord held in the jaws of an iron holder.
12th century saw the introduction from the Netherlands of the first decorative
light fitting in the baluster form of a solid brass chandelier with its heavy
sphere weighted body and 'S'-scroll candle arms, used mainly in churches until
the 14th Century when their aesthetic appeal brought them into domestic use in
effect of the Renaissance was felt in a proliferation of candle burning light
fitting designs in both chandeliers and wall sconces, many of which were refined
during the 17th century. Notable examples were the Haddon Hall chandelier (c1660)
and the Knole House chandelier (c1670). By this time, silver and pewter were
experiments with gas had been taking place as early as 1688, this fuel as a lighting
medium was not harnessed efficiently until the early part of the 19th century.
great Classical Age gave rise to decorative magnificence in the design of light
fittings. Carved wood was popular as it could easily be used to imitate the style
of the furniture. The candlestick and candelabra came of age and Robert Adam introduced
the most luxurious of crystal chandeliers.
until 1784 was there a marked improvement in oil lighting. Aime Argand, a Swiss
chemist, patented the Argand lamp in which the wide flat wick was formed into
a cylinder around a central tube which allowed air to pass, thus boosting the
burning efficiency. A
glass chimney placed above created an updraught on the outside of the wick,
further enhancing the brilliance of the flame. Heavy colza (vegetable) oil flowed
from a reservoir, or font, which was mounted above the level of the burner. This
gravity-feed principle was in use until 1859 although the Regency period saw clockwork
powered pump lamps integrate the font into the body of the lamp. Thomas Sugg laid
the first street gas main in Pall Mall in 1807, bringing gas lighting to the capital
for the first time.
Kerosene (paraffin) came into use in 1859. Being a much lighter oil, it could
be drawn up a wick, so the font could be situated below the burner. As well
as embracing the Argand principle, other developments included the Hinks duplex burner.
Each innovation produced a greater light output. Night lights, the squat slow-burning
candles, were popular with or without elaborate glassware to shroud them.
lighting efficiency was marred in early Victorian times by both poor gas pressure
and the corrosion of the metal burners. In 1858, Sugg patented his invention of
the steatite orifice, a ceramic jet, which overcame the corrosion problem and
produced more control of the flame. Now glass shades of all descriptions could
be used to diffuse the light source.
until 1893, with the perfection of the mantle, did gas lighting markedly improve.
the most innovative of Victorian gas fittings was the rise-and-fall gasolier;
a device which could be raised closer to the ceiling when not in use, and lowered
when light was required in the main part of the room.
notable households such as Cragside in Northumberland had electric lighting installed
in the latter years of Queen Victoria's reign, illumination of the majority
of households where power was available, was essentially an Edwardian phenomenon.
from its increased brilliance, the ability of the electric light bulb to shine
downwards at any angle was its great advantage. The gas industry retaliated with
the inverted mantle at the turn of the twentieth century, and also with propaganda
about the gimmickry of electricity and the injurious rays of electric light.
flexibility of electric lighting released an explosion of design and manufacture
of lamps and fittings on a scale that was totally unprecedented, making light
fittings available to all.
the great majority of antique fittings are preferred converted to, or retained
as electric, gas fittings can be adapted for use with North Sea gas or bottled
gas by changing the jets in the case of inverted gas mantle type lamps. Mantles
are still available. Earlier fittings should have a regulator fitted. It should
be stressed that any conversion or restoration work is best carried out by an
fittings have quadrupled in value over the past ten years, whereas reproduction
fittings hold little value and rarely sit comfortably in period settings. However,
if matching quantities are required, reproduction is usually the only practical
solution. New fittings can be distressed in such a way that they very closely
resemble the original.
- Jonathan Bourne and Vanessa Brett, Lighting in the Domestic Interior: Renaissance
to Art Nouveau, Sotheby's Publications, London, 1991
- John Griffiths, The Third Man: The Life and Times of William Murdoch,
Deutsch, London, 1992
- Josie A Marsden,
Popular Collectables: Lamps and Lighting, Guinness Publishing,
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 1993
FRYER established Fritz
Fryer Antique Lighting in 1982.
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