Collectors Shine a Light on Early Lanterns Varieties

An example of a pierced “Paul Revere” lantern. This one is made of copper.

An example of a pierced “Paul Revere” lantern. This one is made of copper.

When we see lanterns used as decorative objects, it’s hard to imagine that they were once among the only sources for lighting.

As such, they were made to be hung, carried, placed on a table or applied to a wall. Each was designed for a specific use inside and out. Most also had one panel that could be opened to change the candle or add oil. Since the 1920s there have been serious collectors. However, the good news is that many of these collections have been scattered over the years. Not everybody fancies lanterns. These days many, from the vast variety of styles made, come to market or are discovered in basements and attics. So many different types were made that there is hope for beginning collectors…if they know what to look for.

In America lanterns weren’t in general use until the 1820s.

Some of those early lanterns used candles, while others were lit with small oil lamps. This type had glass windows. In England, the windows were thinly scraped horn; a rarity in the Colonies. It is the pierced, conical shape, tin lantern—known as the “Paul Revere” lantern—that has become most familiar and popular with collectors.

One of the reasons is that there were so many different, pierced designs. Pierced styles were also made in sheet brass and copper. There were also carved wood frames. Some were quite elegant with graduated tiers of piercing patterns. The more intricate the pierced pattern the more decorative the effect when lit; almost lacy.

By the end of the 18th century wealthy Americans wanted more and better. Highly decorative lanterns were imported from England and France to hang around their houses. Work was put into etching designs into brass and bronze frames. The glass also took the form of unusual shaped globes, or was cut, etched and colored. Few have survived with the original glass. The earliest used candles, but by the 1840s whale oil was used.

An example of a late 18th- or early 19th-century pierced-tin lantern.

An example of a pierced-tin lantern.

A detailed photograph of the pierced-tin lantern’s door

A detailed photograph of the pierced-tin lantern’s door

The lantern collecting field isn’t limited to house lanterns.

There are the ever-popular carriage lanterns from Victorian times, as well as railroad and ship lanterns.

Dayton Mfg. Co RR Conductor's Lantern

Dayton Mfg. Co. Railraod Conductor's Lantern

Dietz Little Wizard Red Globe Barn Lantern

Dietz Little Wizard Red Globe Barn Lantern

Vintage Dietz Street Work Lantern

Vintage Dietz Street Work Lantern

Huge Ships Anchor Lantern w/ Fresnel Lens

Huge Ship's Anchor Lantern w/ Fresnel Lens

CLUES: Because of their charm, the pierced tin lantern has been reproduced since the 1920s and offered as such in mail order catalogs. Sorry to say, even in the ’20s, unscrupulous dealers were aging them artificially. Be suspicious of a rusted tin lanterns Also, offered in catalogs are carriage lanterns. Museum gift shops have also reproduced lanterns in their collections.

Some of the most beautiful examples of colored and etched used in the mid-19th century lanterns were made in America as well as Europe. Always examine them carefully for a maker’s name, such as the “New England Glass Co.”

—by Anne Gilbert

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