LARGEST ANTIQUE LAMP COLLECTION
Reveals the History of Antique Lamps
The largest American antique lamp collection and believed to be the most extensive of its kind ever was auctioned at public auction on
March 10, 1914. This incredible collection of antique lamps, candlesticks, lanterns, and other relics by Dr. C.A. Quincy Norton was
described in an article written in the New York Post on Friday, March 6, 1914 as being a "Private View at Merwin Galleries of Important
Collection." Norton was a correspondent of the National Museum at Washington and recognized throughout the United States at that
time as an authority on American antique lamps and other relics of American colonial life.
Since he was a descendant of the famous Quincy family of New England, a number of his choicest
in the lamp collection were acquired from
the family. Prominent among these was the pair of brass mantel lamps presented to Dorothy Quincy and John Hancock,
signer of the
Declaration of Independence, by Dorothy's father when they were married. Each of the antique lamps had a bulbous font, a
circular standard, broading to the square base, and stood on four ball feet, and were originally
made to burn sperm oil. Engraved
on the base of one of the antique lamps was an old English "H," and the other lamp was marked with a "Q," which were the initials of
the Hancock and Quincy families.
Another of the important lamps in Norton's lamp collection was a lard oil tin lamp with two broad wicks, and drum shaped oil
font on a pivot that was one of a pair of antique lamps used by Noah Webster while completing his first dictionary.
Among the most prized antique lamps in Norton's lamp collection was a pottery lamp made of light grey
clay that was found in the ruins of the old pottery works near Morgantown, Pennsylvania and believed to be the first
pottery in America. Records showed that this antique lamp was worked as early as 1689, and was an extremely rare and interesting
piece of American pottery.
The lamp collection was extensive in antique lamps of great historical value. Among them was a pewter table lamp that was from the
homestead of Josiah Quincy and is said to have come from the Paul Revere workshop at Boston. Also included among the antique
lamps was a German pewter and glass horological, or time measuring lamp, dating from 1610 with Roman numeral markings for the
hours, considered at the time as one of the rarest specimens in the collection. A glass lamp with brass pedestal on a marble base
was used by Harriet Beecher Stowe while writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, and was presented to Dr. Norman by her husband upon her
death. A tall cut-glass lamp was used by the student Henry W. Longfellow while at Bowdoin College. And, a tall tin antique pedestal
lamp with double whale oil burner and acorn shaped oil font, and with a tall standard and pan-like base was used by Abraham Lincoln
in his law office in Springfield, Illinois.
Norton's lamp collection was particularly rich in American, English and German pewter, the American portion included pieces by
Gleason and Boardman. Three of such antique oil lamps from Gleason and Boardman were sold at Christie's in 1994 for $1,035.
Among the pieces of English pewter several bared hallmarks, which was of very rare occurrence.
The collection of antique lamps also included rare specimens in iron, tin, glass, bronze and clay, of particular interest was an early
Dutch- American pottery lamp and a piece of Italian Majolica. Among the brass lamps and candlesticks were some fine examples of
Colonial and English workmanship, of which the candlestick from the old U. S. 6. Constitution is a very beautiful example.
It was customary for Dr. Norton to write a brief history of each piece as he secured it. At the time of the auction a catalogue of all the
items in the collection was compiled and contained a concise and descriptive list of 432 antique lamps, candlesticks, lanterns, relics
and other items. One of the highest prices secured at the auction was for an English double lens pewter bull's eye lamp with four
burners and a heavy bull's eye lens on either side. His entire collection of antique lamps brought in $3600 at auction in 1914.
How fascinating it would be to see this lamp collection today, for none of this quality and quantity can be found in one place.
Fortunately, the catalogue of Dr. Norton's treasures was kept and offers the collector a glimpse into times past. For collectors of
antique lamps interested in reading the complete list, it is currently available in libraries throughout the country. Since all of the
lamps in the collection were auctioned to the public, it is unknown where many of them reside today, but an array of the pieces were
purchased by museums and continued to be housed there.