Antique Lamps - The Largest American Lamp Collection

 
 
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Antique Lamp Collecting - A History

 
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Norton Antique  Lamp Collection

This is a Pewter Double Bullseye oil lamp by Roswell Gleason which is not listed in Norton's lamp collection, but is typical of the quality pewter oil lamps he acquired.

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 lamps 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lamps had a bulbous font, a circular standard, broading to the square base, and stood on four ball feet, and were originally made to burn sperm oil.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.

 

     

 

 

 

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