The purpose of the lantern has evolved through time and history. 200 years ago“Lanterns”, or “Lanthornes” were simply a utilitarian object, basic in design with the sole purpose and function of shielding a burning candle from the natural elements of the wind and blowing breezes. A lantern is also described as a “portable lighting device or mounted light fixture used to illuminate broad areas. Also used for signaling, as ‘torches’ or as general light sources outdoors. Low level light varieties are used for decoration. The term “Lantern” is also used more generically, meaning a ‘light source’ or the enclosure for a light source”. Interestingly, in architecture a lantern is referred to as an openwork timber construction (or cupola-like structure) placed on top of a building to admit light and allow smoke to escape. Who knew?
American streets were lighted by doorway lanterns only 200 years ago. History states that it was not until the early 1700’s that towns began to pass laws that every sixth house should have a post lantern to provide illumination for nightly needs. Boston is said to have been the first city that had great numbers of lanterns, imported from England, illuminating its streets. By 1751 Philadelphia’s streets were illuminated, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s discovery that two wick tubes burning side by side, but distant from each other, provided more light than two separate burners. Again, who knew? Turpentine and alcohol was a dangerous combination, but illumination certainly burned brighter! The early lanterns were composed of tinplate or sheet iron. My, how far lantern design has come! It is said that some of the early lanterns that were made of more high priced materials, such as brass and pewter, were used deconstructed during the American Revolution (1775-1783), forged into gun parts and molded into bullets. Yet again, who knew? Alas, rare are these lanterns!
The era of the gas light was introduced to America in 1816 and even earlier in Europe. In 1814 London was the first City to transition to gas for street lighting. (Interestingly, by 1823, it is said that approximately 40,000 lamps had been installed in 215 miles of London streets.) The Westminster Bridge was lit by gas and the streets of Paris followed suit in 1818. Further reworking of the gas light involved the key factor of pinching the end of the gas tube to a fan shape, mixing air with the gas, causing a brighter glow. The quest for more light was solved! In America, by 1817, the development of gas production, storage and metering was nearly complete and by 1860 gas jets were lighted with electric sparks. In addition the common fixtures of the period had glass chimneys. The beginning of the iconic lantern in the interiors, indeed!
Of note, it is important to recall the importance of the lantern itself in terms of servicing the railroads. The fixed globe lanterns used as Conductor’s lanterns, Inspectors lanterns and as a railroad brakeman’s signal, took on an important role in early transportation. In fact the heyday of the lantern in America coincided with the era of railroad expansion in the Northeastern United States, in which the first transcontinental railroad line was completed in 1869.
The historical influence of the lantern throughout time certainly gives the lantern an edge of nostalgia. Lanterns have also taken on transformations of quality and craftsmanship as more exquisite lanterns were created, hand crafted by dedicated artisans. The beautiful finishes available today including copper, solid brass, antiqued brass, bronze and silver finishes add stylish ambiance and illumination to our interior and exterior spaces. Mounted or hanging fixtures or portable in style, lanterns are both ornamental and functional. Enhancing our interior and exterior spaces with the stylish embellishment of lantern lighting is sure to provide unfading appeal and timeless illumination…
Consider the lantern. No longer limited to gas or wick lighting, the many available styles, designs, shapes and purposes of the lantern fixtures are sure to present the perfect addition to add the warmth and glow to our spaces. Whether classic and traditional in shape, contemporary and modern or rustic or incorporated as an oversized statement in a space, the lantern is an iconic addition that garners and demands attention. Strong and bold, the lantern and its appeal is not fading fast any time soon, but rather will continue to illuminate the entries of exteriors and the halls and rooms of the interiors in grand fashion…
And the addition of lanterns filled with pillar candles to add portable ambiance and glow to the night’s illumination? The perfect addition to any event or moment reserved for pure enjoyment. Portable delight, indeed. The gas, electric and candlelit lanterns add more than simply lighting, as they all encompass illumination with style.