Collecting Candlesticks and Candle Paraphernalia

01 Aug 2011

By Sharen Custer, 62days expert

Most candlesticks made before the 18th century were cast on one piece of solid brass. Very high class pieces were executed in silver and gold, but very few gold examples have survived. Early brass candlesticks are considerably heavier than their later counterparts.

Towards the end of the 17th century and throughout 18th century improvements in the metal casting made it possible to cast candlesticks with hollow stems, thus saving on the material and making them lighter. They were often created in several parts and screwed together to create a more elaborate structure and design.

With the advance of technology in the early 19th century some candlestick parts were stamped out of a sheet brass using steam driven presses. Stamped ware was significantly less expensive to manufacture and manufacturing and sales therefore increased considerably. Considering that each household usually had more than one candlestick, this meant that many late Georgian and Victorian examples survive. These mass produced candlesticks are lighter in weight and their details are usually less sharply defined, unlike on the cast exemplars.

Apart from brass and silver, candlesticks have been produced in a large variety of materials over the years. Glass, wood, pewter, silver plated copper core, bronze, wrought iron, tin, earthenware and porcelain are among the materials used. Although brass, silver and silver plated candlesticks better reflect candle light, especially when highly polished, other materials are more suitable to experimental and interesting shapes and designs.

Glass, for example, was a common medium for the creation of highly decorative candlesticks and candelabras. Among the most eagerly sought after items are dolphin shaped pieces, especially from the American New England Glass Company and the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. Genuine examples of these pressed glass candlesticks are extremely rare.

Ceramic is another material that offers a wide range of possibilities to collectors. Candleholders were made of everything ranging from the simplest redware pottery to the finest Meissen white porcelain.

Sooner or later just about every collector of candlesticks branches out into candle accessories. Among the popular pieces are candle molds and candle boxes. Until modern materials came along, such as paraffin in the 1830’s, candles made out of beeswax, tallow, bayberry and permaceti – oil of a Sperm Whale, all were fairly precious commodities. To protect them from mice, householders stored them in boxes and large linen chests with special candle compartments until as late as early 20th century. This also applied to candle stubs, which were meted to be reused in new candles. Candle boxes were primarily made of wood, tin or brass.

Candle snuffers are collectable too, although hold a lesser appeal to serious aficionados. Snuffers are scissor shaped implements with a box mounted on the blade in order to allow trimming of a smoking wick. Snuffers were considered a necessity in the days of tallow candles, which usually had very thick wicks and produced rather unpleasant smells. Many candlesticks were designed with matching snuffers and trays to complement the set. However, these largely went out of fashion from the early Victorian period onwards, due to improvements in wax and in wick design.

Apart from scissor snuffers there were two other candle extinguishing devices: a douter and a dunce cap snuffer. Douter is a corrupt derivative of do out – an old English expression of putting out a candle. It was also designed in the shape of scissors but instead of blades had a pair of disks that clamped the wick.

Before closing, I would like to list another peculiar collectable candle device – a candle lantern. Candle lanterns were used for outdoor illuminations. They came in many forms, such as square, rectangular, cylindrical and triangular – although these latter are quite rare to find, more unusual and thus more collectable. Pierced tin lanterns gave less light, because the punched holes were quite small, but often these are most decorative as they display interesting patters and when lit produce a star lit sky effect.

Those providing the best illumination are the glass lined lanterns, surrounded by metal cage. The next best lighting lanterns are those in which windows were made of translucent horn or isinglass – a semi-transparent material produced of mica and the air bladders of fishes. Most windowed lanterns have hinged doors, but in some designs the glass windows were sliders themselves. Rigid metals bars, wire bucket handles and free swinging bails served as handles. A single candle was usually the rule; however, some rare lanterns had two and even four candle sockets.

Interesting examples of candlesticks and candle paraphernalia are to be had on the market and the collectors looking to buy or sell antiques such as these will find a wealth of information available about the styles and types from different countries. They often hold interesting social history and will provide interesting conversation topics when used in modern day interiors.