Crude candles first saw the light of day in the Roman era, but true candles in their present form are only around 1,000 years old. The main ingredients used to make candles were tallow and beeswax, but given their cost candles were considered to be a very expensive luxury. Bayberries were also used as a source of candle wax in certain countries and they were highly appreciated for their bright flame and their fragrance when extinguished, but these were expensive too.
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Spermaceti candles are very high quality candles that were first manufactured in 1750, they were made from the waxy solid found inside the heads of sperm whales.
Gothic items, including candlesticks are very fashionable at the moment, given the popularity of all things gothic-related and vampire stories such as the Vampie Diaries by L J Smith (or is that Ljane Smith?). Gothic candlesticks were designed originally with just a stem and a knob called a knop. During the William and Mary period designs became more elaborate with polygonal shapres and vertical baluster bases. During the Queen Anne period candlesticks became more delicate, the stems were octagonal and the bases square. Georgian candlesticks on the other hand had baluster stems and octagonal bases. As a result of the Oriental influence, candlesticks started to be decorated with seated figures, animals and flowers. There were also by now glass candlesticks from Waterford which were highly sought after.
By the 18th century, candlesticks had changed again to become tiered and the number of lights was increased for festive occasions. Eventually Chippendale and Sheraton starting making pieces of furniture with candle holders built in to them.
In England, where lighting has always been important given the climate, by the 17th century taper holders, torch holders, hanging fixtures, lanterns and candlesticks were all very fashionable. The 18th century saw the revival of designs associated with the William and Mary, Georgian, Queen Anne, Hepplewhite, Chippendale, and Sheriden styles.
In France small simple candils or coronas were developed. Lights were often put on wheels (horizontal not vertical), and wood, copper, bronze, ivory, silver, or rock crystal light crowns were created.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, lights were an integral part of many rooms. Stylized wall sconces with convex oval mirrors were created, as were elaborate crystal and brass pieces.
The neoclassical style of antique lighting of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette appeared in the 18th century with gold and silver candelabras decorated with animals and figures. Dresden porcelain ribbons and flowers were often appliqued on lanterns and sconces.
By the 17th century brass or silver candlesticks, lanterns and sconces were widely seen in the best homes. Silver candlesticks were used in the living room and dining room, brass was used in the rest of the house. Tin or pewter was used in the kitchen and by servants.
Lighting and light fixtures have been very important throughout the history of making as we learned to light up the dark of the night and thus extend the working day. Today this is still true, with the recent decision to phase out the old light bulbs we have used for almost a century in favour of more eco-friendly and energy-efficient lights. It is now even possible to buy energy-efficient Gothic candlesticks !
See also Antique Lighting Styles
French Lighting Fixtures
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