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The History of Collectible Antique and Vintage Hurricane Lamps

antique collectible vintage hurricane lampsLight a hurricane lamp in your home and history illuminates your abode. Since prehistoric times, families have burned oil in vessels to hold off the darkness and lengthen the hours in which people can work and play. From the palaces of Ancient Rome to the humble little house on the prairie of pioneer days, oil lamps have an honored place in the human story and many modern Americans declare they wouldn’t live without them, despite our general dependence on electricity.

An antique hurricane lamp is both attractive and functional and can add a sense of history to a home. There are a wide variety of antique hurricane lamps in our store, with many different styles and designs. The key to buying an antique hurricane lamp is to find one that suits a home’s decor. We will share information about the history, types and styles of antique hurricane lamps and instructions for care and maintenance after purchasing.

Hurricane Lamp History And Modern Usage

Early oil lamps had three main drawbacks:

  • Their light was seldom very bright
  • Oil lamps smoked a great deal
  • The slightest breeze could put them out

The Invention Of The Hurricane Lamp

In 1780, Francois-Pierre Aime Argand, the son of a Swiss watchmaker, was struck with a bright new idea. He invented an oil lamp with a glass chimney and a control nob. Aime Argand was a scientist with a particular interest in Chemistry, and he realized that a cylindrical wick which allowed air to flow both through and around itself would produce a brighter light. The glass lamp chimney protected the flame from gusts and the control nob enabled the lamp user to adjust the height of the wick, offering further control over the strength of light produced. Whale oil or olive oil was typically used as the fuel for the new lamp. Aime Argand was a man of his times – a scholar of the period we call The Enlightenment – in which science was being explored for the benefit of mankind and in inventing the prototype Hurricane Lamp, Aime Argand would illuminate the world for centuries to come.

How did the Hurricane Lamp Get Its Name

The name is a reference to the glass shade’s ability to protect candle flames from sudden drafts. Blowing the wind: The term hurricane lamp is somewhat misleading. “Hurricane” is the name for a tall cylindrical or barrel-shaped glass dome placed around a candlestick to protect the flame from drafts. A hurricane shade is a similar protective device attached to a wall candle bracket or candleholder. Hank Prebys, curator of domestic life at Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., speculates the term “hurricane lamp” evolved after the shade’s initial development as light sources evolved from candles to kerosene and the term “lamp” became more widespread.

Types of Antique Hurricane Lamps

There are several different types and styles of antique hurricane lamps. The two most popular types are:

Type

Description

Advantages

Considerations

Aladdin Lamp Uses a chemically treated alternative to a wick that doesn’t burn Produces more light, equivalent to a 60 watt bulb Invented in late 1700s
Gone With The Wind Lamp Large decorative glass globes Very decorative Extremely delicate

Hurricane Lamps On Ships

Piracy, sea battles, royal navies and transatlantic voyages were part and parcel of life in the 18th and 19th centuries and mariners quickly adapted the wind-resistant hurricane lamp for use on their vessels. Hanging hurricane lamps and wall hurricane lamps, often lantern-like in shape, became necessary equipment for ships and in addition to lighting cabins and decks, they were used to send signals from ship to ship.

Hurricane Lamps, Gone With The Wind

Many Americans most readily associate Hurricane Lamps with the Civil War of the mid 19th century, largely owing to fact that these lamps were extensively used in the lavish movie sets of Gone With The Wind. True to the burgeoning Victorian delight in ostentatious ornamentation, Hurricane Lamps of the 1800s could be grandly large, wrought in colored and etched glass, embellished with gleaming brass scrollwork and other fancy elements. Floral motifs, amethyst and red glass chimneys, milk glass, etched star glass, crystal pendants, beads and more were highly prized and today, antique Hurricane Lamps command a hefty price at auction. If you’d like to collect Antique Hurricane Lamps, the important things to look for are unmarred chimneys and wick controls that are still functional and haven’t rusted. Make sure the lamp base still holds oil properly, as well.

Hurricane Lamps Go West

Far simpler than the elegant, frilly lamps of stately Victorian era homes were the simple clear glass vessels that lit the way for pioneers across the West. Just as the above screenshot from the popular 1970’s TV series Little House On The Prairie depicts, plain glass hurricane lamps turned lonesome cabins in isolated landscapes into cozy harbors for families to gather in the evenings to eat, to chat, to pray and sing, to plan the next day’s work long after sundown had drawn a curtain of darkness over wood and prairie. Hurricane Lamps remain very much in demand for all types of historical re-enactments and if you look at some of your favorite shows or movies set in the 19th or early 20th centuries, you are sure to notice that these basic, light-giving oil lamps are everywhere! Civil War societies and other historic clubs and committees are keeping Hurricane Lamps alight across the USA.

Hurricane Lamps In Modern Times

In many areas of the country, the power of electricity was slow to come. Long into the 20th century, folk in rural areas continued to live by candlelight and the light of kerosene oil lamps. Even now, some areas of the USA are not connected up to the grid and, of real note, some families with pioneer-like bravery are jumping off the grid and fueling and lighting their homes in different and creative ways. In these situations, owning several Hurricane Lamps for occasional or emergency lighting is a smart survival tactic.

Of important regional significance, residents of states like Florida cope with hurricanes and other fierce storms as a fact of daily life. A vintage cookbook I treasure describes a community so used to these upheavals in the weather that they developed meal plans for hurricane season and the local housewives were heard saying, “What will you be having for the hurricane for dinner?” If you live in a part of the country where weather or other factors cause frequent power outages, purchasing a trusty hurricane lamp really makes sense.

Hurricane Lamps are also ideal for outdoor living. Use them at your next barbecue or on a camping trip for light without the hassle of cords or batteries.

Finally, there is a glow of romance surrounding these special lamps with their long history. Electric lights cannot reproduce the soft, warm radiance of the Hurricane Lamp and lighting one works some type of magic in that it instantly creates a feeling of intimacy, quiet and comfort. Whether you own a period home and are looking for an antique or reproduction Hurricane Lamp or you simply prefer the gentler illumination oil lamps provide, the Hurricane Lamp is a piece of our past worth saving.

hurricane lamp parts including wick, base and chimney

Parts of Antique Hurricane Lamps

There are many variations in hurricane lamp design, but most are comprised of the same essential components.

Part

Description

Base Metal or marble bottom that is threaded with a rod to support the lamp
Font Glass or metal fuel container that rests on top of the base, and is sometimes part of the base
Fuel Oil or kerosene
Burner Controls the size of the flame with a knob that adjusts the wick
Wick Flat ribbon or round cord made of cotton, extends into the font to absorb fuel
Chimney Glass enclosure, open at the top, fits over the font to provide the brightest possible light
Shade Coloured or patterned, made of glass, fits over the chimney to diffuse the light
Mantle A chemically treated alternative to a wick that doesn’t burn and produces more light

How To Use A Hurricane Lamp

It’s no surprise, considering the prevalence of electricity, that many modern people have never used or lit a Hurricane Lamp. Here’s how Hurricane Lamps work:

Step 1
There are two pieces secured to the top lip of the Hurricane Lamp. One is permanently attached to the Hurricane base and the other screws off/on to the piece secured to the base. Unscrew the detachable piece from the base and fill with lamp oil about 3/4 full.

Step 2
The wick should be pre-fed through the insert on the detachable piece from the bottom coming up through the top while using the turning wheel to bring the wick up through. The wick should clear all metal parts about a 1/4 of an inch to start. The lamp wick can later be adjusted up by the turning wheel to achieve desired flame size.

Step 3
While feeding the wick into the base, tightly re-secure the detached metal piece to the metal piece permanently attached to the base. If any oil was spilled, thoroughly clean the area before lighting.

Step 4
Light wick. Slide glass globe inside four metal arms on the metal base. Adjust flame size with spinning wheel.

Special Notes On Using Hurricane Lamps In Your Home

  • Keep Hurricane Lamps in a safe place away from children and pets. Young children, unused to flame-based lighting, should never be left unsupervised in a room where oil lamps are present. Just as you would take extra care in a room where candles are lit, practice good safety when using Hurricane Lamps.
  • Pottery can scratch you furniture. Protect your furniture by placing a non-porous surface underneath.
  • Make sure your lamp is placed in a secure location where passing traffic cannot accidentally knock it over.
  • Citronella lamp oil can be used in outdoor settings in Hurricane Lamps to deter insects.

How to Care for Antique Hurricane Lamps

An antique hurricane lamp requires careful attention and maintenance. If left untouched for too long, the vigorous cleaning needed to remove the dirt and grime could damage the integrity of the lamp and affect its value. Below are cleaning instructions to care for an antique hurricane lamp.

  1. Place the hurricane lamp on a soft towel or thick layer of newspaper to catch any spills. Pull the ring at the top of the lamp and lift off the metal housing, taking care not to scratch or break the glass globe. Tilt the globe sideways until it clears the top housing when it is replaced. Remove the glass globe.
  2. Carefully wash the globe in warm soapy water. Wipe liberally the inner areas that have accumulated soot, and any outer areas that have accumulated buildup. Use a cotton towel or dry cloth to wipe the globe dry.
  3. Unscrew the top lid that holds the wick in place on the oil chamber. Take the wick out of the oil, remove it from the cap and throw it away. Now is a good time to replace the old oil. New oil will make the flame burn brighter and give off less smoke. Drain the old oil into a suitable container for recycling, and wipe the outside of the lamp with a damp rag.
  4. Insert a new wick into the cap and turn the knob until a finger-width of the wick is showing at the top. Fill the font a little over halfway with new oil. Insert the other end of the wick into the font and put the lid back on.
  5. Replace the glass globe, again taking care to avoid damage. Lift the ring and tilt the globe back into place. Lower the top metal housing back on. The wick may need adjusting after it has soaked in the oil. Store the lamp in a cool dry place not in use.

Hurricane Lamps And You

Do you remember a Hurricane Lamp your grandma owned? Do you have any tips or tricks for using, cleaning or enjoying Hurricane Lamps? We’d love to hear your stories and welcome your comments here.

Sources:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-08-16/news/9808160111_1_shades-candle-hurricane

http://www.ebay.com/gds/Your-Guide-to-Buying-an-Antique-Hurricane-Lamp-/10000000177317450/g.html

 

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