Country Antiques: Casting a Light

Before the invention of the electric light bulb about a century or so, natural gas and oil lamps had been the standard methods of lighting homes in this country. And before rural households had enough of these lamps to provide adequate light, there were three methods of illumination: candles, long-burning pine knots in the fireplace, and a crude implement known as the grease lamp.

As a source of light, grease lamps had their origin in the ancient world; for centuries, they were common in Europe. The first grease lamps were probably brought to America by early settlers. Easily fashioned by the village blacksmith, these lamps were produced in a variety of designs. Some sat flat on tables; others were hung from ceiling beams or from wall brackets.

Grease lamps--their lighting abilities were minimal--were fueled by rendered grease, fat and fish oil. A wick or twisted rag, saturated with the fuel, burned on its side in the slot.

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