Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Early lighting in New England by Helen Hebard

book cover

Early lighting in New England, 1620-1861
by Helen Brigham Hebard

Hardback: 88 pages
Publisher: The Charles E. Tuttle Company
Released: 1864

Source: Bought at a library book sale.

Book Description, my take:
Antique collector Helen Hebard wrote this presentation to be read at an Antique Collectors' Week-End meeting since she couldn't give it in person due to an illness. She discusses her favorite topic, old lighting devices--specifically those used in New England in 1620 to 1861.

My Review:
Early lighting in New England briefly describes the various ways New Englander's lighted their homes from 1620 to 1861. The author described the various types of lighting and sometimes (especially for splint lights, rush lights, and bayberry candles) described how they were made. There were some brief quotes describing these devices by the people who actually used them.

There were black and white sketches and black and white pictures of the various items, but mainly of the candle holders and lamps. 40 of the 82 pages in this book were completely full of pictures or sketches. Additional, smaller sketches were scattered throughout the text.

The lighting methods covered were wood (log fire, torch, wrought iron cresset or fire basket, splint light); grease lamps (crusies, Betties); rushlights; early candles (tallow, beeswax, bayberry); candle holders; whale and lard lamps; solar and astral lamps; kerosene lamps.

It was interesting and easy to follow, but I personally would have enjoyed more details on how the various lighting sources were made and used at the time. Though written for collectors, it didn't give much information about finding or identifying good specimens for antique collections. It's more a brief overview of the various methods used to light New England homes from 1620 to 1861.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Just as the log fire was the first source of light in primitive dwellings where wood was the only fuel, so the hearth fire was an all important and at first the only means of illumination in the homes of our early settlers. The torch, an offshoot of the fire, could be carried about, thus enlarging man's sphere of activity. Staggering however are the number and variety of torches improvised, fashioned or fabricated for outdoor use. They range from strips of blubber, fat bodies of birds and fish, to dried tree limbs or pine knots. Our pioneers utilized what was available and wood was plentiful in the new land.

The wrought-iron cresset or fire basket was a later development of the above methods. It was used throughout the ancient and medieval periods. In early New England the cresset functioned as special purpose lighting. An early reference to the blazing beacon on Boston's highest hill gave it its present name--Beacon Hill.

Splint lights are a refinement of the torch used by many people in many places. These slivers of resinous wood are known here as splints or candlewood and in Scotland as fire-candles. They have been used for centuries wherever suitable wood was plentiful.

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