I think oil lamps are a great thing to collect. Not the fancy, schmancy Victorian, Gone With The Wind ones. I can’t afford those.
I am talking about the glass ones that were in every home. Even the Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie had one!
How do you know what you are getting?
1. The base
First, look at the size of the lamp. Nine times out of ten antique oil lamps are not small in size. Most of them were made rather large so that they could burn for long periods of time without needing to be refilled.
There may be a dirty film on the inside of the container. This occurs in lamps that have actually been used with kerosene. The kerosene will leave a brown film on the inside of the lamp. This does not ruin the item you will simply need to soak it in hot water for a while to loosen up the film.
The weight of the base of the lamp will tell you a lot, as well as the size. If you pick up the lamp and it feels heavy for the size that is a good sign. Antique oil lamps were made very thick and heavy.
2. The burner
You will also want to look at the part of the lamp that has holds the wick, the burner. On the older lamps this section will actually unscrew in two different places. This was simply how they were assembled. They will also be made out of brass. You can use a magnet to check it. If it is brass, the magnet won’t stick. Make sure the wick turner, a wheel on the side of the burner, moves.
3. The chimney
Another thing to look for is the chimney of the oil lamp. Antique lamps should have the original chimney still intact for them to be worth much. The chimneys are easy to replace, but the old chimneys are beautiful, and will be hand blown. You may think that this would be hard to identify but you would be surprised. Hand blown chimneys will have small imperfections through out the glass, these will come up as air bubbles in the glass. They will also be thicker than in newer oil lamps. Take it off, and look at the bottom and you will notice how thick and rough the edge is, if it is a true antique chimney. The roughness is nothing to be concerned about it is simply where they actually cut it with a glass cutter and chipped the edge off to make it sit level in the lamp.
The chimney may look dirty from smoke. My husband remembers his grandmother telling him that you should clean the chimney every day, because otherwise the smoke will build up and you won’t get as much light from the lamp.
Here is my collection…
This oil lamp was my great grandmother’s. I always keep it in my bedroom.
In the 1860′s the formulas for American glass changed and lead began to be removed from the mix, and manganese was substituted to make the glass brighter and to act as a stabilizer. People noticed that this glass made without lead but containing manganese was found to turn a very light lavender if placed in a sunny window or otherwise exposed over time to the sun. Around 1910, most glass companies ceased using manganese and substituted selenium as the clearing agent.
So, wow! Either my lamp is a total knockoff, or it is from before 1910! You can find them on eBay, using the search terms manganese and sun purple.