About antique lighting

(a short story)

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"Can I put 100 Watt bulbs throughout this fixture? I’m thinking of using it over the dining room table." This question was posed by a young lady in our shop several years ago, viewing a large three light antique milkglass globe, mounted in a brass fixture with four matching single lights hanging from short arms around its perimeter.

My mind raced through the mathematics. The fixture was designed when a 20 watt carbon filament bulb was considered a lot of candlepower...140 watts total. She wanted to put five times that on the fixture. I withheld comments about stadiums or airport landing strips and told her that 60 Watts was the recommended maximum on the four single lights due to heat buildup within the shades.

As I carefully wrapped-up the fixture, I suggested that she have a dimmer switch installed controlling the light intensity. I explained that less light would emphasize the beautiful pattern in the glass, re-create the "feeling" of the early period of the fixture and produce more appropriate lighting for intimate dinners. In the young lady’s defense, I did not inquire if the table was also used for tasks such as homework, board games or family bookkeeping.

My initial thinking had been that people bought antique fixtures to restore old houses. An informal survey proved me wrong. Over half of my sales were going into new construction.

We are attempting to supply all fixtures in a "ready-to-hang" state. Modifications, such as adjusting chain length, that are simple in a shop equipped with parts and tools can be major problems on the job site. A qualified person should be able to unpack, hang and connect these fixtures as easily as they would a new one in a factory-packed box.

 

LIGHT FIXTURE FINISHES - ORIGINAL

We preserve the original finish on fixtures whenever possible. This requires 90 + % of it to be in tact. Also we prefer to restore rather than refinish, and do so whenever the opportunity presents itself. On occasions, when we find them in good condition, they often require total or partial rewiring.

 

LIGHT FIXTURE FINISHES - BRASS FIXTURES

All antique brass fixtures had a finish on them as originally supplied, either paint or lacquer. In some cases, a plating was applied to all or parts of the brass before the lacquer was applied, giving the appearance of pewter or silver.

Most brass fixtures we find are either long devoid of any finish, or have multiple coats of wall or gilt paint. In these cases we usually polish the brass and give it a coat of lacquer.

(We do not over-plate with brass, believing this gives it to "new" a finish).

The lacquer allows the brass to develop the nice even patina over the years that come so highly prized. To leave the brass "raw" invites a splotchy finish, a dark oxidation mark wherever fingers touched the fixture in hanging, dusting, cleaning or changing light bulbs.

Occasionally, steel and iron replaced some of the less conspicuous components of a chandelier, such as a cover pan or a canopy. These were painted gold or brass color to blend in with the brass. (Remember, they were using 20 watt bulbs.) Sometimes a contrasting bronze color proved very effective.

 

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