ISSUE 33  |  Summer Cottage

Object Lessons: The Hurricane Lantern

August 19, 2014 5:00 PM

BY Megan Wilson

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It isn’t until the power goes out that we consider what the average evening was like before electric light. The ill-prepared are plunged back in history to a time when candles served as the best form of illumination. The better equipped turn to the hurricane oil lantern, which provides the light of at least a half dozen candles. What is romantic to us now was miraculous back in 1783 when a Swiss physicist discovered a way to increase the flame’s power with the use of oil, a wick, a glass funnel, and oxygen. With the turn of a small knob, the flame could be controlled according to the length of the wick–a luxury never before known. Today hurricane lanterns are as likely to be used for entertaining in the garden and camping as they are for use in storms. Here are some classic oil-burning examples.

Above: Vintage and new lanterns are widely available on eBay and Etsy for less than $50 each. Photograph of a summer cottage in upstate New York by Leslie Williamson.

Five to Buy

Above: German company Feuerbrand have been manufacturing Backyard Oil Lanterns since 1902. This one is 10 inches tall and 5 inches in diameter, and burns for 20 hours. It’s available in a galvanized finish (shown), white, aqua, yellow, pink, and orange; $68 at Terrain.

Above: A detail of the Feuerbrand steel lantern shows the sardine-can-style key for adjusting the height of the wick, and the screw-top opening for oil. The glass is heat and frost resistant.

Above: The Lampe Tempíªte is made by Guillouard of France, a rival to Fueurbrand. It’s available in a variety of colors, as well as galvanized and brass finishes, and comes with a liter of lamp oil and three wicks; €58 at Guillouard. 

Above: The Davy Lamp, was originally used in British coal mines before becoming popular for use on yachts. This solid brass version provides 30 hours of burn time and is 10 inches tall and 3.5 inches in diameter; $180 at Best Made Co.

Above: The W. T. Kirkman No. 1 Little Champ has a rust-resistant galvanized tin finish on steel. It’s 12 inches tall and offers “nine-candle power”; $19.95 at W. T. Kirkman Lanterns.

Above: Designed by Erik Magnussen, the Stelton Ship’s Lamp is a modern take on the hurricane lamp; the 13.3-inch-tall Stelton Ship’s Lamp Small is $549 and the Stelton Ship’s Lamp Large is $689 from Fitzsu. (See it used as a hanging light fixture at Design Sleuth: Architect Craig Steely’s Hanging Stelton Lamp.)

For more Outdoor Lighting ideas, have a look at Gardenista’s finds, including DIY Mason Jar Lanterns to Light Up the Night.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100 presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons, including The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket and The Classic Canvas Tote Bag. We featured her Connecticut shop in our post Purveyor of the Practical and the Timeless.