Out of the Past

by Mark Nye
Issue 285 - January 1997

From time to time while researching Cambridge Glass, I come across articles and other items that, while unrelated to Cambridge, are interesting to read. For the most part, they all involve glass, its manufacture or decoration and as such are indirectly related to Cambridge. Some are quite lengthy, taking several issues to reprint, while others are short, sometimes only a few paragraphs in length. Thus we start a new column that will appear from time to time, as space permits, and will feature reprints of some of these articles that I feel will be of interest to many Crystal Ball readers. Your comments on this new feature would be appreciated. The initial article is taken from the December 11,1902 issue of Crockery and Glass Journal. As you begin to read it, keep in mind "lamp" refers to a kerosene lamp, not a gas fixture nor the electrical lighting device we call a lamp today.

"Even though it be admitted that this is indubitably the age of gas and electricity, and in the face of all modern appliances with artistic arrangements of bulbs and burners, the fact still remains that as a means of decorative lighting, lamps are still at the front. And surely it is no wonder when the beauty and grace of the designs are taken into consideration, for they make a decidedly attractive bit of furnishing, no matter in what room they find a place.Some householders have a most reprehensible habit of placing them between the lace draperies in the front window of the parlor. In such a position they mean nothing, and they are as out of place as would be a chiffonier in place of a sideboard or cabinet in the dining room, or a brass bedstead in the parlor.

"It always suggests advertising when one sees a lamp in this position; or it is merely the proud possessor's way of letting her neighbors know that she has a lamp, that same article being a sort of passport to gentility?

"Usually the window-stationed lamp is a much frilled, much ruffled shaded affair of showy pattern and style, which serves the purpose of furnishing, but never suggests use. Perish the thought! Utilitarianism in the parlor! Who over heard of such a thing? Lamps, like the traditional children, must be seen. That is their mission, in the house where the permanent abiding place is the parlor window.

"But in spite of all that, the fact that lamps have of late grown steadily in popularity is a sign of the increasing national instinct for beauty. The flicker of gas and the hard, uncompromising glare of the electric light have alike proven trying to many whose sense of tone values in light is too fine to be satisfied with crudities.

"The warm, subdued tone of the shaded lamp easily places it in advance of all rivals, while even in the daytime a handsome lamp is as distinctly an ornament to a room as any article of bric-a-brac."The manufacture of lamps has increased to a wonderful degree, and they are growing in beauty constantly. There are today exclusive large lamp stores in almost every city of size, their wares being among the most beautiful and attractive of any store which makes a specialty of artistic things.

"As far as light goes, the large lamps give a most brilliant, steady light, which is toned and softened by the shades to any degree that may be desired and the manufacture and proper use of chimneys has developed into a science which few persons understand."The great bugbears about lamps are the chimneys and wicks; on these and on the kerosene odor depends the objection. But all of these may be easily overcome. Take the chimneys for instance. A perfect chimney for any lamp should be as large in diameter as the brackets of the burner will permit; it should be as high as convenient, and not too narrow at the top. This insures a good draught, which helps make a clear, steady flame, without smoking,unless, of course, the wick is turned too high and renders it less likely to crack from the heat of the flame.

"Contrary to the almost universal idea, lamps are by no means an expensive luxury, unless one buys a very costly or antique relic to begin with, and the cost of maintaining a lamp in daily use is not more than one-eighth that of any other illumination. Besides, and what is more important, it is the only true artificial light which does not injure one's eyesight. Soft and untiring, steady and mellow, it is most grateful to the eyes. The person who has to read, write or sew by artificial light should use a lamp in preference to any other light.

"For the best colors in globes, which, by the way, have almost superseded the ballet skirted shades, yellow or white give the best results, and for use the plan and better than those with designs, no matter how artistic, upon them.Green is much used by students, but it is not effective; the area of illumination is circumscribed, and no lamp can show to advantage by daylight when hooded in the dark shroud of opaque green glass.

"Yellow gives a beautiful golden glow like sunlight, and is most effective in any room, while the paler light of the white globe is the softer light of the moon. There are rooms in which red globes are appropriate, but, unlike yellow or white,they cannot be successfully used in all places.

"Lamps, from a sanitary point of view, are not nearly so objectionable as is popularly supposed and are, as a matter of fact, not so injurious as gas. The latter is extremely detrimental to plant life, whereas lamps are not. Florists know this well, and gas is not found in the hothouses and greenhouses whence come the floral riches of a city's market;they, use kerosene lamps all together

"There are numberless styles of burners on the market, and the most serious trouble is with the wicks. This is,indeed, a crucial test of patience to the housewife or the maid who has the care of the lamps. Rewicking which is necessary so often, and which, as a rule, is not done half often enough; the care of the wick, rubbing off the charred portion every morning, and seeing that it does not fall upon the burner, or if it insists upon so doing that it is promptly and properly removed; the caring for the gummy substance which will form on the tubing about the wick, these are exasperating trials of patience and skill, and all of them may be overcome by following a few simple common sense less so that almost any lamp may be made to give satisfaction.

"In the first place, the wick space should be perfectly straight and even so that the wick will not bind anywhere but can be raised with ease and to an even height all around. This is necessary to make an even flame which will not smoke at any point. When a lamp does not permit all the wick to roll up evenly there is some fault with the wick space. Have it remedied at once, or buy a new burner Do not try to 'get along' with it; it is demoralizing to both the temper and the eyes."Then see that the draught supply is adequate and perfect, and will support a large flame. After that do not neglect to see that the reservoir is at least two-thirds full of oil. Many and many a time a lamp is blamed for giving poor light when it has not enough to feed on. Nothing can work without sustenance, not even a lamp."