Oil lamps have existed for thousands of years in various forms, including unpainted clay and terra cotta, with simple cotton wicks laid in the spout of the gravy-boat-shaped lamp. But when most people think of oil lamps, they picture the blown-glass antique oil lamps used throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s.
What many people don’t know is that oil lamps are still in production today. Some are new designs, although most lamps are reproductions of antique designs, or based on a similar style. It is important for anyone seeking real antique oil lamps to learn the difference before attempting to buy one, however, or else they risk being taken advantage of by ignorant-or in some cases, dishonest-sellers.
Not only are antique oil lamps beautiful and collectible, but they are also still useable, if they are in good enough condition. Oil lamps can provide a romantic or cozy atmosphere, or be used as an alternative lighting source in times of emergency.
In fact, if you keep a few oil lamps on hand, in good repair, with extra chimneys and wicks and a supply of lamp oil, you can provide not only light, but a small amount of heat in an emergency.
Oil lamps have five parts:
1. The reservoir, which is where the lamp oil is poured into.
2. The collar, usually made of brass in an antique lamp, which is attached to the hole where the oil gets poured into the reservoir.
3. The burner, which is the mechanism that the wick is fed through.
4. The wick, which feeds down through the burner, dipping into the oil inside the reservoir.
5. The chimney, which is the glass that protects the flame, and which slides down onto the burner, and held in place by the burner’s little metal arms that stick up, to keep the chimney from falling off.
Larger lamps that hang from the ceiling or attach to the wall may have other parts or accessories. There are hanging lamps, similar to chandeliers, and some of these have separate lamps and brackets that the lamp sets into, and is then hung by chains from the ceiling.
Lamps that attach to the wall are called sconces, and generally they use a cast iron bracket with a little saucer-shaped shelf on which the lamp rests.
Often a sconce bracket would have a reflector attached-a mirror-like, polished round metal accessory that perched at the top of the bracket and behind the oil lamp’s chimney, so it would reflect the light back into the room. This was a way of doubling the amount of light a lamp would cast, since the light of a single lamp was very dim.
The lamp seen most often is the table lamp. The average antique table lamp can be very inexpensive, but the elegant, unique lamps may go for more. An intact chandelier lamp in good condition can go for hundreds of dollars, but the beauty of one of these works of art far surpasses the price tag. Enjoying a cozy, romantic night at home by the light of any antique oil lamp is one experience that is priceless.