Gaslighting in America
A Guide for Historic Preservation
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Polychromed Gothic Revival fixtures from Cornelius and Sons catalogue, probably 1876. Plate 80

The 7-1/2-foot high standard and brackets shown here in the undated Cornelius and Sons catalogue were meant to be ecclesiastical fixtures, polychromed with accents of red and blue. They were probably designed by J. M. Beesley. [130] A precedent for this polychromed, or "decorated" standard of ivy-ornamented Gothic Revival pattern (and also for the use of large coronas in church lighting) was set at least as early as 1853, by the use of similar gas standards in the restoration of the 15th-century St. Botolph's Church in Boston, Lincolinshire. That major English parish church installation was illustrated and described in the Illustrated London News as follows:

The arrangement of the lights is novel and successful. Instead of the usual plain of solitary brackets scattered ineffectively over the church, there are rich brass standards, each bearing a considerable number of jets, and producing a vista of light. Over the font is suspended a magnificent corona bearing nearly a hundred lights. The adaptation of the modern invention of gas to ancient churches, so as not to destroy the effect of their architectural structure by incongruous fittings, has long been one of the most vexed problems of church restoration. The most fastidious stickler for ancient precedent would acknowledge that the richly-decorated standards and the crown of light at the western end harmonise so entirely with the whole building in its restored aspect, that they might almost be deemed part of the original design. [131]

Coronas such as that installed by Cornelius and Sons in the Columbus Avenue Universalist Church in Boston in 1873 and the one (probably by Mitchell, Vance and Company) that hung in Trinity Church, Boston from 1877 until the 1930s were apparently popular for major American Victorian Gothic churches of the 1860s and 1870s. The original model for them was probably the magnificent corona given in 1168 by Friedrich Barbarossa to Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). [132]

Courtesy of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. (click on image for a PDF version)

Gothic Revival brackets from Archer and Pancoast Company catalogue, probably 1876. Plate 81

The Archer and Pancoast Manufacturing Company had a prominent display at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia. This plate shows that the New York firm, founded by Ellis S. Archer, competed with Cornelius and Sons in the church fixture field with their own version of the Gothic Revival ivy pattern, albeit some of their burners had shades instead of being left unshaded in the more conventionally "Gothic" manner. These brackets were "decorated" in gilt, red, and blue. The rather prickly silhouettes of the ivy leaves suited the taste of the 1870s for stylized outlines. This plate is one of a series of 110 now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, all but the last three of which are lithographed in color. Among the lithographers are Brett Fairchild and Company, Brett and Company, and Schumacher and Ettlinger. The plate numbers ruin at least as high as 262, so there may well have once been additional chromolithographs now lost. The extant plates include illustrations of such less frequently encountered types of fixtures as "toilets" (chandeliers suspended from brackets for use at dressing tables), cigar lighters, and reflectors as well as the more often illustrated chandeliers, brackets, lamps, pendants, and pillars.

The previous history of the firm that did business under the name of the Archer and Pancoast Manufacturing Company from 1870 until it ceased operations in 1900 has already been traced (see plates 21 and 45 of this report). During the 1860s and 1870s it was certainly the principal New York rival of Mitchell, Vance and Company, and in 1876 seven of its fixtures were illustrated in an article that described the firm as follows: "Archer and Pancoast M'F'G Co., Designers, and Manufacturers of Gasaliers, Candelabra, Artistic Bronzes, Etc... one of the largest and most popular manufacturers of this class of goods..., has grown to immense proportions." [133]

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittlesey Fund, 1951. (click on image for a PDF version)

Pendants and brackets from Archer and Pancoast Company catalogue, probably 1876. Plate 82

These angular bronze-finished Archer and Pancoast hall pendants clearly show the reaction against the earlier Neo-Rococo style that came about during the 1860s and continued during the 1870s under the stylistic misnomer, "Eastlake." Nothing in these designs can be called Neo-Grec. The pendant at the upper left, no. 905, is decidedly eclectic. It has the angularity of the Eastlake manner, combined with putti (in a rather disconsolate looking crouch) who look like refugees from the earlier, more romantic style of the 1850s. The pendants vary in length from 42 to 52 inches. Note the smoke bells and the single set screws securing the shades. A hall pendant similar in general style to these hangs in the hall of the restored Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. That house was originally completed in 1874. [134]

The two brackets seem also to refer back to an earlier romanticism. One of the figurines appears to be a Greek evzone, perhaps Marco Bozzaris, the hero of Fitz-Greene Halleck's once famous poem of that name. The other is in female oriental garb, possibly representing Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittlesey Fund, 1951. (click on image for a PDF version)

Center slide chandeliers and bracket from Archer and Pancoast Company catalogue, probably 1876. Plate 83

The Archer and Pancoast plate no. 224 shows two chandeliers and a single bracket finished in bronze with touches of gilding. The Neo-Grec center-slide chandelier at the left could have been intended for either a library, a dining room, or a back parlor. It has none of the specific symbolism that signified "appropriateness" as that term was understood by style-conscious Victorians. The chandelier at the right has minor details that relate to the Eastlake manner as it was interpreted commercially in America. It was almost certainly intended for use in a dining room, since the stag's heads above the branches were meant to represent edible game. The left-hand chandelier measured 5 feet high by just under 3 feet wide, and the one at the right was 4 feet 4 inches high with a spread of 2 feet 2 inches. Presumably the heights were measured with the center slides closed. Note that all burners were counted when describing center-slide fixtures: thus, a "seven-light" center-slide fixture had six branches plus the central burner.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittlesey Fund, 1951. (click on image for a PDF version)

Engraving of center-slide chandelier by Archer and Pancoast Company, 1876. Plate 84

Competition in the manufacture of center-slide chandeliers was evidently keen. Mitchell, Vance and Company boasted of the "superiority over all others" of their "patent double slide centre light chandelier," while Archer and Pancoast dubbed the "extension centre light attachment" they patented in May 1874, with the inspiring name "Excelsior." This illustration of a chandelier incorporating an "Excelsior" center-light was published in London by the Art Journal in 1876. [135] The accompanying text under the heading "American Art-Manufactures" reads as follows:

We present a design for a gas-chandelier selected from the exhibition-rooms of Messrs. Archer, Pancoast and Company, of New York. It is in the style of the time Louis XIV [a stylistic attribution that would have astonished the Sun King], and is intended for the drawing-room or library. With the extension centre-light attachment, which is known as the "Excelsior," and patented under that name in May 1874, it is also especially adapted for use in the dining-room. The attachment admits of the lowering of the centre-light, and argand burner, from the main body of the chandelier to any desirable distance. The mechanism of the attachment is plain and simple in construction, and its operation is free from many of the intricate contrivances peculiar to slide-chandeliers as heretofore made.... The general effect of the chandelier is light and graceful and yet the central standard renders it unusually strong and massive. The ornamental work is of the finest workmanship, and the whole is richly gilt. It was designed by Mr. J. F. Travis. [136] The centre-light attachment was awarded a silver medal, at the recent fair of the American Institute; and a similar medal was also given to the firm for the superior quality of their work....

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

Chandeliers from Archer and Pancoast Company catalogue, probably 1876. Plate 85

Plate no. 262 in the Archer and Pancoast series shows two gilded chandeliers probably designed for drawing or reception rooms. Possibly the example on the left would have been called "in the style of the time of Louis XIV," and it is probable that the one on the right would have been so described in the 1870s. The age of accurate copying of past styles had not yet arrived; free interpretation of historic modes was still the prevailing practice. The six-light chandelier was 53 inches high and had a spread of 31 inches. The two claws opposite the set screw can clearly be seen engaging the bases of the two right-hand shades, a detail that is rarely illustrated. The 12-light gas candle chandelier at the right was 51 inches high and 28 inches wide.

The right hand chandelier is one of the very few Archer and Pancoast fixtures shown with gas candles. None of the 92 fixtures of all varieties shown in the Cornelius and Sons catalogue has gas candles, and only one (a church chandelier) of the 12 fixtures illustrated in the Mitchell, Vance and Company Centennial Catalogue (really more a brochure than a full-fledged catalogue) has them. When gas candles were used during the 1860s and 1870s, they were most often in dining rooms. Had this chandelier been intended for a dining room, however, it would probably have had a center-slide light. Aside from their use in church fixtures, gas candles appear to have been reserved almost exclusively for dwellings of some consequence until nearly the end of the century. Then they were often used on combination gas and electric fixtures. [137] In this plate the shape of the burners and the glass bobeches and porcelain or opaque glass "candle" sleeves can be clearly seen.

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittlesey Fund, 1951. (click on image for a PDF version)

Reflectors from Archer and Pancoast Company catalogue, probably 1876. Plate 86

The last three uncolored plates in the Archer and Pancoast series illustrate reflectors. Patents for reflectors were registered as early as 1860 (by another manufacturer, Isaac P. Frink), but the devices seem to have reached their greatest proliferation during the 1870s. They were essentially a sideline of Archer and Pancoast's business, but the firm obviously felt that aspect of the trade sufficiently worthwhile to warrant securing patents based on minor variations of the basic patents secured by another manufacturer. Reflectors were lined with either mirrored glass or silvered metal and were used wherever intense, concentrated light was required. They were made in various sizes, depending on the area to be illuminated. Note that Archer and Pancoast's customers were instructed as follows: "In ordering Reflectors or Chandeliers, send size of room to be lighted, and state if they are to be inserted In or suspended From ceiling." The large picture, "No. 900—Double Cone Reflector" appears to have been designed for insertion in a ceiling. Presumably inserted fixtures were connected with vents to draw off the heat. The "Ornamental Double Cone Reflector" at the lower left was intended "For Stores, Churches, Reading Rooms, &c." and could be fitted for either "Gas or Kerosene," as could the "Octagonal Show Window Reflector" and the "Plain Double Cone Reflector" adjoining it. The octagonal shade on the bracket at the lower right was "Lined with Silver Plated Glass." The show window reflector was used in connection with an eight-burner gas "T" and met a comparatively new demand engendered by the rapidly increasing use of large sized plate glass in store windows. [138]

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittlesey Fund, 1951. (click on image for a PDF version)

Yale classroom with reflector chandeliers. Plate 87

The classroom used by Professor Othiniel Charles Marsh (1831-1899) at Yale was lighted by what appear to be Archer and Pancoast's Plain Double Cone Reflectors (cf. plate 86). The pioneer paleontologist's students evidently required more light than the stained glass windows of the Peabody Museum lecture room could admit in order to take their notes. Observe that the striations of the reflecting surfaces of the shade are at right angles to those of the inner cone, a device to increase the reflective power of the light.

Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University. (click on image for a PDF version)

A reconstruction of reflectors used at the Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876. Plate 88

The manufacturing business established in 1857 by Isaac P. Frink specialized in making reflectors. Between April 10, 1860, and April 3, 1883, Frink registered at least 13 patents for reflectors. [139] The I. P. Frink brochure for 1883, referred to "Frink's Patent Reflectors for gas, kerosene, electric, or day-light" and called his device "the Great Church Light for churches, halls, theaters, depots, stores, and public buildings generally." Frink's improved silver-plated corrugated crystal glass reflectors were praised as the best reflectors available. Because gas was listed first as a source of light, it seems safe to assume that most, or at least a majority, of the Frink reflectors were fitted with gas burners. The brochure concludes with a list of 406 presumably satisfied customers and an analysis of that list provides an excellent indication of the uses of most of the reflectors. The list included 243 testimonials from churches, most of them nonliturgical in their form of worship; for instance, 111 were from Methodist churches. Churches using older forms of liturgy tended to favor the Gothic Revival styles.

Theaters formed the next largest building category and together with halls numbered 51. Among the 15 government buildings listed were the statehouses of Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as the Canadian Houses of Parliament in Ottawa. Among the structures furnished with I. P. Frink reflectors by 1883 were: railroad stations (including Grand Central Depot in New York City), steamship piers (including the French Line and Inman Line), market buildings, armories, locomotive works, and other factories, exhibition halls (including Mechanics' Hall in Boston), business and commerce buildings (including the New York Life Insurance Company and Tiffany's store), and the picture galleries of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the earlier Century Club building in New York.

The fixture shown here is an electrically lighted reconstruction by the Smithsonian Institution of the type of fixture used to light the main exhibition building at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The originals, of course, were gaslighted and the reconstruction, made for the Smithsonian exhibition titled "1876 A Centennial Exhibition," is based on photographs. The original fixtures appear to have been Frink reflectors, although the Centennial is not listed among the installations in the 1883 Frink brochure.

One use of reflectors has yet to be mentioned—the illumination of billiard tables. A fixture with three reflecting shades may be seen over the billiard table at the restored Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. [140]

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

Milwaukee Department Store Interior, ca. 1870. Plate 89

This detail from a W. H. Sherman stereograph of Chapman's Dry Goods Emporium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shows a typical four-light chandelier ca. 1870. Another view of the same store shows one of the long aisles leading to the dome lighted by at least six chandeliers matching this one. Although reflectors might have provided more efficient light for shop interiors, it is probable that they did not conform to the public's notion of elegance. Views of store interiors made during the 1870s almost invariably show more or less ornamental chandeliers. It therefore seems likely that the use of reflectors in commercial emporia was confined to the display windows.

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

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Last Updated: 30-Nov-2007