The Gaslight Era began in 1792 in England. It was in rapid development and expansion within a few years and lasted until electricity became available and reliable, around the beginning of the 20th century. Lighting gas, made, purified and piped to us by a local manufacturing and supply company, allowed us to have a light that we could turn on and off when we wanted to. It was brighter and safer than the candles and oil lamps we'd had to rely on before, in addition to being more convenient.... This completely revolutionized the way we light our homes, offices, businesses, factories and public spaces.
By the time gas lighting was invented, chandeliers had been in use for a few centuries. Those earlier chandeliers, of course, did just what their name suggests -- they held a lot of candles. With the change to gas, manufacturers did some design and engineering work and developed chandeliers that held gas burners, and could deliver and control the gas to those burners from the supply pipe. With updated designs, these new lighting fixtures remained popular for the Neoclassical, Federalist, Idealist, Greek Revival and Victorian homes that were built during that century.
Everybody wanted gas lighting, it seemed. In the cities, piped-in gas was available from the gas manufacturing companies. In the country, or anywhere commercial gas wasn't available, homeowners could install a home gas generator, many of which used carbide and water to generate the gas, like a larger version of a miner's light.
When Americans turned to classic Greece for inspiration for public buildings and private homes during and after the War of 1812, the Neoclassical, or Greek Revival, the style became the popular model. The homes, which were solidly built and impressive, are often still occupied, and the style continues to be built, but in lesser numbers.
Chandeliers that look appropriate for homes that are built in these styles can include multi-stick candle holders since many families continued using the chandeliers and other fixtures they already had. Others bought new fixtures that appeared to hold candles but burned gas, or that appeared to burn gas but held candles. But the predominant type has lights that were clearly gas burners.
The characteristics to look for in an authentic-looking chandelier for the Gaslight era include a fixture with a downrod or some visible means of supplying the gas to the burners. Gas "keys," the small handles used to open and close the gas cock, or valve, for each burner, add authenticity. The shades should be bowls or cones that face straight up so that the heat and fumes aren't trapped inside. As this implies, chandeliers that held "candles" can hang from a chain, and probably should. A chandelier with candle-shaped fittings that burned gas would have to have had a gas supply pipe, so it should be hung by a downrod.
Some lighting companies currently manufacture and sell reproductions of 19th-century chandeliers or new designs inspired by the earlier ones. Some companies specialize in refurbishing antique fixtures, and many companies do both. Those companies that do the best work, and their products, are listed here.
01 of 06
This is a high-style chandelier from House of Antique Hardware. They call this fixture "classic. To me, it looks likes style that would fit well in one of the Italianate homes that became popular after the Civil War.
Notice the plain downrod and the small key, or handle, under each burner. Then there are the shades, opening -- almost flowering -- upward. This is a well-done reproduction.
02 of 06
Fifteen light bulbs can put out a lot of lumens. A chandelier this size isn't for every space, but it might look just right in a large entry hall or stairwell.
The shades are classic Victorian-era bowls with a pattern etched into each one that is intended to refract and enhance the light. The gas keys (Southfork calls them gas locks in their text) are at the bottom of the curve of each arm, and the fixture appears to be hanging from a downrod.
03 of 06
The people at Rejuvenation Lighting & House Parts didn't specify, but it looks to me like this chandelier has 13 globes or shades. When you consider that each of those shades is 7" tall you start to get a sense of the scale of this beauty. It's big. At 5' tall and a little more than 3' across, this chandelier needs a tall, open space to hang in.
Gas keys, a downrod and piping, and open, etched -- frosted -- bowls for shades. Late Victorian all the way. If you don't... want something this big, don't worry, they have smaller fixtures.
04 of 06
When you see a fixture name this plain and descriptive, you can almost bet you're looking at something from Southfork Lighting. Yep. This one is a chandelier with a downrod and five candlesticks. A chandelier that would have burned gas while looking like it was just a candleholder.
This fixture, and others like it, can appear at home in less formal parts of the house, such as the kitchen or family dining areas, or in a house that is from the period but isn't all that fancy or grand.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
This elegant chandelier from House of Antique Hardware only has six arms (only six?), but each arm can take up to a 100-watt light bulb. That's one of the advantages of the open gas shades: They let the heat from a light bulb out as effective as the heat from a gas mantle.
So, 600 watts. That's a lot of light. And, at 3' tall and 2' across, this one can fit over your dining table.
06 of 06
Plain, simple and elegant, without a lot of fancy decoration. A classic from Rejuvenation Lighting and House Parts.