Argand Lamps, ca. 1790-1820
Maker: Matthew Boulton
English Plated silver on copper, jasperware (stoneware), glass
16” high
Purchased, 1969 (IL 69.1 a, b)

In 1784, Aimé Argand (1750-1803), a Swiss physicist and chemist, was issued an English patent for his new style of oil lamp. This invention featured a cylindrical wick system through which air could flow to increase the intensity of the light produced. A cylindrical chimney enhanced the air flow and a mechanism for raising and lowering the wick allowed some adjustment and optimization of light. Experimenting with oils, Argand found that purified spermaceti (whale) oil was optimal. The resultant light was cleaner, less expensive to operate, and burned ten times brighter than candles.

Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), a prominent Birmingham industrialist, best known for his silversmith factory, became a chief manufacturer of Argand lamps. Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), a prominent potter, supplied pottery pedestals to Boulton to increase his sales opportunities.

Boscobel’s Sheffield silver Argand lamps each have urn-shaped oil reservoirs, which are topped by an acorn finial. Both lamp bases are Jasperware, made with a traditional colors of Wedgwood blue and white. The lamps appear to be unmarked. The glass chimneys are replacements and the wick raisers are missing.

These rare surviving examples of decorated Argand lamps can be seen in the Butler’s Pantry at Boscobel House.

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