Historical Lighting

In 1893 when the Crow’s Nest was built there was no electrical lighting. But, also in 1893 Columbia Exhibition in Chicago (The First Worlds Fair) was lit by Nicola Tesla’s AC current and newly improved light bulbs. I wonder if the Mertes Family went to the fair? I hope they did because if I had a time machine seeing the famous White City glowing by incandescent light would be one of the first places I would go (along with visiting the court of Queen Elizabeth I, going to a speak easy with my great grandparent in the 1920s, and attending the Volo Christmas Ball in 1864 to name a few.)

I digress, Johnsburg also did not have gas lines and our house was never wired for gas from what I can tell so that meant our house had to be lit by oil lamp. Luckily I’m familiar with this subject as my great grandmothers house was lit by oil lamp till the 1940s and my family simply electrified our oil chandeliers.

So this is what would have been in our home.

These lights would have been in the parlor, library, or dinning room to impress guests

This more simple version would have been in the kitchen or areas that were not seen by guests like maybe the bedrooms upstairs.

These sconces were very popular when the Crow’s Nest was built. The mirror mounted behind the light would reflect the light back into the space. The lamp could be taken down to be refilled or carried by the user at night.

The problem with oil lamps and candles is that they were easy to tip over and fires could start. The smell of the oil is not very pleasant either. My grandmother said sometimes they used whale oil but otherwise kerosene oil was used. It probably wasn’t until the 1920s when the house had been electrified that electric lights would have illuminated our wonderful home.

It does make me stop and think what our lights would have looked like. Would they have simply electrified the old oil lamps like my family did or did they install new lights? Maybe the Schaefers could tell me.

But for now I am assuming they put in new lights. So my hunt began to look for 1920s lights. I didn’t want the new art deco style of the time because it would not have really gone with the house but, something more traditional. As any architectural historian would do I began to look at old catalogs and advertisements of the period and found that I like what I saw. Most light fixtures were brass or copper with glass shades. Nothing to gaudy or out of place. I am starting with two lights to begin with and as I go about restoring room by room I will contemplate what needs to be done. Sara, who is forever practical, is a fan of ceiling fans which I don’t mind but they do ruin the historic aesthetic. I am slowly trying to convince her to let me hang more historic lights.

Many of these lights could be ordered by catalog and shipped. The illustrations are amazing. Nowadays we have pictures on amazon.

Lighting is super important. It sets the tone and feel of a room. I want a warm light. Not a blueish glow of LEDs. They now make LEDs with a tinted yellow that I am looking into. They golden light makes me think of gas or candle lighting which in my opinion was much more flattering then today’s electric light. Honestly I think it wasn’t so bright and harsh so you could hide more flaws…

The first place I added historic lights was the entry. When the Jaggers wallpapered the ceiling in the front foyer they removed whatever light fixture was there and never replaced it. I saw the wires sticking out from beneath the paper and there was a switch that went to nowhere. After working with my electrician friend we realized it was still live! That was a scary thought. I went on etsy and found a shop that sells restored historic lights. After much debate I chose a simple flush mount with 2 hanging bulbs. I found the flame shades online at a company who specializes in historical reproductions. They are sorta gothic, kinda art deco, kinda well…me. Now we could enter the house and have light!

I am sort of second guessing myself on the shades. Maybe I’ll switch them out for something more traditional.

The library light was a different story. Sara and I were with my parents in Shipshewana, Indiana at their large flea market. We were a week from closing on the house and I was on the look out for old house parts (I came home with a few treasures). For those of you who do not know, Shipshewana and its neighboring communities is Amish country and they tend to hold onto things, old things. I was in one of the Amish barns looking at their amassed collection of antiques and vintage items when I saw a 1920s 4 arm chandelier hanging by its chains. It was beat up, missing shades, and dirty. The price was $45 and it needed rewiring. It came home with me, I figured if it didn’t work out I was only out $45 and I could sell it for scrap or parts.

When I got home I scrubbed it and used a metal cleaner to try and bring it back to life. What I got was a light that had been brass but copper plated. The finish had worn off in many places, making it a weird leopard print pattern. I made the decision to spray paint it. EEK! My inner preservationist in me was screaming but, the artist in me screamed back that it wasn’t original to the house and these fixtures were a dime a dozen so I’m doing no harm if this one doesn’t turn out. The brass spray paint looked bad. So bad I refused to take pictures. So I decided to spray paint it again as a cast iron color and wow did it look good. Hmm maybe it was salvageable. I took it to get rewired and all said and done I had a light for $100. Not bad. Now the shades were coming to mind. I decided to match the hallway and use the reproduction flame shades. It looked amazing in the library.

A few dents but hey it adds character. All in I’m at $150 with the shades, about what I would pay for a non historical chandelier at Home Depot. I had to remove some chain links because I am 6’2″ and my brother in laws are 5’10”, 6’0″, 6’4″, and 6’6″ respectively. I wanted no potential head injuries that would lead to further dents to our chandelier….

A few weeks ago Sara and I went to a salvage shop and came home with another light. I’m thinking it will go in the dressing room for now….

I also bought this iron oil lamp for the porch. It has been electrified and will need rewiring.

I am seriously considering getting these for the upstairs hallway. We currently have one light at the top of the stairs and nothing at the other end of the hallway. These have been painted black but I like them. However, I wonder if the Edison Bulb fad will die out and this will end up dated it 15 years. My other problem is price. They are not bad in price, but I have a set amount I’m allowed to spend on the house per month besides the big projects we are saving for. This is like 3 months of the right now house improvement funds. Maybe I need to put adds on here or start a go fund me so I can afford more projects and thus be able to post more often. On the other hand it makes me cringe putting adds up and the thought of strangers gifting me money is strange. Tell me your thoughts on the lights and a way to get money so I can do more projects.

It’s kind of Steampunk-ish with some Gothic Victorian influences

One thought on “Historical Lighting

  1. For what my opinion is worth, don’t like this last fixture at all. It screams against what you have already installed.


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