Antique oil lamps have become some of the most sought-after antique items in the past few years. Because of their age, rarity, and incredible craftsmanship, these lamps are highly valued nowadays. Oil lamps originating from Europe and the USA can sell for up to several thousand dollars. The better condition of a lamp, and the more scarce it is, the higher the price as well, so bear that in mind if you’re about to embark on this journey. Nevertheless, despite the high price, we cannot simply help but justify it by stating that antique lamps are an incredible reminder of how far we as humans have come. These lamps are ingenious, for their simplicity and incredible contribution to humans seeing light even in darkness.
Let’s be honest; we rarely think about the times before our access to electrically-sourced light, right? Well, before electricity, people had a completely different relationship with how they brought light to their homes and streets. Antique oil lamps are fascinating pieces of history that have been used for centuries to provide light before the invention of electricity.
These lamps come in many different shapes and sizes, and each one has its own unique story to tell. Recently, people have started collecting antique oil lamps for their wonderful appearance, incredible mechanism, and immeasurable contribution to the development of the modern world. In the following paragraphs, we will explore the history of antique oil lamps, their design, and their cultural significance, as well as check out the most valuable antique models you can purchase. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Oil Lamps – Brief Overview
The History of Oil Lamps
Antique oil lamps were used to produce continuous light using an oil-based fuel source. Oil lamps were used as far back as ancient times, with the earliest known lamps dating back to around 4500 BC in ancient Egypt. These lamps were made of clay and filled with olive oil or animal fat, with a wick made of papyrus or flax. They were used primarily for religious and ceremonial purposes and were often decorated with intricate designs and patterns.
As time passed, oil lamps became more widespread and were used for everyday lighting in homes and businesses. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution brought about advancements in technology and manufacturing, allowing for the mass production of oil lamps. For example, in 1790, A Genevian scientist Aimé Argand invented the Argand lamp which had an output of 6 to 10 candelas, which made it brighter than everything humans made before.
By the 20th century, electricity had become the primary source of lighting, and oil lamps were no longer as common. However, they remain popular among collectors and enthusiasts and are still used for decorative purposes and in areas without access to electricity.
Design of Antique Oil Lamps
Antique oil lamps come in a wide variety of designs, from simple and functional to ornate and decorative. These lamps often come with handles, so one can carry them around home and property, but there were also hanging lamps, kerosene table lamps (smaller and standing upright), as well as antique wall lamps to light up the rooms and the hallways. The most common types of antique oil lamps include:
- Glass lamps – These lamps have a glass reservoir that holds the oil, with a wick that is threaded through the spout. The glass can be plain or decorated with etched designs or painted patterns.
- Metal lamps – These lamps are typically made of bronze, copper, or other metals, with a reservoir that holds the oil and a wick that is threaded through the spout. They can be plain or decorated with ornate designs and patterns. They’re generally super sturdy and come in great condition even after hundreds of years.
- Ceramic lamps – These lamps were highly popular in the Far East. They’re made of clay or porcelain and are often decorated with intricate, oriental designs and patterns. They have a reservoir that holds the oil and a wick that is threaded through the spout.
- Hanging lamps – These lamps are designed to hang from a ceiling or wall bracket and are often made of metal or glass. They can be plain or decorated with ornate designs and patterns, often featured in public places of places where people would gather, like pubs.
- Railroad lamps – These lamps, also known as lanterns, were used on trains and have a metal body with a glass globe that holds the oil. They have a handle for carrying and are designed to withstand the vibrations and movement of a train. When it comes to their value, the most valuable railroad lamps are the ones that carry a railroad marking.
Each antique oil lamp comes with a specific set of parts without which it cannot function. Knowing these parts can help you recognize and identify genuine antique oil lamps, which can be pretty useful and money-saving information to have. These parts include;
- Fuel bowl /chamber or reservoir – antique oil lamps used fuel bowls, or reservoirs, to hold the oil or kerosene. Within the bowl, there is a so-called pouring hole through which the fuel is poured into the reservoir. Some antique oil lamps have multiple holes.
- Burner or wick hole, and the nozzle – this is a part of the lamp that sits above the reservoir and may be in the form of an opening or an elongated nozzle. It also features an adjustable wick that runs down into the fuel bowl, or runs along the pouring hole, to collect, or re-collect the fuel and make the lamp work.
- The chimney – this is the glass part of an oil lamp that extends over the reservoir and the burner. Its function is to hold/contain the flame of the lamp and prevent things around the lamp to catch fire.
Cultural Significance of Antique Oil Lamps
Antique oil lamps have played an important role in many cultures throughout history. In ancient times, they were used for religious and ceremonial purposes and were often seen as symbols of enlightenment and wisdom.
In the Middle East, oil lamps have been used for centuries during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer. The lamps are lit at sunset to signal the end of the day’s fast and are often decorated with intricate designs and patterns.
In the Western world, oil lamps were commonly used for everyday lighting in homes and businesses before the advent of electricity. They were also used for decorative purposes, with ornate lamps often seen as a sign of wealth and status.
Today, antique oil lamps remain popular among collectors and enthusiasts, who appreciate their historical significance and intricate designs. They are often used as decorative pieces in homes and businesses and can be found in antique shops and online marketplaces.
Identifying Antique Oil Lamps
Identifying authentic antique oil lamps can be challenging for an untrained eye, as there are many reproductions and fakes on the market. Because we want you to have a fabulous time purchasing these oil lamps, here are some of the main things you need to pay attention to in identifying genuine antique oil lamps and avoid getting scammed;
- Age Indicators – The age of a lamp can be determined by looking at the style, design, and materials used. For example, lamps made during the Victorian era (1837-1901) were often ornate and highly decorated with patterns such as flowers, leaves, and vines. On the other hand, lamps made during the early 20th century (1901-1940) were simpler in design and often made of metals like brass and copper.
Other age indicators to look for include the type of glass used in the lamp. For instance, lamps made during the early 19th century often had leaded glass, while lamps made during the later part of the century used blown glass.
- Manufacturer’s Mark – Another way to identify antique oil lamps is to check for the maker’s mark. Many antique lamps were stamped with the manufacturer’s mark, which can provide important clues about the lamp’s age and origin. Some of the most well-known manufacturers of antique oil lamps in the USA include Aladdin, Rochester, Bradley, and Hubbard, and in Europe Wild & Wessel, Hugo Schneider, Lacroix & Ferry, etc. If you want to learn more about European antique oil lamps, make sure to check out the Old Copper and Artoluys websites.
- Oil Lamp Base and Font – The base and font of the lamp can also provide valuable information about its age and authenticity. Antique lamps were often made of brass, copper, or other metals, and the base and font were usually cast separately and then joined together. Look for signs of soldering or welding, which can indicate that the lamp is a reproduction or a fake.
- Condition – The condition of the lamp can also provide clues about its authenticity. Antique lamps that are in good condition are often worth more than those that have been damaged or repaired. Look for signs of wear and tear, such as scratches or chips, which can indicate that the lamp has been used over a long period of time.
- The Wick Adjuster – The wick adjuster is another important part of the lamp to examine. Antique lamps often had a simple wick adjuster that was made of brass or other metals.
- The Burner – The burner is another important part of the lamp to examine. Antique burners were often made of brass or other metals and were designed to hold the wick in place and regulate the flow of oil. Look for signs of wear and tear on the burner, as well as any markings or stamps that can provide clues about its origin and age.
- Use Blacklight – This is a great trick if you want to check whether an oil lamp is new or antique. New oil lamps are generally glued together, while antique oil lamps are welded together. By using the blacklight you can see if there are fluorescent parts of the lamp; if the lamp fluoresces, then it is glued together, indicating a new model. Antique oil lamps, therefore, do not glow in the dark.
The Most Valuable Antique Oil Lamps
Feuerhand 75 Atom WWII German Army Oil Lamp
The Feurehand oil lamps were used by the German army in World War II and as such super rare and highly valuable. The lamp uses kerosene/paraffin as fuel and it is made from steel. Because it was used to endure a war environment, the lamp is extremely sturdy and made to last.
The very first patent of this lamp was made in 1906, and the lamp was commonly used in Central Europe during the first half of the 20th century. The lamp was designed so that it protects the flame from the wind and warms up the air as it burns. If you’re looking to buy a Feurehand oil lamp, you can expect to pay up to 1,300 USD for a mint condition lamp. The average cost of this lamp would be around 300 USD.
Bradley & Hubbard Hanging Oil Lamp
This cranberry-colored antique kerosene lamp was made by Bradley & Hubbard, one of the best-known oil lamp makers in the USA. The lamps were originally made in the late 19th century, around 1877 when it was first patented. Because of its unique color, mesmerizing detailing, and age, this lamp is super rare and often sold for a high price. The lamp is made from brass and has a Prism bulb shape. Because of its rarity, you can expect to pay around 1,200 USD for a good-condition lamp. For mint condition, with bright-cranberry color and detailing, this lamp can be sold for around 7,500 USD.
Aladdin Swan Oil Lamp
Originating from the 1800s, this handmade Aladdin-style oil lamp is truly a unique and rare piece of history. It has a swan shape and the swan’s neck acts as a handle, which makes it a one-of-a-kind piece. The lamp is made from stone and can sometimes feature a removable shade for better flame control.
Generally, the lamp is not colored, but there are some Aladdin-style lamps that are colored green. This particular lamp is reddish in color because it was made from dark red stone. The lamp is made in the Greco-Roman style, Rosso Antico, and also features a lid that is in the form of a classical bearded Zeus-type mask. In its mint condition, and because of its rarity, this lamp is sold for a price of 4,200 USD.
German Porcelain Oil Meissen Nouveau Flower Lamp
This German antique oil lamp is truly a one-of-a-kind piece. It originated from a late 19th-century porcelain factory located in Dresden and was made by Carl Thieme of Saxony. The lamp is rare and highly decorated with flowers, flies, bees, and other nature-inspired illustrations. The illustration is hand painted and gilded. The lamp also comes with a 10-inch shade which is in mint condition and has no damage. The lamp also features an English Mc Kenney & Co. burner, which is often still working. Because of its rarity and remarkable appearance, this lamp is often sold for around 5,000 USD.
Bradley Hubbard Oil Piano Lamp Pat’d
This is the second B&H oil lamp on our list of the most valuable oil lamps, and for a reason. This one was made in the period between 1878 and 1888, in the USA. It is of Victorian style and made from brass. The lamp is rare and red, which is its original color. It is a tall, standing lamp intended to stand next to the piano. It is believed that only the most beautiful oil lamps deserved a spot next to the piano, which makes this one even more interesting and scarce. The lamp has an old Victorian style, while it also features some gothic elements and details. If you’re looking to purchase such a lamp, you can expect to pay up to 1000 USD.
Hopefully, we’ve provided you with all the necessary and important information if you’re looking to buy an antique oil lamp yourself. In addition to their historical and decorative value, antique oil lamps are also a reminder of a time before electricity, when people relied on natural light sources to illuminate their homes and workplaces.
They are a testament to human ingenuity and creativity and remind us of the importance of preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. For these reasons, antique oil lamps are rather popular and sought-after even nowadays, which shows that we as humans always look back to our roots and appreciate how far we’ve come.