Oil lamps from years gone by are still in use.
Oil lamps are almost a misnomer. When we say oil lamps today, we think of kerosene lamps. They were and are also called paraffin lamps. Kerosene and paraffin were names interchangeable in the late 1800's. In the early 1800's, we were using whale oil so making kerosene from coal was a major advancement. But even saying kerosene is slowly fading from our vocabulary because today we have "lamp oil".
Many of us have several old kerosene lamps because they were still in constant use well into the 1950's. And then there are the lamps that were patterned after the kerosene lamps. I have two of those made by Fenton in my bedroom. They are old and once upon a time belonged to my grandmother, but not exactly true antiques - just old. But also I have several kerosene lamps that were "modernized". What once held a wick now has an electrical receptacle that holds a light bulb. But throughout my house are the real things. I haven't converted all of them to electric because they are wonderful for when the power goes out.
If you've never used one, you are missing out on one of the beautiful leftovers from years ago. Of course, you don't leave a lighted kerosene lamp unattended. They are dangerous to use if you have a cat or other animal that is apt to knock one over. Also never place the lamp on a middle shelf or where it might be close to a flammable object such as a ceiling. You want the charming glow, not a house fire.
Unlike a candle, it produces an even light that shouldn't flicker very much if at all, and it can burn for hours. Snuff the light and use it again. Today we buy something called lamp oil. It's very refined, burns nicely, often it is colored so that it looks pretty, and it is scented. Using regular kerosene can be stinky, may leave a greasy film, and is considered dangerous. Use lamp oil! Do not substitute. It doesn't matter if your grandpa burned some other fuel in it! Don't do it! Also a jug of lamp oil will last for years if you only use it in one or two lamps for the occasional outage. And it's much cheaper than buying tons of batteries. Keep the cap tightly screwed on the jug so that nothing evaporates and keep it away from sunlight or warm objects. Mine normally is kept in the pantry area next to the cleaning products.
A kerosene lamp emits enough light to read your favorite paperback. (Always keep a few paperbacks on hand for emergencies.) The last major power outage I had was after a hurricane took down enough trees and branches to send my tiny city into a blackout for days. I was one of the last people to get my power restored. In 14 days, I read almost thirty paperbacks. I kept looking at my dwindling pile and hoping my power would be restored before I ran out of reading material. By day six, a good chunk of the city around me was still minus power. Fortunately Starbucks did get theirs restored by day four. But just how long can anyone hangout at Starbucks? Especially when the entire population of the city seemed to be trying to escape the heat, needed to charge their laptops and phones, and discovered Starbucks had power. I'd grab some food, then go to Starbucks for coffee while I recharged my phone. After that, I'd come home and read. I whipped through some flashlight batteries during that time, but I barely used a full "tank" of oil in my lamp. That's because I kept the flashlights throughout the house so I could turn them on and off as I entered a room or ran up the stairs. But my trusty kerosene lamps that decorated my living room burned brightly.
I think my fascination with kerosene lamps started when I was little. I remember both my grandmothers having them in the house. A great aunt and uncle, who had a summer home in the country that didn't have running water or electricity, used kerosene lamps. It was while staying with my great aunt and uncle that I learned how to clean the chimney, trim the wick, etc. (I also learned how to peel a potato using only a paring knife. I think I was four or five at the time. YIKES!)
So when I discovered this tiny little kerosene lamp in an antique store when I was about eight. I fell in love and had to buy it. My mom thought I was crazy. Looking back now, after raising a few children, I understand how young children can latch onto the oddest things. Obviously, I still have the lamp, and I still think it's adorable. What I didn't know until I was probably in my teens was that tiny lamp was not a child's lamp or just a cute little object. I had the real thing.
Traveling salesman used to carry samples of their wares. They were never sold - just samples. What I had was a sample lamp. That salesman probably had a trunk full of these tiny samples. He would go from farm to farm, or ranch to ranch, and convince the lady of the house that she had to have the latest design in lamps. He'd also stop at the dry goods store or mercantile and convince the owner to order a dozen of his lamps. It must have been a pretty tough life for that salesman. But he probably made quite a few sales, because as we all know, it's easy to lose a favorite item to breakage. Carrying a six-inch lamp sure beat carrying a full-sized one. He could carry two-dozen styles instead of carrying six large ones.
You don't have to wait for a power outage to enjoy a lamp. Electrify one or two for that guest bedroom. Just remember to keep at least one with a wick in case you need it or want it for a romantic evening. Because how else are you going to read one of your favorite author's books if the power goes out? Everyone needs a kerosene lamp or a dozen.
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I'd like to thank Michael at B&P Lamp Supply, Inc (Antique Lamp Supply) for allowing me to use the photos from the website. For further information, please visit the company site. I'm drooling over those beautiful lamps and their super nice parts. They have great info on the historic old lamps if you want further info.
I think I need this blue one. What do you think?
And that tiny lamp next to the one with the dirty chimney is mine. I promise that I know how to clean a chimney, but it's apparent that I need to do a little housekeeping instead of constantly writing. Also I will suggest that when you are finished lighting the lamp, replace the chimney very carefully. Too many times it is assumed that all four prongs that hold the chimney are on the outside of the chimney and holding it. If not, the chimney will crash to the floor, and I swear it will never survive the fall. Experience is a great teacher. Keep an extra chimney on hand at all times.