lighting-msg - 3/5/07
Period lighting. Lamps, candles, torches.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Period Illumination (ie: light)?
Date: 15 Jun 92
From: amlsmith at morgan.ucs.mun.ca (Andrew Smith)
Organization: Memorial University of Newfoundland
system at idiws1.idi.battelle.org writes:
>Greetings to All from Connor de Morgan.
>I recently had cause to ponder the question of pre-electric lighting
>(during an extended power outage) and thought "I really should have
>a better means of lighting than a flashlight or candles." I figure
>aren't appropriate for inside a tent or walking around at night. I
>suspect that some sort of enclosed lantern might be more period for
>me, and better for general use as well. I'll be doing my own research
Greetings from Sebastian!
I might have something that will shead some _light_ on the subject.
(Excuse the overused pun! :) If this info has already been posted,
my apologies, I'm a little behind in my reading... exams and all!
In _The Crossbow_ Sir. R. Payne Galloway cites several woodcuts. One
is From _A Natural History of Birds_, by G. Pietro Olina (sp) 1622.
In it he shows hand-lanterns using one of oil and candle-light. Each
item is comfortably held in one hand while the other hold a racket, with
which to hit the birds. (rackets & birdies... hmmmm :)
If you can't find the bird book, the page in _The Crossbow_ is 156.
amlsmith at morgan.ucs.mun.ca
From: sherman at trln.lib.unc.edu (dennis r. sherman)
Subject: Re: _TI_ #107, "Surviving the Troll..."
Date: 18 Jun 1993 12:55:49 GMT
Organization: Triangle Research Libraries Network
Greetings to the Rialto from Robyyan.
Cyrus of Alexandreta describes luminaria made of coffee cans with
punched holes and painted black, containing candles in glass jars, and
>This variation is very attractive at night (although I don't know
>exactly how temporally correct - but then how "correct" are paper
Much more historically correct than you might think. Night lights
known as "mortars" and made on much the same model were known and used
from at least the 14th century. The mortar was a thick candle,
intended to burn slowly for a long time, and was often used in a
shield of pierced tin.
I like your idea -- strikes me as quite safe, especially if the cans
have some sand or water in the bottom, *and* has the virtue of being
based (even if accidentally :-) on something that was used
historically for the same purpose.
Short plug on related item: Compleat Anachronist on Domestic Lighting
(that I've been working on for 2+ years) should be out in July,
according to my last contact with the editor, two days ago.
Robyyan Torr d'Elandris Kapellenberg, Windmaster's Hill Atlantia
Dennis R. Sherman Triangle Research Libraries Network
dennis_sherman at unc.edu Univ. of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
From: david.razler at postoffice.worldnet.att.net (David M. Razler)
Subject: Re: Flame "proof" tent canvas
Date: Fri, 19 Jul 1996 03:49:57 GMT
Organization: AT&T WorldNet Services
Kim Pollard <kim at inna.net> wrote:
>On Thu, 18 Jul 1996, David M. Razler wrote:
>> A suggestion: Even in your most period pavillion, use battery candles inside.
>> They look right and they cannot burn.
>Do you mean the candles like one sees in the windows during Christmas?
>What kind of battery would be used and how long would it last?
Battery candles - available year-round at some craft shops: white plastic
"candlestick" holding an AA battery or two, sometimes with a "brass" plastic
<note for outdoor display: for those living near IKEA Swedish furniture shops:
"period-looking" metal and metal/glass candle lanterns are available for a few
bucks each, along with tea candles, which run for about 4 hours each. Not much
light, enough for a Pennsic PortaCastle run. Good outside a tent to avoid
ropes & other obstacles. Not period in that they are not wood/glass wood/horn
or designed for a significantly long candle. As they are not wood, they also
will not burn, the major problem with the period models <wax builds up in the
David M. Razler
david.razler at worldnet.att.net
Subject: Re: medieval candles--??
From: una at bregeuf.stonemarche.org (Honour Horne-Jaruk)
Date: Sun, 02 Feb 97 10:16:10 EST
Morgoth <morgoth at nome.net> writes:
> Bear Grease? Lard?
> Fr. Morgoth, Cyberabbey of St. Cyril
In their natural state, both of these are too soft to
make useable candles. Instead, they were used in fat-lamps or
Fat-lamps, usually made of soapstone because of the
heat involved, were just open bowls holding a lump of fat with
a moss or tow wick. They smoke badly and smelled worse, but
they were better than nothing and could be placed higher than
the fire's light would reach.
Rushlights were peeled river reeds (the same kind used
for the "rush-covered floors" that show up in all the best
romances) soaked in hot fat. While they - if you'll pardon
the phrase- couldn't hold a candle to the real thing, they
were well ahead of fat-lamps both on smokiness and light.
Rushlights continued in use clear up to the early
1800s, specifically because they were the best way to get light
from soft fat.
Alizaunde, Demoiselle de Bregeuf
Una Wicca (That Pict)
(Friend) Honour Horne-Jaruk, R.S.F.
From: david.razler at worldnet.att.net (David M. Razler)
Subject: Re: Lamps, Holders etc.
Date: Thu, 03 Apr 1997 13:00:06 GMT
hopey at aliens.com (Elspeth) wrote:
| Does anybody out there have some 'preferred' or plain ol faithful,
| candle holders, or lamps they use for events? I know how popular
| Tikit Torches have become, but what kind of preferences do people have
| for table light sources? Any truely Period things one could use? I
| have yet to start looking at paintings to get a glimps of what was
My automatic response, having had the joy of growing up here in the Center of
Bostwash, is to suggest a trip to a museum with a good collection of period
illuminating devices, including the NY Met., the Cloisters (its
medieval/Renaissance artifacts and treasury collection uptown) and the
Philadelphia Art Museum (though I *think* many of the period rooms are still
If you lack a good museum, try for the museum books with photos of the objects
through inter-library loan or (ring of cash register) the museum gift shop
My first Society metal project was a portable version of a 14-candle
floor-standing candleholder I spotted one day at the Met.
Paintings are a good, but secondary source, as an artist will generally make
something look either "good" or, in earlier period, fit the accepted style, if
the device is recorded at all.
A cheap source of information is one of the Society's Complete Anachronist
monographs, #68 Domestic Lighting, available through the Society at
1-800-789-7486 - membership and other information available there too.
David M. Razler
david.razler at worldnet.att.net
From: Andrew Tye <atye at efn.org>
Subject: Re: Lamps, Holders etc.
Date: Thu, 3 Apr 1997 10:32:59 -0800
Organization: Oregon Public Networking
On Thu, 3 Apr 1997, Elspeth wrote:
> Does anybody out there have some 'preferred' or plain ol faithful,
> candle holders, or lamps they use for events? I know how popular
> Tikit Torches have become, but what kind of preferences do people have
> for table light sources? Any truely Period things one could use? I
> have yet to start looking at paintings to get a glimps of what was
Aside from the good advice that Aleksandr gave you about museums and art
books, I would also recommend you to books and periodicals on Colonial
America and collecting its artifacts. A few years back when I was
researching period lighting I stumbled upon a rich vein of information on
just this topic. You see, people who collect antiques like to know the
history of their subject and how different styles developed. Also, books
on details concerning Colonial America are usually more accessable than
ones on those of Medieval Europe. Thusly, I have found well illustrated
articles on candlesticks, rushlights, grease lamps of all sorts, etc. In
particular, I would recommend a book titled:
"Lighting In America - From Colonial Rushlights to Victorian
Chandeliers" Edited by Lawrence S. Cook. Main Street Press,
Pittstown, New Jersey.
In it, I found a couple of articles written by John Kirk Richardson. One
was on the history of brass candlesticks. The other was titled: "Brass
household candlesticks of the Gothic period." This later article had over
a dozen photographs of candlesticks from 1200-1400. (Caveat: Just
because something is 18th C. or crude looking, or is "old" does not mean
that it is applicable for our period.)
To reproduce any of these would require the skills of brass casting and
turning. These are not skills common in the SCA. If you were to develop
them and start making good copies of period brassware, (candlesticks,
aquamanile, belt & sword furniture, etc.), you might find that you have
the field to yourself and a ready market.
Adiantum, An Tir.
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 17:46:23 -0400
From: Christine A Seelye-King <mermayde at juno.com>
Subject: Re: SC - illusion food - cattails
Well, since we've been all around cattails (these are New World, right?),
I thought I would post a piece from a discusison from the Tavern Yard.
Not food, but, interesting information.
I make a cattail candle that I use for a tiki torch. Leave the stem a
little long, and drive a pipe in the ground (paint the pipe and decorate
it the way you want). Light the cattail, drop it in the pipe. When it
burns down to the pipe, the fire goes out and the stem drops down the
pipe (easy clean up). No messy oil to spill, just add another lighted
cat tail to the pipe, they will burn a long time according to how you
make them. Also, they can be a bug repellent depending on how you make
First, you have to find some cattails. You want to harvest them just
before they go to seed, if you cut them before then they are to dense to
absorb wax. (Make sure to cut the stem at least a foot long).
In a large pot, melt your paraffin (I like using a paraffin and bees
wax). Once the paraffin is melted you can add your citronella if you
want. Put the cat tail in the pot of wax until you see it stop bubbling.
Then remove it and put it on newspaper head down. I like to press a
short wick on the head at this time to help in the lighting or they are a
little hard to light. At this time I will also roll them in sage, or a
pennyroyal mix, or a rosemary mix. Any of these will make a bug
repellent but be careful with the pennyroyal. Once they are cool, just
keep dipping till you get them as thick as you want them. The thicker
the wax, the longer they will burn, (you will need to pull the wick up
and out of the wax- I use a long nail). When you get them where you want
them, roll them in the sage or rosemary again. Let cool and put them up
for the next event. You can get a tube of brass or aluminum. Cut the
end at a 45 degree angle. This is the end you put in the ground. The
flat end is where you slide the stem when you want to light one. When
the cat tail burns down the stem will fall down the tube and go out, the
wax burns up along with the cattail.
No muss no fuss.
From: "István László" <laszlo at cyberback.com>
Subject: Re: Period torches
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999
| 2nd - In some movies I have seen bowls on tables that have a small fire in
| them, to shed some light and heat, one of the best movies to see this is the
| movie with Sean Conery as King Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot, on the
| round table of that movie there is a bowl in the center I believe with a
| fire.. what would one put in that bowl to make it burn so?
In my old shire's encampment at Gulf Wars (held in southern part of Meridies
in March) we had torches next to our gate. These were made from large iron
bowls with wicks around the edge. They were filled with lamp oil and had a
cover on them to prevent things from falling into the oil. They work just
like a hurricane lamp (they just don't have a globe around the flame). They
put out a fair bit of light, but they also put out smoke as well. The
materials for the lamp wick would be the same things you would use for an
oil lamp. You should be able to get them at any hobby store. Hope this
information is of use to you.
Lord István László
Knight Marshal for Shire Lagerdamm
Minister of the Web for Shire Lagerdamm
From: james koch <alchem at en.com>
Organization: alchem inc
Subject: Re: Period torches
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 18:59:05 -0400
István László wrote:
> In my old shire's encampment at Gulf Wars (held in southern part of Meridies
> in March) we had torches next to our gate. These were made from large iron
> bowls with wicks around the edge. They were filled with lamp oil and had a
> cover on them to prevent things from falling into the oil. They work just
> like a hurricane lamp (they just don't have a globe around the flame). They
> put out a fair bit of light, but they also put out smoke as well. The
> materials for the lamp wick would be the same things you would use for an
> oil lamp. You should be able to get them at any hobby store. Hope this
> information is of use to you.
It sounds as though you have pretty accurately reinvented the period oil
lamp. This design was later known as the "Betty Lamp". Such oil lamps
were an ancient invention and continued in use in Europe until the end
of the last century. I've seen numerous variations on this theme. Some
on tall table stands and others suspended from chains. Jim Koch
(Gladius The Alchemist)
From: alchem at en.com (James Koch)
Subject: Petroleum For Lighting
Date: 26 Mar 2004 14:40:10 -0800
>> As to whether or not it is period for use in lamps is a matter of
>> debate. Petroleum was not pumped from the ground in period, but it was
>> gathered from natural pools in Asia. I believe petroleum oil of this
>> type was a constituent of Greek Fire and has therefore been known since
>> classical times.
>Isn't that a little like arguing that since 20th century people use
>diamonds for jewelery, a 30th c. recreationist can legitimately use it
>for the windshield of his authentic 20th century car? Greek fire was a
>high tech, long secret, military technology. There are certainly
>references in period sources to the existence of petroleum oil, but I
>don't know of any time and place in or period when it was common enough
>to be used as the normal fuel for lamps, and I am quite sure that in
>most times and places it was not.
I guess I wasn't precise enough in my previous statement. When I said
"period" I was using it in the restrictive SCA sense. In other words
used prior to 1600 in Europe. Hence the reference to "Greek" Fire.
It actually was period in the general sense that petroleum oil was
used in lamps prior to 1600. I have just now chanced on one of my
earlier references which has been lost to me since the early 80s when
I was collecting oil lamps. It was in Marco Polo's Description Of The
World. Unfortunately my copy is written entirely in Latin and I am
having trouble reading it after a quarter of a century of being away
from the language. In any case Polo described passing through Baku on
the Caspian where distilled petroleum oil was the main fuel for
lighting. True, this does not prove petroleum's use in lighting in
Europe at the time. More interesting though, the text which led me
back to Polo's work "A Century In Oil" by Stephen Howarth in chapter
one page 17 states "By the 10th century, Arab nations had worked out
that it could be distilled. In Cairo, torches were lit with the
product, and it is said that in the late 11th century, the equivalent
of 1,400 barrels of petroleum distillate caught fire there, creating a
monstrous blaze." The significance of this later quote is that
petroleum was not found in Egypt. This means it was collected,
distilled, packaged, and transported there. So petroleum distillate
was actually more than a local fuel, it was a commercial commodity.
Now all I have to do is find a reference to its use in either Spain or
Sicily to prove it to be period in the more restrictive sense.
Jim Koch (Gladius The Alchemist)
From: alchem at en.com (James Koch)
Subject: Re: Petroleum For Lighting
Date: 27 Mar 2004 13:19:56 -0800
> Fascinating. Is it clear how good Howarth's sources are? If you find
> more, I hope you will let us know.
Unfortunately the book does not cite original sources with the
exception of Marco Polo, and his work refers only to petroleum being
used locally at Baku. I have therefore e-mailed The Royal Historical
Society of which Stephen Howarth is a Fellow for contact information.
If this is not forthcoming, I'll write him at his address in
In the 11th century oil was generally transported by ship. If it
wound up in Cairo it could just as easily have been sold in
Constantanople. If I could find it being used in Europe, then
distilling oil from raw petroleum might make an interesting A&S
project. The problem of course is boiling off all of the naptha prior
to distilling to prevent an explosion.
Jim Koch (Gladius The Alchemist)