Gaslighting in America
A Guide for Historic Preservation
NPS Logo

Chandelier with cased glass vase and bowl, ca 1850. Plate 20

This chandelier, ornamented by a blue-over-clear cased glass bowl and baluster vase of the type popularly called "Bohemian," has well chased gilt bronze castings of excellent quality. It dates from around 1850, was used in Massachusetts, and was probably made in Boston. The chandelier has been tentatively attributed to Henry N. Hooper and Company, with the glass parts attributed to either the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company or the New England Glass Company. [39]

Central glass elements are very unusual. In 1848, frosted and etched glass bowls and vases of similar or identical shape were used on a pair of parlor chandeliers in the Valentine-Fuller House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That evidence supports a Boston provenance for this chandelier. But the attribution to the Hooper firm must remain putative at best, as several manufacturers of gas fixtures were active in Boston at the time, among them G.D. Jarves and Cormerais, and Henry B. Stanwood and Company. [40] It is interesting to note that Stanwood advertised his firm as "manufacturers and importers."

It should be mentioned that the Cambridge Gas Light Company was not formally chartered until 1852, though it had commenced operations a few years before its charter was granted. As early as 1848, the Valentine-Fuller House and, in 1850, the George Washington Whittemore House had city gas in Cambridge. A number of American gas companies were in business before receiving their charters. [41] In Washington, D. C., for example, a functioning gas company existed as early as 1848, but it was not chartered until 1855.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1969. (click on image for a PDF version)

Archer and Warner grapevine patterned gaselier, 1850. Plate 21

This Neo-Rococo six-branched gaselier was manufactured by the Philadelphia firm of Archer and Warner and was included in their catalogue as shown on plate 23. The treatment of the grapevine motif is naturalistic and is typical of mid-century fashions in design. Ornamentation derived from the grapevine was also popular as a carved motif on furniture of the period.

The fixture was originally fitted with globe shaded burners rather than gas candles. Later it was slightly shortened and electrified.

Archer and Warner competed with Cornelius and Baker in the quality of their work, though not in the volume of their production. Ellis S. Archer, a Philadelphia merchant, patented a lard lamp on June 8, 1842, and thereafter engaged in its manufacture. In 1848, Redwood F. Warner joined Archer in partnership, and by 1850 the firm had become a leading manufacturer of gas fixtures, lamps, and girandoles. On March 18, 1850, patents were issued to them on designs for brackets and chandeliers, one of which was this dated example. [42] One Archer and Warner design for a bracket was based on the fuchsia plant and was analogous in spirit to the morning-glory branches seen in plates 18 and 19. [43]

Courtesy of the Reverend and Mrs. W. B. Morton III, Waterford, Virginia, photograph by Jack E. Boucher. (click on image for a PDF version)

Detail of chandelier chain in plate 21 with 1850 patent date. Plate 22

If at all labeled, most chandeliers carry their maker's mark on the gas turn keys. The Archer and Warner example in plate 21 has highly ornamental keys in the form of grape leaves and bunches of grapes precluding placement of a maker's mark. Hence, the unusual positioning of the mark illustrated here is on the reverse side of each link of the decorative chains. Barely legible here is the patent date "March 19, 1850."

Patents were often sought as much for their advertising value as for any other reason. Indeed, Archer's lard lamp of 1842 appears not to have been a very practicable bit of gadgetry but patented primarily for the publicity value. [44] However, the Archer and Warner design patents of March 19, 1850, may have been sought in response to a pirating of their designs by minor manufacturers. There is some evidence that unscrupulous makers actually recast their competitors' designs from molds taken of the original fixtures. [45]

Courtesy of the Reverend and Mrs. W. B. Morton III, Waterford, Virginia, photograph by Jack E. Boucher. (click on image for a PDF version)

Plate from Archer, Warner, Miskey and Company catalogue, 1857-1859, showing gaselier with grapevine motif. Plate 23

This page from an Archer, Warner, Miskey and Company catalogue advertises the same chandelier illustrated in plate 21. The chains, branches, and ornamental finial below the bowl are identical. The vase ornament which is not present on the extant chandelier may have been discarded. Also, the bowl is a variation and lacks its cover. As already noted the actual fixture has been slightly shortened and electrified.

The colors of this plate are green, yellow, and orange, indicating bronze, burnished gilt, and matte gilt. The globular shades were evidently unfrosted, as the burners are visible through them.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittlesey Fund, 1958. (click on image for a PDF version)

Rococo chandelier, ca. 1850. Plate 24

Originally from an Alexandria, Virginia, building of the early 1850s, this chandelier depends more upon formalized Rococo treatment of foliate motifs and a little less upon naturalistic renditions of natural forms than the examples shown on plates 18, 20, and 21. The branches of those three preceding chandeliers are formed of paired castings joined together, whereas the branches here are made of brass tubing to which the ornament has been applied. The foliate crown above the chains, the bobeches below the shades, the "spiders" (shade holders), and the plaster ceiling ornament are modern, as well as the brass canopy at the top. Such canopies are required for the installation of electrified fixtures to protect the wires, which are usually joined with wire nuts at that point. This chandelier has been shortened about eight inches. When found, bronze powder and banana oil radiator paint had totally obscured the original finish. Cleaning has revealed the contrast of matte and burnished gilding and bright lacquered brass proper to its appearance. The globes, frosted with the popular griffin pattern, date from around 1880 and postdate the chandelier itself by about 30 years.

When electrifying a gas fixture the shortest possible candle fittings should be used, unless gas candles were originally present. While the diameter of even the smallest electric candles is too great to imitate gas burners with complete success, shades will normally help to conceal this defect. Painting the sleeves of the electric candles a dark gold, to resemble tarnished brass, or gun metal or a matte black, to resemble iron burners, will enhance the effect. Unless dimmers are used, clear glass bulbs of no more than 10 watts should be used to approximate the light emitted by a standard fishtail burner.

From the author's collection, photograph by Jack E. Boucher. (click on image for a PDF version)

Parlor gaselier, ca. 1856, still functioning with gas burners. Plate 25

This relatively simple gilt ormolu and lacquered brass gaselier of a charmingly light and delicate vine pattern is a considerable rarity. It is one of a matched pair in situ in a large parlor and has never been electrified. They are in an Alexandria, Virginia, house that was completed in 1856. The light visible through the turn-of-the-century shades comes from burners actually burning gas. Compare the diameter of the burners, visible through the later shade-holders, with the diameter of the electric candles in the preceding plate. Note also that no canopy is used; the gas pipe goes directly into the ceiling through the rich, original plaster centerpiece. Many early chandeliers have later shades, as in numerous cases the original shades were broken. Often they were replaced by widemouthed shades, around 1880 or later, to increase the efficiency of combustion by admitting more air to the burners (which also helped to eliminate flickering). As the keys of this chandelier and the one in plate 24 are identical, it is safe to assume that both fixtures are by the same unidentified maker.

From a private collection, photograph by Jack E. Boucher. (click on image for a PDF version)

Allegorical gaselier, ca. 1853. Plate 26

Allegorical bronze statuettes were very much en vogue during the 1850s as ornaments for gaseliers. The three females gracing the stem of this fixture from the 1853 Edmund Ira Richards House (now demolished) in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, represent art, science, and industry. [46] The same figures appear on the two parlor chandeliers of the 1851 Robert Campbell House in St. Louis, and on the parlor chandelier of "Camden," the Pratt family seat completed in 1859, in Caroline County, Virginia. [47] Another six-branched chandelier, now in the Smithsonian Institution Castle, has a trio of somewhat more sprightly statuettes—short-skirted female figures perhaps representing flora, Pomona, or other minor deities.

The branches and other components of the Campbell House and "Camden" fixtures differ from those illustrated here. But the Smithsonian example has branches identical with these, and the hall chandelier of the Wickham-Valentine House in Richmond, Virginia, has the same keys as both this one and the one in the Smithsonian. It therefore seems probable that these last three fixtures were made by the same firm, possibly Cornelius and Baker.

It should be noted that none of the chandeliers mentioned here had the ornamental chains so characteristic of the 1840s. The shades of this chandelier have the small-necked bases appropriate for the date of the fixture. But their globular form and the Neo-Grec character of their acid-etched banding could not date earlier than the 1860s. The canopy above the stem suggests Art Nouveau and appears to date from around 1900.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Frederick Wildman, 1964. (click on image for a PDF version)

Engraving of Cornelius and Baker fixtures shown at the International Exhibition in New York City, 1853-1854. Plate 27

At the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London's Crystal Palace, Cornelius and Baker showed a pair of richly ornamented, lacquered brass 15-burner gaseliers measuring about 15-1/2 feet high by 6 feet wide. The keys represented "bunches of fruit, thus combining beauty with utility." [48] Two years later the firm exhibited at least three gas fixtures, including the two shown here, at the New York Crystal Palace during the International Exhibition of 1853-1854. The third was a four-light bracket of heavily gilded bronze. A putto springing from acanthus rinceaux held the branches, only two of which were engraved. Apparently one key opened all four branches just below their springing point. [49]

The two fixtures represented in this wood engraving were described as follows:

The Chandelier is very rich and beautiful, suited to adorn as well as illuminate the apartment in which it may be hung. The bronze of which it is made has a tint of rich, deep green, which is relieved with admirable effect by the brilliancy of the gilding applied to the decorative parts. The adjoining Bracket with a pendent chandelier of four lights is also characterized by elegance of form and ornamentation, excepting, however, the little figures perched just above the branches of the lights. These have no adaptation to a chandelier, and violate a fundamental law of decorative art, that all ornamentation should rise out of construction and belong to it. [50]

Chandeliers depending from large brackets, like the ensemble at the right, were often called "toilets" when placed next to dressing mirrors. At least one fine set of such pendants cantilevered on brackets still exists, projecting from the gallery parapets of the Beneficent Congregational Meeting House ("Round Top Church") in Providence, Rhode Island.

As noted previously, upon the death of Christian Cornelius in 1851, his son Robert and his son-in-law Isaac F. Baker formed a partnership. [51] Within three years William C. Baker also became a partner. Whereas Isaac F. Baker was listed as "lamp manufacturer," William C. Baker was listed as "merchant." [52] In 1859 Robert's son, Robert Comeley Cornelius, became a partner, and by 1861 another son, John C. Cornelius, was a partner in Cornelius, Baker and Company. [53] Evidently, Robert Cornelius was the driving force behind the success of the company from the time he joined his father in 1831. By 1857 the company had two factories, linked by telegraph, in operation, one at 181 Cherry Street and the other at Columbia Avenue and 5th Street in Philadelphia. [54]

From the author's collection. (click on image for a PDF version)

Elaborate chandelier, probably by Cornelius, ca 1849. Plate 28

This richly ornamented gilt bronze and lacquered brass fixture hangs in the Ashburton House, now St. John's Parish House, in Washington, D.C. It probably dates from 1849, when the house was reacquired from an interim owner by Her Majesty's Government for use again as the British Legation. [55] The chandelier is particularly well populated, as there are six putti emerging from the foliate scrolls of the branches, three angels on the vase above the bowl, and three ladies standing symbolically on the stem. Unfortunately, the quality of the modern shade reproductions accords poorly with the superlative workmanship of the fixture.

Although it is unmarked, a strong case can be made stylistically for attributing this chandelier to the Cornelius firm (cf. plate 27). If the putative date of 1849 is correct, there was no other firm in America at the time, with the possible exception of Archer and Warner, capable of producing work of this quality.

Courtesy of St. John's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C., photograph by Jack E. Boucher. (click on image for a PDF version)

Ball scene with supplemental lighting, New York City, 1863. Plate 29

Light has traditionally accompanied festivity, and this wood engraving of a ball (for the officers of the Imperial Russian Atlantic fleet at the Academy of Music in New York City on November 5, 1863) shows that extra light was sometimes provided by temporary pipes rimming the horseshoe-shaped galleries of the auditorium with rows of burners. Curiously, the half of the engraving shown here depicts the burners at the base of the first tier parapet as shaded, where the left half of the print (not shown) represents Scotch tips without shades. [56] The large chandeliers within the stage were also installed for the ball.

The lighting of theater auditoria varied. The New York Academy of Music, built in 1854, was normally lighted by multibranched brackets affixed to the gallery parapets. Its domed ceiling had no chandelier. The Opera House at Niblo's Garden in New York had a similar arrangement of lighting fixtures. However, the very large Boston Theatre in 1854 had an auditorium lighted by an immense prism-hung chandelier. The 1863 Ford's Theatre in Washington, now restored, has a six-branched chandelier suspended in front of each set of proscenium boxes and a row of single-branched brackets on the second balcony ("family circle") parapet.

One great mid-century American theatre, the Academy of Music of 1857 in Philadelphia, has survived substantially unchanged. Cornelius, Baker and Company supplied both gallery parapet brackets and a notable prism-ornamented central chandelier to light the auditorium. The chandelier originally had 240 gas burners and measured 16 feet wide by 25 feet high. It was "said to be the largest in the world." [57]

From the Library of Congress. (click on image for a PDF version)

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 30-Nov-2007