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whale oil lamps

1850 - 1870

When I open a box of antique goodies from the estate, and begin to rummage through it, and find something that piques my interest at that particular moment in time, the research begins.


One of my favorite finds in the antique collection is the whale oil lamp. All of them are glass vessels, and the glass is in perfect condition; a few of the lamps have marble bases; one in particular has etched glass.

brief history

Of course the next thing I have to do before looking for a fair-market-value, is research to learn what I can about the find. Whale oil lamps have an interesting history that I will share: 


One of the many uses of whale oil was in the making of candle wax and in oil lamps for lighting purposes. At some point in time during the 1700s, it was discovered that sperm whale oil burned more brightly and clearly than the oil from other whales, and sperm whale oil did not have the offensive odor that other whale oils had; so it was preferred. But by the mid-1800s the whaling industry was beginning to see a decline; and by 1859 petroleum was discovered. That discovery along with the onset of the Civil War brought the industry to an end by the late 1800s, early 1900s.

what’s in store

Although I have numerous styles of lighting from the estate collection in the gallery: from whale oil lamps (1850s - 1870s), to kerosene lamps, (1870s - early 1900s), to a Gone With the Wind lamp base, to numerous other types of lighting, today is all about whale oil lamps.

my favorite

I love that the whale oil lamps have a delicacy about them due to their size and variety of shapes.


Note that the wicks are round and fit through a small cap that rests on the top of the glass.


I don’t know how well you can see in the photo, but some of the whale oil lamps have two burners.


’ve read that the double burner was an idea suggested by Thomas Jefferson. He said if you have a candle burning on the corner of a desk, you get so much light. If you have a second candle burning on the opposite corner, you get so much light, but when the two flames are side by side, the amount of light is brighter. I have not tried it, but that idea supposedly gave birth to the double burner lamps.


Today, we would use mineral oil or a scented oil in these beautiful lamps.  




The photos show just a few of the lamp styles with two burners. Whale oil lamps do not have glass hurricanes to protect the flame. A few of the lamps still have a metal cap, which was used to douse the flame.

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