Antique oil lamp identification can be a bit tricky, considering there are many reproduction antique lamps on the market. Oil lamps were the primary source of light in many homes before electricity, and they have a beautiful style that is prized by collectors today. Learn how to tell if an oil lamp is antique and how to identify different types of oil and kerosene lamps.
Shedding Light on the Subject of Oil and Kerosene Lamps
The difference between oil lamps and kerosene lamps is minimal; lamp oil is simply a cleaner burning fuel that serves the same purpose as kerosene. It is important to note that you should always choose fuels approved for lamps, since not all types of oil and kerosene are appropriate. Although these lamps come in many different styles, most oil and kerosene lamps have a basic formula that hasn't changed much over the years. These are the parts of an oil lamp:
- Reservoir or bowl - These lamps use a reservoir or bowl to hold fuel. There will be a way to fill this reservoir.
- Burner - This portion of the lamp sits above the reservoir and has an adjustable wick that extends down into the bowl. The wick soaks up the fuel.
- Chimney - This glass protector contains the flame of the lamp. In some lamps, there is also a shade.
How Can You Tell if an Oil Lamp Is Antique?
Because oil lamps are beautiful and still useful today, many companies create modern reproductions. This can make antique kerosene lamp identification challenging, but according to Real or Repro, there are several clues that can help you tell an antique oil lamp from a modern piece.
Use a Blacklight
Hold a blacklight next to the lamp in a dark room. New oil lamps are held together with glue, and new glue fluoresces in blacklight. Old lamps have glass parts that are fused, so they don't glow in blacklight.
Examine the Hardware
Although it's not a foolproof method of antique kerosene lamp identification, hardware can offer a clue about whether a lamp is new or old. Check to see if bolts are threaded for their entire length or only the portion necessary for attaching the pieces of the lamp. A bolt that is entirely threaded is more likely to be new.
Check for Plaster
While many new lamps use hardware that looks very much like the original pieces and may even be made from the same molds, how the hardware is attached will differ between new an old lamps. New lamps use glue, while many older lamps use plaster to fill in any spaces between the lamp body and the hardware. Carefully examine these joints to determine whether they contain plaster.
Important Factors in Antique Oil Lamp Identification
Once you know your oil lamp is a genuine antique, there's still work to do to find out more about it. These are some factors to consider to identify the age and manufacturer of your antique oil lamp.
Antique Lamp Styles
Antique kerosene and oil lamps come in many different styles and types. Knowing the style of your lamp can help you determine whether it was made by a specific manufacturer or at a certain time. You may have one of the following:
- Antique oil lamps with handles - Some lamps were designed to be carried around the house or property. You can identify this type of lamp by its carrying handle or finger loop.
- Hanging antique oil lamps - Other lamps have a loop for hanging from a nail or on a wall. This loop allows the lamp to hang level.
- Antique kerosene table lamps - Table lamps vary in size, but they have a wider base that allows them to sit upright on a table.
- Antique wall lamps - Wall lamps often have a reflector that would lie against the wall and reflect light back into the room.
- Lamps with shades - Some lamps have glass shades that add to their beauty and value.
Lamp Burner Types
According to The Lamp Works, there are six primary types of antique oil lamp burners. Being able to identify the burner lets you know what kind of fuel your lamp uses, how old it may be, and other helpful hints. Here are the six types of oil lamp burners:
- Prong burners - Used with kerosene and oil lamps, these burners have four prongs that hold the glass chimney in place.
- Coronet burners - Also used with kerosene and oil lamps, these burners have a coronet or crown-shaped piece of hardware that holds the chimney.
- Argand burners - This type of burner had many holes to allow air to circulate and facilitate burning.
- Central draft burners - Similar to an Argand burner, this type of burner allowed greater air circulation, this time through an intake tube in the center and a perforated metal surface.
- Whale oil burners - These burners had two long tubes that held the wick and extended down into the reservoir, allowing the heat from the lamp to melt the whale oil.
- Burning fluid burners - In these burners, tubes extend out and upwards from a plate. Tubes are usually made of brass.
Colors of Antique Oil Lamps
Although many lamps are made of clear glass, you'll also see them in a variety of beautiful colors. It's important to note that this is another way to determine whether your lamp is actually an antique. Some specific models only came in clear or certain colors, so if you see one in a color that wasn't produced, you know it's a reproduction. These are some of the colors of genuine antique oil lamps:
- Green glass
- Clear glass
- Amber glass
- White milk glass
- Amethyst glass
- Red glass
- Cobalt glass
Oil Lamp Maker's Marks
One essential tool in learning how to identify antique oil lamps is knowing where to find the maker's marks. Like many antiques, identification marks can be one of the best ways to tell what you have and how old it is. You may find glass identification marks on the lamp, but the burner hardware is the place to find real answers. On oil lamps, the marks are usually found on the button that allows you to wind the wick. The end of that button usually has a stamp. According to Old Copper, these are a few of the most notable:
- Aladdin - This brand used different maker's marks, but they almost always say "Aladdin" somewhere in them.
- Beacon Light - For this brand, you'll often see the name in block letters inside a circle.
- Erich & Graetz - This unique maker's mark features two dragons facing one another.
- Rochester Lamp Company - This New York-based company stamped its lamp winder buttons with "Rochester" or "New Rochester."
Oil Lamp Patent Numbers and Dates
One excellent way to establish the history of your antique oil lamp is by finding a patent number or date. This is usually on the winder button, but it might also be on the another spot on the burner or base of your lamp. When you find a number of a US-made lamp, look it up on at the US Patent and Trademark Office. This can tell you how old your oil lamp may be.
How to Tell if an Oil Lamp Is Valuable
Most antique oil lamps sell for between $25 and $150, but some examples may be especially valuable. Lamps with cut crystal shades, beautiful details, unusual colors, and other features can bring the most at auction. Additionally, lamps in excellent condition will almost always sell for more than those with missing parts, cracks, and other damage. The best way to tell if an oil lamp is valuable is to compare it to recently sold lamps that are similar. Here are some examples of recent sales:
- A clear small glass oil lamp with a finger loop from about 1900 sold for about $25.
- An Eagle-brand blue glass oil lamp with a matching chimney sold for about $70.
- A beautiful large sculpted cranberry glass oil lamp from the 1890s with its original shade sold for more than $850.
Enjoy the Beauty of Antique Oil Lamps
Sometimes, the easiest way to identify an antique is to look at pictures of similar items. You can view photos of antique oil lamps to see some of the styles, colors, and brands mentioned here. You can also research different types of antique lamps to see if yours is among them. Knowing more about your antique oil lamp lets you enjoy its beauty even more.