Gas Lamp Antiques

A 1741 Carved and Painted, Fraktur-Inscribed Bible Box in Nashville

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For collectors today who seek that little touch of elegance, a Victorian lamp is a beautiful illuminator of a pivotal time in history.

Fans of the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind will remember the scene in which Rhett Butler celebrates the birth of daughter Bonnie Blue by lighting a cigar. He stands in his dapper smoking jacket with Mammy, in one of the many rooms in the Atlanta mansion he bought for himself and Scarlett. True to their nouveau riche ascent, the Butlers have decorated this room with all of the pomp of Victorian finery including the lamp on the nearby desk. But Frankly, my dear, this particular lamp which would, after this film, be dubbed the Gone with the Wind lamp wasnt created until the mid-to-late 1870s, while the scene depicted is just a few years after the Civil War ends. Thats just one of the many historic bloopers that surround this classic film.

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During the Victorian era, the public was obsessed with artificial illumination, desiring a light for every corner of their homes. Fortunately for collectors, manufacturers responded to the consumer demand for lamps, which were designed in a tremendous variety of shapes and styles. Over time, the candle and oil burning lamps of the Victorian era were replaced with electrified lamps, or they were retrofitted with electric parts. However, the glass chimney shade was left in the design, despite its no longer having a practical function.

Like so many light fixtures of the Victorian era, the Gone with the Wind lamp was essentially an offshoot of the hurricane lamp. Also called chamber lamps, these oil lamps were initially created by Swiss physicist and chemist Francois-Pierre Aime Argand in 1783. Argands lamp not only had a free-floating wick, it had a glass chimney that protected the flame that rose from the wick against drafts and wind. (Beyond what we think of as a specific Gone with the Wind lamp, a quick scan of that films photos reveals that simple hurricane lamps are used in nearly every scene.) The hurricane lamp, for its time, was quite a world-changing innovation; it burned brighter and gave off less smoke than the other types of oil lamps of the era. Argands innovation ushered in the manufacture of all sorts of new oil lamps.

The diminutive oil lamp in the photo, right, is an example of an oil-fueled hurricane lamp ($25; Booth W-415); the romantic scene printed on the front, along with the angels on the sides, are Victorian indeed. This would be handy to have around when ones power goes off, or for simply creating some ambiance in the room.

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