Friday, December 29, 2017

Am I Beginning To See Chandelier Doubles ?

Not long ago, I was super fortunate to not only find, but win a pair of 1880s kerosene chandeliers in an online auction. Best of all, they were at an auction house that was within driving distance from my house.

Untouched since they were hung in the 1880s, the glass is in perfect condition, save two chimneys that need to be replaced. Fonts, shades, burners, all working and undamaged. It was pretty exciting for me since I have wanted a pair like this for a while.

Photo from the auction site of one of the pair of matching lights.

Hung on large hooks in the ceiling, the lights have a pulley system that permits the person refilling the fonts with kerosene, cleaning the chimneys, or trimming wicks, to lower them so they can be reached from the floor.

The pulley system is pretty cool, and it still worked when I got the lights. A "button" on the bottom of the light allows the user to raise or lower the light. Pretty remarkable after 140 years.

So Now What Do I Do With Them?

As the owner of some pretty fantastical things, I often contend with the question: how do I incorporate these into my everyday living conditions? For lights, of course, electricity is far easier and safer than burning kerosene. And I can flip a wall switch with electricity to see into the room, rather than walking in, lowering the chandelier, lighting each burner, raising it, then worrying about soot, fire, damage, etc. But ... Here are untouched period lighting pieces—who am I to damage them to make them serviceable, today?

I have been carefully researching the best way to electrify them since we picked them up in a rented SUV. I talked with a professional chandelier dealer who restores the lights herself. She had cleaned and electrified a few in a similar style, about which she shared her expertise.

After much soul and internet searching, I concluded that the best and safest way is the following. This will leave the in nearly untouched condition and they quickly can be put back into kerosene use at any time.

How Lucky Does this Invention Make Me?

Thankfully, a small patented interior hunk-o-hardware makes restoring these so much easier. Each arm of most chandeliers is permanently fixed to the body of the light by solder or screws (that typically rust and corrode over time and tend to be nearly impossible to remove.) In spring of 1882, a small invention was patented to hold chandelier arm in place. This little device is used in these lights and hides within the central body of the light to hold each arm of the chandelier in place with a tiny thumbscrew. The device as well as the end of each hollow arm is accessible by lifting a small "cap" (I think it's called a break) in the central cluster body. In fact, each thumbscrew is labeled with a tiny, numbered tag. How fantastic was the person who did that?

Close up view of the patented chandelier arm device. the blue stuff is "twisties"to mark which arms belong where.

With this device in place, coupled with the hollowness of the arms of the chandelier, I have a pretty direct approach to adding electrical wiring through the arms and into the body of the piece. Within that space, I will be able to connect the wires from all four arms into a single wire that will go up to the electrical box in the ceiling from where the chandelier is hung.

As noted in blue, the cap of the central body easily lifts (its a bit wonky in the photo) to expose tiny thumb screws that permit each of the four arms to slide out of the chandelier.

Adding new screw-in electrified kerosene lamp burners to each font then wrapping the electric wire around the font and down to the chandelier arm, I can run the wire through the arm into the cluster body.  I do, however, need to do a little damage. It makes me sad that I will need to drill a tiny hole in each arm to permit the wire to drop into it. With care and a good bit of disassembly, I can position the hole so if returned to kerosene use, it will not be seen. The hole does not interfere with nor change the use of the chandeliers for burning kerosene.

Parts of the first disassembled chandelier washed, but not cleaned.

What About the Glass?

Before beginning the disassembly of the brass parts of the chandeliers, I took apart the glass shades, chimneys, brass burners and glass fonts. All parts were cleaned but no brass was polished (I kept the aged appearance of the fonts, even though they will be replaced by new electrified burners in the final chandelier assembly.) Dawn dishwashing liquid removed a century of smoke, dried kerosene and gunk without the need for other more aggressive cleaners. Many feel Dawn is a fairly aggressive cleaner, but I find its almost necessary when things are as filthy as these were (not just plain dirt, but greasy, staining kind of dirt.)

There are more than 250 crystal prisms and I washed and dried each one. All will be inspected to see if the tiny wire connectors need replacing. The chains of crystals are in good condition with a few small repairs needed.

The shades are made in a pattern generally termed hobnail, or coin dot. The shape of each shade is commonly called a fishbowl (the shape I find most appealing) and is fairly uncommon. The four glass shades on the lights are each a different color and both chandeliers have the same set of four mixed color shades. The colors are typical nineteenth century colors: cobalt blue, ruby red (which gets its color from the addition of pure gold to the glass), amber gold, and acid green, also called Vaseline or Uranium glass because it contains radioactive Uranium. It glows incredibly bright green under black light.

Shades in Acid Green and Cobalt blue shine in the afternoon sun after a quick wash.

The fonts were crusty with old kerosene. It cleaned out pretty easily with some Dawn dishwashing liquid and a stiff bottle brush. The chimneys are very fragile and of an unusual shape. Original to the chandeliers, there are 2 that need to be replaced. They are small and squat and as far as I can see, not reproduced. Guess I'll be haunting eBay and online auction sites for a while. Thankfully, I can hang and use the chandeliers without the replacement chimneys.

Next Steps

To complete reassembly of the lights I need to get some threaded lamp pipe to connect all of the parts. The original pulleys and central poles will be archived in the event they ever are needed. The fonts sit within shallow brass cups at the end of each arm. In my rebuild, I am looking at using museum putty, a very sticky clay-like substance, or some kind of archival glue to hold the fonts in the cups so they don't accidentally fall out. A fall would put extraordinary stress on the electrical set up of the lights and possibly short out the system. I don't need a fire hazard like that.

Stay tuned for the final assembly and hanging. I cant wait to flip that wall switch and see these light up.

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