By Miriam Ehrlich
Hello, it’s Miriam again! This week’s object is a set of three candelabras that caught my eye on a top shelf in collection storage. They are all brass and sit atop a marble stand. The larger one has three arms for different candles, including two that protrude from the sides and one that stands straight. The other two holders look the same as the first, except they only have a placeholder for one candle. They all have a very beautiful and intricate design. Each separate arm is decorated with golden grape leaves. All of them have a metal sculpture that has religious implications and sentiments. The scene is of an older man, holding a book speaking to a younger woman sitting below him. All of them required candle wax and fire to produce light. The bigger candlestick is 17” in width from arm to arm and 18” in height. The smaller two are 16” in height. The donor and year we received these is unknown.
Candles have been around for thousands of years prior to Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent electric light bulb in 1878.1 They are used as a source of light, and are also very popular in religious ceremonies, such as Christmas and Hanukkah. During the colonial times most families made their own candles, as they were not mass produced yet. There are many candle molds in collection storage which show this. It was popular to make candles out of the bayberry plant during the colonial era.2 This is because it burned cleanly and smelled good. Without electric or gas lighting, it was very important that families had enough candles at night to continue evening work or play.
These candelabra are from the Victorian era. This era is dated by Queen Victoria’s reign in England, from 1837-1901. Victorian pieces such as these candelabras are known for their extravagance and excess. Victorian homes were known to display objects that were both practical and decorative, such as these ones3.
The decorative quality of the set leads me to believe that they were used for aesthetic purposes rather than practical. There are many other candlesticks in the permanent collection here at Historic Huguenot Street of all different sizes. Some of them are on display in various historic houses.
Candles are still very popular today, although they are usually used for less practical purposes. They are often for decoration, their artistic qualities, and good fragrances. Companies such as Yankee Candle capitalize on this today. You can even buy a bayberry candle from them.
1 “History of Candles.” National Candle Association. National Candle Association: Washington, D.C., n.d. Web. 15 March 2016.; “Edison’s Miracle of Light.” American Experience. PBS, n.d. 15 March 2016.
2 “The History of Candles and Candle Making.” CandleWic. The Candlewic Company: Doylestown, PA, n.d. Web. 15 March 2016.
3 Logan, Thad. The Victorian Parlour: A Cultural Study. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2001: 113.