M968.125.1.1-2 | Lamp (at right)

Lamp (at right)
1859-1862, 19th century
55 x 20 cm
Purchase from the Estate Norton
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Lamp (57)
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This elegant electric lamp was probably originally a kerosene lamp. Indeed the shape of its different parts and the patterns make it very similar to the composite kerosene lamps from the late 1850s and early 1860s. This lamp may have been converted from oil to electricity during the 1890s, something that would have been done for practical reasons since electricity was then gradually becoming a feature in Quebec households. It is also possible that it was converted sometime in the 20th century by someone interested in antique furnishings.

Keys to History

Following the discovery of kerosene in 1854, lamps burn using this inexpensive fuel. The simple kerosene lamp at left has an octagonal base embossed with fleurs-de-lis. French Canadians adopt this 12th-century emblem of the royal house of Bourbon as part of their own coat of arms. With the invention of the electric light bulb in 1879, brighter incandescent lighting competes with kerosene lamps. Old lamps are adapted to accommodate this new power source. The lamp at right has been converted to electricity. It has a fine chimney and lower blue bowl decorated with floral motifs. Oil lamps of the 1890s have circular glass chimney covers and oil holders, and have colourful scenes printed on them or are moulded into unusual shapes. They also have elaborately pierced metallic bases. At this time, there is competition from reliable gas lighting with the development of the incandescent gas mantle.

Michel Lessard, Objets anciens du Québec: La vie domestique (Montreal: Éditions de l'homme, 1994), p. 112, ill. 1 and 2.

Loris Shano Russell, A Heritage of Light (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968), pp. 177-78, 200 and 314-15.

  • What

    On the left is a kerosene oil lamp with cotton wick. It has fleurs-de-lis on its glass base. At right is a kerosene lamp that has been converted into an elegant electric lamp.

  • Where

    The origin of these particular lighting devices is unknown. They were used in Quebec in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • When

    Kerosene lamps were in use by the 1860s. Some were converted to electricity starting in the early 1880s.

  • Who

    The makers and users of these lights are unknown.