Refurbishing Antique & Vintage Oil Lamps
In the early days before Electric lighting household lamps ran on Oil burners (Kerosene, also known as paraffin). Antique oil lamps varied greatly in design but many were standalone works of art with beautiful lampshades and ornate and finely cast Brass and metal columns and bases.
As electric lighting became popular and more widely available these beautiful old oil lamps started to become redundant. Many of these lovely old oil lamps were disposed of as electricity took hold with its clean and easy new illumination. Luckily many of these oil lamps were saved as early re purposed projects when they were converted into the new electric format of lighting.
Many Antique oil lamp enthusiasts will shudder at the thought of these original items being converted and lost forever to the Antique oil lamp world, however these conversions do allow the option of owning a quite beautiful piece of history as a modern lighting design piece.
At Auctions, flea markets etc It is not unusual to find an antique oil lamp that has a very early conversion to electricity. Often these antique pieces are made with a standard of workmanship and detail that would be financially prohibitive to reproduce today. These original early oil lamps provide a great opportunity to own something unique and beautiful in your home.
If you find one of these older conversions at an auction or a flea market you will find that they will usually need work to bring them up to modern standards.
Bringing and Antique Oil Lamp conversion up to date.
Just recently I was very lucky to come across just such a converted oil lamp, it is a brass beauty, lets have a look at the lamp, its original conversion and see the stages involved in bringing it back to life and use.
The Converted Antique Oil Lamp base as found.
This 17 Inch tall base is a design classic, it has a square stepped base, a reeded column and a beautiful Corinthian Column capital at the top with beautiful cast garlands at the base. The lamp was manufactured in Birmingham by James Hicks and Sons and dates back to the late 1800s.
The lamp is made of cast brass which is heavy and of the very best quality, underneath the base there is a cast iron sub base for extra stability.
Looking at the quality and design of this oil lamp base it is easy to see why its original owner wanted to have it converted to electricity. The electrical fitting and wiring dates the conversion to the early 1900s. Quite obviously the wiring and electrical fittings are not safe for modern use so these are removed.
The base had been drilled out and the cast iron sub base filed back to allow the passing of a thin electric cable. Above the Corinthian Column there is a purpose made turned brass section that fits into the original oil font thread, I have a feeling that whoever had this conversion carried out made sure it was done properly by a tradesman who specialised in such conversions and work on oil lamps
Modernising the original conversion.
With the old wiring removed it is now a case of checking the route for new modern wiring. Luckily this old lamp base had a central rod with a large diameter which easily accepts modern thicker cable. On the downside the edges of this central rod are rough and could cause damage to a cable casing, also where the base was drilled and filed there are a few rough edges to consider. At the top of the lamp sits a thread that will accept a modern bulb holder, however this thread sits inside a dish that makes it unsuitable for direct use as the earth point on a modern bulb holder will clash and prevent proper seating.
The rough openings on the base of the lamp were carefully smoothed out but still presented the possibility of causing a wear issue with time and use. This problem was overcome by using a length of heavy-duty plastic cable sheathing that is hard wearing and designed for such jobs.
The problem with the bulb holder seating was addressed with the use of a female threaded brass tube which was screwed onto the existing thread and lifted the bulb holder position high enough to avoid any clashes.
The finished oil lamp refurbishment.
With the wiring safely run and a new earthed bulb holder fitted the lamp just needed a light polish to bring out the dinks, marks and signs of life hidden by the years of light tarnish.
The lamp base refurbishment is now complete. In late 1800s the lamp started life as part of an Antique oil lamp, in the early 1900s it was converted to electricity and now it has been brought up to date and is ready to shine as a unique and beautiful piece of British lighting history.
Examples of some other Antique Oil Lamp Conversions.
A converted French Carcel wind up Oil Lamp from the 19th Century with a hand painted glass body and gilt fittings.
An English Staffordshire Ceramic Oil Lamp conversion with a hand painted Gothic design
An beautiful early 20th Century embossed Brass oil lamp font salvaged and mounted onto custom-made fittings.
There are a wide variety of Antique converted oil lamps to be found in todays markets, junk shops and of course on line, if you are confident and have the time you may be able to fashion yourself a complete one off and a unique piece of usable history. If you find an Oil lamp conversion that needs updating and you don’t have the time or skills then ask an electrical shop for a quote, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Conclusion and points to note.
If are attempting to update a conversion yourself.
- Make sure you carry out the work with modern wiring and follow the regulations in your part of the world, in the UK make sure the lamp is earthed.
- Check for sharp edges on the wiring path, if you find any smooth them out and use extra cable sheathing if required.
- Gently clean the old lamp, remove any dirt and staining but don’t over do the cleaning as you may lose some attractive patina and aging.
- You will be working with an item that will be anywhere from 50 to 150 years old so don’t expect it to be perfect, it will have marks, dents, scratches and small splits. Do not worry about these marks as they are part of the life of the original oil lamp, these marks tell a story so be happy that you have an old piece of lighting that you can use and enjoy.
If you have a restored Oil Lamp I would love to see an image of your lamp and to hear your restoration story.
As always if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask me and I will always do my best to help.