How to buy an antique oil lamp?

There are so many beautiful oil lamps on the market all over the world, made by so many different manufacturers in various countries, that it could become quite difficult to choose one – even if you were not interested in if it were an antique or not! If you just want to acquire one for the look and the purpose of having light, it is just a matter of picking the one that keeps shouting your name, so to speak. However – if your intention is to buy a real antique oil lamp, you will have to know a little about the subject first. We are going to give some guidelines on the most popular antique oil lamp manufacturers, and their areas of specialty. We hope this will shine the way a little more brightly.

Oil lamps that have been manufactured by reputable companies and have withstood the test of time and are still available, popular and being sold and bought, should definitely include the ones made by Aladdin, Harnisch, Wild & Wessel (Kosmos), Den Haan Rotterdam and ES Sorensen. Let’s look at them one by one.

Aladdin lamp Aladdin started manufacturing oil lamps in 1908, and has always endeavored to make lamps suitable for every domestic or ambience purpose or occasion. They have therefore included table lamps, shelf lamps, floor lamps, wall lamps, hanging lamps and ship lamps in their repertoire. They have produced lamps that include metal lamps, hand-spun aluminum lamps, vase lamps (with a ceramic or glass fuel reservoir), complete glass lamps, plastic lamps and brass lamps. They have also provided lamps that were amongst others chrome and nickel plated. Today, antique Aladdin lamps are still sought after items and new ones are also still being manufactured. The company still exists today.

Harnisch Lamps is a Denmark company which was founded in 1842 and was first called G V Frydenlund & Son. The company initially had marine lighting as their specialty. In 1887, JAV Harnisch bought the company and it has been run as a Harnisch family company carried over from generation to generation since then. In 1922 JAV Harnisch passed away and his son, Georg V Harnisch, succeeded him. Georg expanded the company into other countries, eventually supplying lighthouse installations to the Faroe Islands, the Virgin Islands and Iceland. The famous lighthouse guarding the entrance to the harbor of Copenhagen, was one of his clients.

The Harnisches didn’t stop there, though. Although they continued with their original production line, the company later broke into the market of domestic lighting like table and floor lamps, and hanging and wall fixtures. The fourth generation of the family is currently running the company! Harnisch oil lamps are also lamps that are still considered as being worth collecting.

Wild & Wessel was a German company situated in Berlin. This is the company that developed the Kosmos burner in 1865. Emil Wild was a passionate and gifted lamp designer, and also the developer or inventor of the Kosmos burner. Kosmos burner lamps had the advantage of the lack of a center draft tube. Because of this, lamp reservoirs (also called tanks, fonts or founts) could be freely designed by the lamp maker in whatever size or style he preferred, and could also be made of whatever medium the lamp crafter enjoyed working with – e.g. brass, glass, pottery, terracotta, plastic or stone. Unfortunately, Emil Wild was not a good businessman or brand builder. In 1884 his unique Kosmos design (a burner with a flame spreader) for instance landed up on shelves in the US as an “Imperial” brand and in the UK as a “Vulcan” brand, even though the very unique chimney for this Kosmos lamp was also patented by Emil Wild. As both these countries were more interested in moving their own and cheaper stock, the beautiful looking and well-performing Imperial and Vulcan lamps are quite rare. They were just not really being promoted or sold. (The B&H “Imperial” lamp, for instance, has the following composition of colors: bottom – polished brass; center – silver; top – polished brass.) The rarity of these lamps makes for good collectors items, but it is quite sad that production was stopped, because they were very clean burning lamps which were also exceptionally beautiful. Wild & Wessel manufactured various kinds of lamps, including piano and reading lamps, hand lamps and pedestal lamps.

Den Haan Rotterdam was founded in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1922. The company started out as a manufacturer of interior lighting and navigation products for working boats at sea and inland. The company still exists today and still deals in, among others, decorative nautical oil lamps. Many of the lamps are replicas of old lamps and are handmade. DHR’s product line includes table lamps, wall lamps, hanging lamps and outdoor lamps.  Examples of these are their solid brass hanging lamps, the Berth Lamp, trawler lamps and Cargo Lanterns.

ES Sorensen is a Danish company that started trading during the late 19th century and specialized in handcrafting oil lamps for trains and seagoing vessels. Today, still, the company prides itself in the fact that they are still doing it the old way, using tools that have through the years been handed down from generation to generation. Sorensen oil lamps are made from fine quality brass and stainless steel. They are almost entirely hand made and each lamp is individually numbered. Sorensen believes that their attention to detail, their heritage and experience, and the variety of lamps that they have on offer, show that their customers are important to them. The ES Sorensen range of oil lamps includes classical and modern lamps for home, office or yacht use. Examples of Sorensen lamps include the Sorensen Passenger Lamp, Sorensen Oil Ship’s Lamp II, Sorensen Captain’s Cabin Lamp (with a ship motif etched on the globe/chimney and the Sorensen Classic Oil Yacht Lamp (a nautical lamp for a wall or boat cabin).

So! These are some brand names to look out for. Happy hunting!

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