The earliest chandeliers took on a relatively simple form, using wood and metal frames to support rows of candles. By the mid-19th century, chandeliers moved beyond the role of simple light fixture to become an important decorative element in fine homes, churches and government buildings. The 1860s not only brought chandelier designs inspired by previous centuries, but also coincided with the spread of gas lighting technology that revolutionized the lighting industry.
Prior to the mid-19th century, most chandeliers relied on burning candles to generate light, with a drip tray hanging below the candles to collect wax. By the 1860s, the widespread use of gas lighting led owners of many fine chandeliers to convert these fixtures to accommodate gas rather than candles. Chandeliers created during this decade often have the gas inlet incorporated into the chain or hanging apparatus. By the 1880s, many of these chandeliers were modified once more to accommodate electric lighting.
High-end chandeliers of the 1860s primarily were crafted from gilded or gilt bronze, often referred to as ormolu, according to the Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era. Standard brass and bronze also were common materials for fine chandeliers. More affordable version were manufactured from iron, tin, copper or pewter. Crystal chandeliers of the period came in both high- and low-end finishes based on their sizes, as well as the cut and design of the crystal.
Styles and Features
Design in the 1860s was dominated by neo-Rococo and neo-Gothic styles, both of which were forms of revival styles inspired by the work of previous generations. The neo-Rococo style was based on the extremely elaborate and elegant design of Louis XV, while neo-Gothic style came from the Gothic designs of the 12th through the 16th centuries. While neo-Gothic style was slightly more restrained than neo-Rococo, chandeliers crafted in these styles tend to feature lavish ornamentation, curved lines, and a relatively large size. Adornments ranging from naturalistic patterns of leaves, vines and tendrils to medallions, scrolls and scallops are common. Crystal chandeliers of the 1860s often incorporated brilliant cut crystals, which took the shapes of stars, diamonds and scallops.
Thomas Osler and Company served as one of the best-known British chandelier manufacturers of the 19th century. The Oslers exhibited their work at the Paris Exhibition in 1862, and produced fine chandeliers for royal and society families.The company also is well-known for its developments in the field of brilliant cut glass. In the United States, Cornelius and Baker produced many of the chandeliers found in government buildings and fine homes. The company crafted a chandelier for the Vermont Statehouse in 1860, as well as an opulent three-tier model with 18 arms that was installed in the President's Room of the U.S. Capitol in 1864.
- Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era; James Eli Adams, Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast
- The Winterthur Guide to Recognizing Styles in Your Collection; Pauline K. Eversmann
- American Furniture Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nienteenth Century Styles; Helen Comstock
- The New York Times: On This Day
- U.S. National Park Service: Gaslighting in America -- Plates
- Adrian Alan Fine Art and Antiques: Osler, F. and C.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images