If you’ve followed this blog for very long you’ll know that we looove antiques here. Both of us must be reincarnated from the nineteenth century because we are both drawn to items of all types from that era. That includes oil lamps.
Of course I prefer the daintier, prettier ones….
…and he prefers the rugged, manlier types.
Oil lamps aren’t just for collecting and decor, though; they can really come in handy in emergencies so we love both old and new ones for looks and for practicality. We have them in every room and we also stock up on kerosene for all of our various usable lamps because they are pretty useless without it.
(note: you shouldn’t use old lamps without making sure they are still safe to use!)
When we first began seriously collecting oil lamps we started to notice that the local antiques and collectible stores had a lot of old fashioned oil lamps to choose from! It seemed like we couldn’t go into one of these stores without seeing at least one or two, often more, which made us start wondering why that was.
Well, it turns out, “antique” oil lamps aren’t always old and they certainly aren’t hard to come by unless you want the real deal (and for those you will pay a tidy sum!). You can still buy them brand new and a lot of them are reproductions of antique styles from the days before the invention of the light bulb, like this reproduction I have of a style called a Queen of Hearts or Sweetheart lamp that I just love (and use!).
It looks almost identical to the authentic version from the 1890’s.
I knew immediately when I saw it that it was a reproduction and luckily the seller knew it, too, and only charged me a fraction of the price for it compared to a true antique one which could have cost me a lot more. Some antique oil lamps run into the hundreds or even thousands. Which means it’s one of those things that is easy to get cheated on if you are looking for a real antique but don’t know how to tell real from fake.
So how can you tell if the oil lamp you are purchasing is a true antique? There are some giveaways if you know what you’re looking at. According to the experts on lanternnet.com there are some key things to keep in mind such as manufacturers marks, patina and even the language used by the seller (particularly online sellers). They have an in-depth article on both glass oil lamps and railroad lanterns titled, “Oil Lamp and Lantern FAKES, FRAUDS, & FORGERIES and How to Avoid Them” which I found very helpful.
Angely Mercado also wrote a great piece on how to tell the difference between old and newer glass lamps.
Unique antique lamps, especially those made during the Victorian era, had glass that was hand blown. Because of this, there is always a distinctive bump, indentation or spot where the glass was cut from the stem after it was shaped for the lamp. Newer lamps do not have those bumps because many of them are factory-made.
There are also hardware differences between real antiques and antique-styled oil lamps. Antique lamps have a metal fitting collar that screws into the burner, a metal font-to-base connection and metal fitting holes where the oil is poured into. A real antique lamp also has hardware that is attached to the lamp with plaster. Modern antique-styled lamps have hardware that is glued on, and is easier to remove than older ones. With new lamps, there is sometimes a space between some hardware and the glass. On real antiques, there are no gaps because they’re all filled with plaster.
Both antique-styled and genuine antique lamps are beautiful, and technically serve their function of lighting up a room. But if you want longstanding quality and authenticity, be sure to double check and select a bona fide antique lamp.
You can also consult with a reputable dealer who can help you determine if a particular lamp is a true antique or one made to look like one.
Sometimes, like with the pair of wall lanterns I bought from Vermont Lanterns recently, you know full well that you are buying a newer version of a vintage piece. My Vermont Lantern oil lamps give us the look of antiques but rather than being cheap knock-offs, they are the same quality as the ones made back then. They are a bit spendy but they are definitely worth the price. I highly recommend them if you are in the market for new “old” lanterns.
I highly recommend oil lamps for the beauty they bring and just in general for SHTF scenarios, too. Most preppers I know have at least one or two oil lamps available to use just in case.