Monday, September 6, 2010

Yankee Candlestand

We have probably not given Mr. Edison enough credit. Just try to imagine the amazement that people had just about a century ago at the electric illumination of their homes and streets. Mr. Edison tried hundreds of different types of material in his electric lightbulb invention before he discovered exactly the right material which would burn brightly without destroying itself. Thus, the light bulb was created, and life changed forever.

Imagine a country with a workforce which could only work during daylight hours! Imagine trying to light homes and businesses with gas fixtures, and not have accidents. How did we exist before electric light?

Well, candles have been the standard source of light for thousands of years, and still are preferred when romance is involved. Beeswax and cotton cord combined to produce "one candle power" until the start of the 19th century. At that time, if you wanted to light, for example, the hall of mirrors at Versailles, you needed hundreds of candles, which required dozens of people to keep lit.

Then along came a French man, Mr. Argand, who, in 1780, invented an oil lamp with a circular chimney. The oil saturated wick was circular and the rush of air up the center of the wick created much more light than a single candle. As much as 10 candle power of light from a single lamp. I have a pair of Argand lamps on my sideboard, made in New York by Clark and Coit, which have two wicks on each lamp. Thus, if I could find a source of whale oil, without violating any laws, I would have 40 candle power of light just from these two lamps.

Later in the 19th century, kerosene replaced the more expensive whale oil, but the idea of the circular wick persisted as the most effective way to create light. Unfortunately, both the whale oil and kerosene created black smoke and a smell which did not contribute much to the ambience of the evening.

Thus, I return to the candlestand. This candlestand is a copy of the original which I purchased from that distinguished Yankee lady's estate mentioned yesterday in this blog. It is elegant, simple and very functional. Wherever you wish to sit, it is easy to place this stand close to the chair and it allows a convenient place for your cup of tea and a candle. When not in use, you can tilt the top up and place it in the corner out of the way.

I made this stand out of some wonderful curly maple I purchased from a violin maker. It has a great figure, and takes a wonderful polish. I made the top in two parts, with a bookmatch, just to confuse those collectors in the future who may attempt to pass this table off as antique.

I gave it to my wife, Kristen, on her birthday back in 1988. It remains one of the few pieces of furniture in our house which is not for sale. It is nice to turn off the lights and light a candle.

1 comment:

JC said...

Hello, I'm going through some of your older entries, and I came across this one. I'm a fan of early lighting, and I thought I would pass along a whale oil substitute: mineral oil. This can be found very inexpensively at a pharmacy, or in the form of unscented baby oil. I have a few 1840's whale oil lamps and they work perfectly using mineral oil. I don't know if they create the same amount of light as whale oil would have, but it's a way to enjoy the lamps. Below is a link to a photo of a pair of whale oil lamps burning mineral oil: