Combination oil and gas chandelier?

jlc102482March 26, 2012

I just picked up a great chandelier over the weekend for the front hallway of my 1857 home. However, I'm a little confused by it. It appears to be a gasolier, as it has keys and glass gas shades. However, it also has oil fonts and glass chimneys that fit inside the gas shades. Both the gas shades and the chimney shades are original. Was this a combination fixture or was it an oil fixture meant to look like gas? Also, can anyone date it for me? I was thinking 1880s because of all the prisms but I really don't know.

I've attached a couple photos. Thanks in advance!

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I can't answer your question but now that you've teased us you must show the shades. It's gorgeous & I'm looking forward to seeing it mounted.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 9:29AM
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Sorry, I meant to take a photo of the shades before I packed them away for safekeeping! (One can never be too careful with a kitten in the house...) I'll take a photo of the shades tonight. They really are lovely!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 9:59AM
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The person who electrified this did a really good job & if I hadn't seen the cord, I mightn't have noticed the sockets mounted inside the burners. My bet is that the oil fonts were taken from a different source & added to a gasolier to hide the electrical. I doubt if the oil parts are original because it would have been difficult to light the lamps unless the entire apparatus could be lowered & this one doesn't seem to be. Possibly, the same shades could have been used on both. Or maybe the gas shades were missing & that prompted the oil lamps & their shades.

Regarding the disc (I forget its proper name) that separates the arm & the font: a gas light was usually pierced for air intake but there's no reason for this with an oil lamp. Whichever description fits your lamp might tell you whether or not that piece is original to the gasolier.

Marriage or not, it's an enviable chandelier that was very well thought out & executed & no doubt will be an asset to your home.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 3:17PM
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Drool! I think Antiquesilver nailed it...but where those fonts which appear to be "of the period" I can't imagine!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 7:25PM
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Those were kerosene lamps at one time. I see a filler cap on one of the bowls. The slotted metal part on top of the bowl is the wick and chimney holder. Under the wick holder would have been a shaft with small thumb wheel for raising and lowerering the wick. (The flame size is adjusted by raising and lowering the wick. The lamp is extinguished by lowering the wick to a small flame and then a gentle puff down the chimney puts out the light. (One has to be careful, though. A tiny amount of spittle hitting a hot chimney will shatter the glass.)

The original wick holders have been highly modified to accept electric lamp sockets. The center has been machined away to make room for the socket. The wick elevator has been cut away or removed. The original flame/wick slot would have been about 1/2 to 3/8 inch wide. The wick was a flat woven piece about 1 inch wide. Excess wick lay in the fuel bowl. Occasionaly, the wick was trimmed to true its profile and to remove carbonized material. One wick could last a year or more due to the extra length stored in the bowl.

This appears to be a lmap for use over a dining table. As such, it was not at great height and was within reach for lighting. If there was no table under the lamp, it would have to have been hung above head height for safety sake. Bumpinig a lamp assenbly when lighted could be disasterous.

For rooms with 8 ft ceilings, one stood on a stool or chair to light the lamps. Taller ceilings required a lowering mechanism and that mechanism was ceiling mounted, not on the lamp assembly.

When used as a dining lamp, the assembly may have been lowered to within a couple of feet above the table to provide good lighting. These lamps did not have powerful light output, but were much better than candles.

Nothing was ever placed on the chimneys of kerosene lamps of this style because those got very hot. Lamp shades were not necessary since the light produced was yellow and not harsh. If a decorative shade existed, it would have had supports separate from the hot lamp parts. Shades may have been added when the lamp was electrified.

In your photos, I see no provision for gas lighting. If it was ever used a a gas lamp, it was first a kerosene lamp converted to gas. The burners for gas and kerosene are vastly different. I don't think its a good idea to mix the two. Each lamp needed a valve for gas lighting. But wait! is that a valve at the bottom of the U shaped support tubing?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 2:31AM
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Thanks for all the information, everyone! jemdandy, that is indeed a valve at the bottom of the u shaped support. All three arms have them. They're exactly where you would expect to find them a gas fixture, and are even the same design (wreaths) as I have seen on many other antique gas fixtures. And to answer someone else's question, there are indeed functional caps that screw onto each glass oil font.

Here are a couple photos of the shades. I'm not sure if these will help or confuse more! The chimney shades and the gas shades are definitely antiques and are both a matching set, if that helps.

So does this mean the fixture is difficult, if not impossible to date? I can't figure out if it's 1860s or 1890s - maybe it's both?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 8:36AM
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How do you know the chimney's are "antique" my experience those chimneys that are frosted were meant to be used with electric lights, and mostly date from 1955 and later....when the "early American" craze came in.
I would suggest that your chandelier was originally lit with natural gas. Sometime in it's life, the gas supply was cut off or it was moved to another house and somehow, some where someone found 3 matching oil fonts that fit the fixture. On second thought, perhaps not so odd, because the places for the glass shades on those gas hanging fixtures were pretty well standardized to 2 sizes. So some enterprising person may have made fonts to fit the gas lamps.
Then later on it was electrified. the usual way to electrify an old gas chandeliere is to run the wiring inside the gas lines....but I am sure it was cheaper to do it the way yours was done. Then at that time it was fitted with the chimney to hide the glare of an electric bulb.

It was impossible to lower a gas lamp to light....they were hard wired as it were...hooked to a galvanized gas pipe.. I have never seen a hanging gas fixture that was not meant to hang over "something".
Those old houses with gas lights had ceilings lots higher than 8 feet. I grew up in a house that had working gas lights. Most fixtures had provisions for gas and electricity. When the electricity went out, we used the gas. It also had gas heaters on the walls of both bathrooms What a treat to turn on the gas heater and get the bathroom blazing hot before a bath on a cold night! My house was built in 1903 and had gas and electric side lights in the living room, dining room, the den, the 3 second floor bedrooms....don't remember about the 3rd floor bedrooms and bath. The side lights also were electric and the shades for the electric hung down and the gas jets pointed up. But in the center of the living room was a hanging fixture ( with kezal shades) that as I recall had no gas connection. And the dining room had a huge caramel slag electric chandeliere, on a chain that could be raised or lowered, and 4 matching lights in the corners of the ceiling beams....and at least one side light, that I seem to remember as dual fueled,,,,gas and electric.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 7:34PM
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Agreeing with Linda on most of this. I doubt those chimneys are antique. I even suspect the gas shades may not be either. There are numerous sources of reproduction 'gaslight' shades. If you are wondering about the era of the style of this light, check the link below. You will find an identical body on the repro light on this page, right down to the keys and design of the leaves. If this is an antique, it would place it circa 1890 and this particular lamp is stated to be a copy of those produced by John W. Call company.

I also assume the oil lights were an addition and if this is authentic, it started out as a gas light. I don't understand why a plug is located on the electric wire if it is to be used as a ceiling fixture? That also makes me wonder if the glass bangles hiding the other wiring is also newly added solely for that purpose and that makes me wonder if even the prisms are authentic.

Let me just say........I doubt this is the original configuration of this lighting unit. If it has been 'ammended' it does grossly impact it's value as an antique. However if you want it for the charm it provides to your home it's a win situation anyway. It will be lovely for your purpose. BTW the hybrid fuel source fixtures of that era were electric with an alternate fuel.........not oil/gas.

Here is a link that might be useful: similar body style

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 9:47PM
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The plug at the top was added by the store I bought it from so they could plug it in and have it turned on. I was under the impression that the shades are original because they are very fragile and lightweight, and are also wavy and have bubbles. All of the reproduction shades I have in the house are quite different, being much more heavy and substantial without any imperfections in the glass. The etching also feels very different - on my etched reproduction shades, the etching feels rough. These, however, feel very smooth.

If it is a hybrid of some type then that will explain its price, which I thought seemed several hundred dollars too low! Fortunately for me, I bought it because I liked it and not because I wanted an investment piece. ;) I think I may use it without the chimney shades. When I saw it in the store my gut told me they didn't quite fit with the look of the chandelier, and now that instinct has been confirmed. Thanks very much to one and all, and I'll be sure to post a photo of it in its new home (i.e., the ceiling, not my kitchen table) once it's hung!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 8:45AM
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I would use the chimneys, if you intend to keep the oil fonts. Oil lights had chimneys and they would look rather strange with font bottoms and no chimneys. Some oil lamps did actually use chimneys and shades as well,so it doesn't look out of place with the shades under the chimneys. As Linda said, oil and also gas lamps had pretty standard fitter sizes for a very long time, so it wouldn't have been terribly hard to find lamps to fit those fitters. You can get reproduction fonts, as well as reproduction shades. They are often direct copies of real antique fonts/shades and are pretty true to the original, right down to being hand blown and period etched. That's how one can come upon a number of perfect matches for renovation work. BTW, I found the exact same floral shade pattern on a repro site, but in a smaller size. Since the repros are often exact copies, that doesn't preclude yours are in fact original. They may be.

Heres the thing on renovated antique lamps. There are businesses who specialise in this and their products are artful and NOT CHEAP. You can pay as much for one of their products as an intact original and have the benefit of it working and electrified and SAFE. So I'm surely not saying that such a product is bogus are anybody gets 'taken'. They're a legitimate product and worth it for someone who wants that sort of ambiance and period integrity to their home.

Here is a link that might be useful: repro font

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 10:58AM
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Here's another guess:

It was never a kerosene lamp. Originally, it was a gas lamp made to emulate the appearance of an oil lamp, and then later was converted to an electric lamp.

Another possibility:

Its a mixed bag of parts. Parts from 2 chandliers were combined to build this one. The glass bowls and chimney holders came from a kerosene fixture and the metal tubing and valves came from a gas fixture.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 12:26AM
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Thats basically what we said. Mixed bag and it was never a kerosene lamp.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 9:16AM
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No, your chandelier is not a altered mish mash Frankenstein light fixture. It was made to be and still is a oil lamp chandelier from the late 19th century, and it's really beautiful btw. I have a chandelier patent date 1882 that is a oil/kerosene fixture made to look like a gas chandelier, complete with faux gas keys, decorative glass shades and loads of drop crystals. The fashionable in-town houses of the time had beautiful gas chandeliers with short wide decorative glass shades and dripping with crystals. Those who lived where there was no municipal gas service wanted the "look" of the gas chandelier so they bought one of these. Google "three font oil lamp chandelier" and click IMAGES and you'll see plenty of kerosene chandeliers made to look like Gasoliers, fake gas keys and all.

Enjoy your chandelier! It's a really cool ORIGINAL!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 9:37PM
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