In late Victorian England, glass whale oil lamps were simple utilitarian items used to light the homes of many people. They were a compromise between the cheap but smokey candles and the new fangled gas and electric lights available only to the wealthy. They came in a whole range of shapes, sizes and colours.

The simplest and cheapest examples were mainly spherical in shape, usually with a flat pedestal base. They had no handle but a metal top complete with a wick would be placed on the rough top, and an integral small metal handle would wind up the wick, usually flat braided string. These simpler types are usally found in aqua and shades of blue, and brand names such as THE LITTLE SUNBEAM, DUPLEX, SUNBRIGHT, and STAR LAMP are all known. Some carried no embossing. These small lamps always have rough shearlips as befits a cheap household item. A small glass shade would have protected the flame from draughts.


Slightly more upmarket are the larger handled whale oil lamps. These would seem to have been made for carrying around the home, lighting bedrooms etc, as they all have a glass handle. They also have better formed, thicker tops, often a ground lip. Again, a metal top would have been affixed and here the wick would be drawn up through the lamp as it burned. In most cases you will find some damage to the lip of such lamps, due to the constant wear and rotation of the metal top. These lamps come in a profusion of colours, clearglass, aqua, then glorious shades of blue, from deep blue to lighht blue. Also many shades of brown from almost yellow, though honey to dark brown. Even rarer are the lamps in purple / amethyst and even green are known. Like their smaller cousins, they would have been toped off with a glass funnel. It is possible to buy such handed lamps in UK antiques shops today as the have been passed down through families. It is also possible to recover both types from old dumps. Here, they are often lucky survivors of the journey to the tip. Some slight damage is only to be expected.

As with many of our artefacts, they remind us of an age confined to the history books - before the advent of electric lighting made such items totally redundant

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