Gaslighting in America
A Guide for Historic Preservation
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Store lighted by gas pillars, 1854. Plate 30

Standards, or "pillars," were used with some frequency for lighting shop counters and bars during the 1850s. This Duval lithograph clearly shows the lighting of Charles Oakford's Model Hat Store in Philadelphia. The elaborate fittings, including the three-light gas pillars, were installed in 1854. Oakford so prized his fittings that when he moved from this store to the Continental Hotel in 1860 he reused everything movable except the marble floor. [58] The Boston jewelry store of Jones, Ball and Company had similar lighting, except there the three-light pillars were posed on pedestals set between the glass topped counters. [59] A lithograph of the Gem Saloon in New York titled "Temperance, but no Maine Law" published by A. Fay in 1854 shows the marble bar and mirror-topped back bar with single light pillars. [60] The interior of Thomas Brothers' Bar Room as shown in a wood engraving published in the New York Illustrated News for October 6, 1860, was lighted by chandeliers and by seven-branched putto-supported pillars on the bar. [61]

The lighting of stores varied greatly. A Rosenthal lithograph of L. J. Levy and Company's dry goods emporium of 1857 in Philadelphia shows elaborate pillars, brackets, and chandeliers. [62] A wood engraving of the much less elaborate dry goods establishment of James Beck and Company in New York shows rather simple four-branched chandeliers and, over the counters, a large number of single-burner harp fixtures of the type commonly used to light front entries. Peterson and Humphry's carpet store in New York was lighted by numerous gas T's. Gas T's were also used to light Cushings and Bailey's bookstore in Baltimore, but there Argand burners were substituted for the more usual fishtail burners to provide ample reading light. [63]

Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia. (click on image for a PDF version)

Chandeliers with unshaded burners, 1861. Plate 31

More often than not, burners were protected from drafts by glass shades. However, shades were not invariably used. This detail from a wood engraving after a drawing by Winslow Homer shows the forms of typical fishtail jet burners unshaded at the tips of the chandeliers' branches. This illustration was published in Harper's Weekly for December 28, 1861, and represents the interior of the City Assembly Rooms, built ca. 1859, in New York City during a charity fair in late 1861. [64]

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

Gas table lamp, 1855. Plate 32

As early as 1853, gas table lamps were in use. A watercolor of Mrs. A. W. Smith's parlor at Broad and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia painted in 1853 by Joseph Shoemaker Russell shows a gas table lamp attached by a slender brass elbow to a bracket. The lamp is a quite simple one, composed of a spirally turned standard on what appears to be a small square marble base. [65]

This gilt-bronze example, one of a pair by an unidentified maker, has been dated ca. 1855 and was used in Baltimore. [66] As the gas is supplied by a pipe from underneath the base, its form is unusual for a gaslamp and is related to the fixed pillar concept. The more commonly used portable single-burner lamps of the period were fed gas through a rubber hose connected at the side of the base. The elaborate Neo-Rococo design combines flowers, fruit, foliage, a putto with a bird (at the springing point of the arms), and four small heads, two male and two female, on the arms. The glass bobeches and teardrop pendants add further flitter to an already eye filling tour de force of lavish ornament.

The shades are of a type normally found on oil lamps rather than on gas burners. They certainly are not well adapted for fishtail jets and could not have worked at all with batswing burners. No other instance of the use of shades of this shape with gas burners is known on American fixtures.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1967. (click on image for a PDF version)

Gas brackets from the 1856 Starr, Fellows and Company catalogue. Plate 33

Until after the Civil War, Philadelphia retained its lead as the principal manufacturing center of American gas fixtures primarily because of the volume produced in that city by Cornelius, Baker and Company. New York and Boston were also producing significant quantities of gas fixtures during the 1850s and later (see plate 20). For example, New York City directories recorded two gas fixture makers in 1847, but by 1860 their number had risen to twenty-four. [67] Not the least important among New York firms was Starr, Fellows and Company, which became Fellows, Hoffman and Company on February 1, 1857. [68] Fortunately, a copy of a Starr, Fellows catalogue dated 1856 with Fellows, Hoffman addenda through 1858-1859 has survived. This ephemeral publication is the earliest complete American catalogue of gas fixtures that has been rediscovered. [69] It is an invaluable source of information for the positive identification of many unmarked fixtures.

The preface to the catalogue states that "a few samples only" are presented, as the "styles are continually changing." The text added, "We get up, to order, Chandeliers, Pendants, and Brackets, of any design, as regards pattern, or size that may be desired." Furthermore, "These are all made in the various colors of Gilt, Olive, French Bronze, Artistic Bronze, or any two colors in combination and with or without Slides." [70] The lithographed illustrations were made from drawings done by young ladies who were students at the New York School of Art. The firm cited this as evidence that they were patronizing a worthy cause; however, it is possible that the budding artists may have been paid somewhat less than the rate required by full-fledged professionals. The text reference to this and the preceding page of gas brackets (not reproduced) reads as follows: "These Brackets are finished in any modern Fancy Color desired. Nos. 40, 734, and 317, on this and 700, 724, and 112 on succeeding page [shown here] make very fine Church Fixtures." It is difficult to perceive any specifically ecclesiastical character in their design, however. Salesmanship sometimes takes odd turns!

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts. (click on image for a PDF version)

Morning-Glory bracket by Starr, Fellows and Company, 1856. Plate 34

This is a morning-glory bracket (mislabeled "Lily") shown on the preceding Starr, Fellows and Company plate. Fixtures with glass "blossoms" of this type imitating morning-glories, lilies, or fuchsias enjoyed a minor vogue during the 1850s. Characteristically, the gas light jetted straight out instead of upward as on the more conventional models. This and a similar bracket, probably by another maker, are in the collection at the Henry Ford Museum. Plate 1 of the catalogue of the Archer, Warner and Miskey designs (not shown) illustrates another "Lily" among their collection of swing brackets.

Courtesy of the Collections of Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan. (click on image for a PDF version)

Starr, Fellows and Company chandelier, ca. 1856. Plate 35

Another item attributable to Starr, Fellows and Company through plate 33 of this report is this chandelier, whose branches are identical with those of the bracket numbered 700. However, this original example, now in the Smithsonian Institution Castle has been subjected to some alterations during refurbishing. Originally, the finish would have been varied, not all bright gold. The globular shades would have had smaller bases and been made of a lighter, less densely frosted glass. Because reproductions currently on the market unsatisfactorily imitate different styles of shades, restorationists are much in need of better commercially available reproductions.

Since 1964 the Smithsonian Institution Castle has collected over sixty 19th century gas fixtures for restoration. This represents one of the major collections in the United States today in one building.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. (click on image for a PDF version)

Detail of chandelier in plate 35. Plate 36

It is by close observation of details such as branches and gas keys that the makers of fixtures may be identified. As already mentioned, this branch (a detail of the chandelier in the previous plate) identifies the fixture as having been manufactured by Starr, Fellows and Company. It also links at least two chandeliers formerly in Quarters One at Springfield, Massachusetts, Armory and two others once in the George Washington Whittemore House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Starr, Fellows and Company as well.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. (click on image for a PDF version)

Various fixtures from Starr, Fellows and Company catalogue, 1856. Plate 37

This plate, also from the Starr, Fellows and Company catalogue, presents a variety of designs typical of the 1850s. Chandeliers having several rods (no. 78 and no. 80) to conduct the gas instead of a single stem to conduct the gas, were common during the 1850s. Later examples are very rare. Chandeliers no. 357 and no. 594 are of the standard central stemmed type that usually had three, four, or six branches and occasionally five. Bracket no. 22 is of a simple form, and no. 127 (lower right) is a hall light, or pendant, of the characteristic harp type with a glass or porcelain smoke bell. An elaborate variation on the hall harp theme is shown in no. 131.

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts. (click on image for a PDF version)

Rod-hung chandelier, ca. 1856, similar to no.78 on plate 37. Plate 38

This chandelier of the rod-hung type has many elements that are similar to, although not identical with, those of the Starr Fellows no. 78 on the previous plate. Because this chandelier has keys precisely like those of the chandelier mentioned on plate 26, it is probable that all are by the same maker. An attribution to Cornelius, Baker and Company seems perfectly plausible in this case; the likelihood is that Starr, Fellows and Company deliberately produced their no. 78 to compete with an already extant design. The finish of this chandelier, one of a pair in the office of the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, is dark bronze with gilt accents. The modern shades are incorrect in shape and the quality of the glass, which is too thick and too heavily frosted.

Tudor Place in Washington has a five-rod chandelier that has elements identical in appearance with those of Starr, Fellows and Company's no. 78. [71] The George Washington Whittemore House formerly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had a three-rod chandelier with many elements, including bowl, branches, keys, and rods, identical with the Smithsonian pair. [72] A three-rod, six-branched example once hung in the library of the T. B. Winchester House at 138 Beacon Street in Boston. [73] As this last chandelier had no elements identical with either Starr, Fellows and Company's chandeliers or those attributed here to Cornelius and Baker, it seems evident that yet another maker manufactured rod-suspension gaseliers.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. (click on image for a PDF version)

Various fixtures from Fellows, Hoffman and Company catalogue, 1857-1859. Plate 39

This plate bears the newly transformed Fellows, Hoffman firm "name and style" and must date between 1857 and 1859. Shown are two hall pendants (top right), a small pendant, a comparatively elaborate "T" pendant (bottom left), a chandelier (bottom right), and a lamp or "stand" (top left). Under the last fixture, the caption "Spring Gas Stand" refers to the allegorical subject of the statuette, not to any mechanism activated by a spring. Another page (not shown) of the catalogue shows a lamp captioned "Franklin Gas Stand" with a Statuette of Benjamin Franklin.

The text of the earlier Starr, Fellows catalogue page headed "Gas Reading Lamps" reads as follows:

These Lamps or Gas Stands, are furnished with any desired length of tube—6 feet being the quantity usually required, which is prepared exclusively for Gas, and will not leak. The hook is fitted with a universal socket, which will fit any common fishtail or bat-wing burner and is of sufficient length to go over the Glass Shade of the Parlor Chandelier. Elegant Paper Shade Reflectors accompany these Stands.

At least two examples of the chandelier no. 103 are known to exist. One is the collection of Lee B. Anderson in New York City. [74] The other is illustrated by the following plate 40.

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts. (click on image for a PDF version)

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Last Updated: 30-Nov-2007