Base about 3 3/4" in diameter
(ignoring finger handle) and about 5" in width including finger handle
Cranberry Opalescent Finger Lamp
Manufactured by Hobbs
Brockunier & Company, Ca. 1886
"P & A HORNET/MADE IN U S A"
side of font
"Rare" Lamp Manufactured Using Process Patented Circa 1886
Background & History:
Prior to 1886, opalescent glass was
manufactured using a complex, slow and costly process: an appropriate
mixture of glass was first blown into a ball-shaped mold the surface of which
had indentations; once removed from the mold, the ball of glass with
protrusions on its surface was allowed to cool and was then reheated to
red-hot. Because the protrusions on the surface of the ball cooled more
quickly and to a greater degree than the main body of the ball, the reheating
caused the protrusions to whiten, or become semi-opaque. The
now-opalescent ball of glass could then be blown into any desired shaped by a
skilled glass-blower. In 1886, William Leighton, head of the
manufacturing department of the Hobbs Brockunier Glass Company and William
Russell, patented a simplified and improved process for creating opalescent
glass products (search for patent number 343,133 at www.google.com/patents).
Under the Leighton-Russell patent, a mold was created as close to possible as
the desired final shape of the object. The surface of the mold was
indented to allow for the formation of the desired nodules or projections.
Molten glass (of an appropriate mixture) was pressed into the mold and then
removed. The resulting object was cooled quickly with a blast of cold
air and was then reheated. As in the original process, the protrusions
on the surface of the object resulting from the indentations in the mold
having cooled more quickly and more fully than the body of the object, turned
the desired whitish color. This improved process allowed for quicker and
something closer to mass production of opalescent glassware without the need
for highly skilled glass-blowers.
This attractive little finger lamp is shown in Ruth Smith's book "Miniature
Lamps II" in Figure 117 and in Catherine Thuro's first book ("Oil
Lamps: The Kerosene Era in North America") on page 152 and was almost
certainly made using the patented process described above. Thuro
attributes the lamp to the opalescent glass patent holder, Hobbs, Brockunier
& Company of Wheeling, West Virginia (in 1888 the company changed its name
to The Hobbs Glass Company). We've seen the pattern of the glass in this
lamp referred to as "Thousand Eyes", "Plain Windows" and "Coin Dot" (although
the coin dot pattern appears to be reversed with the circles being
opalescent and the matrix transparent). Note that when you run your
fingers over the surface of this lamp, you can feel the indentations which
were an integral part of the process of manufacturing this glass.
An article in The Glass
Encyclopedia expands on the above process description adding that this type
of opalescent glass was made of two layers of glass with the thin outer
layer--which fills the indentations in the mold-- being made of a heat
sensitive glass which turns milky-white on reheating. The inner layer
of glass, on this lamp, would have been cranberry glass--a type of glass
that also requires reheating as described below. The manufacture of dark red, or "ruby", glass
was a delicate and expensive process. It required adding a solution of
gold dissolved in Aqua Regia (a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids) to the molten glass
mixture. Getting the proportions of gold and acid correct was critical;
minor errors resulted in an unattractive muddy color rather than the desired
clear bright red color. The amount of the gold and acid solution added
to the molten glass determined the darkness of the color. Somewhat less
solution resulted in a lighter colored "cranberry" glass while more of the
solution resulted in a deep red "ruby" colored glass.
A further complication is that initially the resulting
glass looks gray and only turns to the desired red color when the glass is
Because of the complexity of the process, "ruby" or "cranberry"
glass was generally only made in small or "craft" quantities. This process is
believed to have been initially discovered by early Roman glass-makers.
The process however was lost and was not rediscovered until sometime in the
17th Century either by Johann Knuckel in Bohemia or by Antonio Neri in
Florence, Italy (experts are uncertain as to who deserves the credit). It was not however until the 1920s that the chemistry
was understood and explained (by 1925 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Richard Zsigmondy). The legend that ruby, or cranberry, glass was first created
when a nobleman tossed a gold coin into a vat of molten glass is just
that . . . a legend without a basis in fact since the gold would have had to
been first dissolved in Aqua Regia. The height of ruby and cranberry
glass production appears to have been during the Victorian era.
While the Leighton-Russell patent
was intended to allow for increased production of opalescent glass at lower
costs, producing opalescent glass, and especially cranberry opalescent glass
was still a time consuming and expensive process; thus cranberry opalescent
glass lamps are quite hard to find. Thus, Hulsebus, in the "Price Guide for
Miniature Lamps", rates this cranberry opalescent finger lamp as being
"rare" (see the note below on our use of these ratings in items).
Our data confirms that examples of this lamp are in fact hard to find:
since June of 2002, we've seen only fifteen complete and undamaged examples of
this lamp and five others which were missing their burners and chimneys.
this lamp: This lamp is in very good condition with but a single
small very shallow
imperfection on the
side of the font (see the third photo). This seems to be a manufacturing imperfection
perhaps created by some imperfection or inclusions in the mold.The brass collar is securely attached
to the font and the Hornet burner (embossed "P & A HORNET" on the
front of the thumb wheel and "MADE IN U S A" on
the reverse) screws tightly into the collar. The thumb wheel turns freely;
there is no wick in this lamp. All the hardware has been polished. The lamp comes with a
clear glass chimney which has polished top and bottom edges.
provided beneath the first photo to the left.
This is really a
very fine example of a rare miniature finger lamp made with real gold and
produced by one of the most well-known and innovative of the Victorian era
American glass companies.
About the Use of
Words Like "Scarce" and "Rare"
When we see items which
like "Scarce" and "Rare"--especially when those words are applied to items
that we know to be extra-ordinarily common we find it disturbing. We
realize that some ers,
not having or knowing of a better way of assessing an item's scarcity, use these
terms quite subjectively and frequently based on their own personal experience.They simply don't know
whether an item is common, scarce or rare. We take two steps to describe
the scarcity of a lamp.
First, we only use the words
"Scarce", "Rare", "Very Rare", "Very Very Rare" and "Extremely Rare" if the item
in question is judged to be so by an acknowledged outside and independent
source. For miniature lamps, we use the ratings in Marjorie Hulsebus 2006
edition of the "Price Guide for Miniature Lamps". Marjorie's ratings are
also somewhat subjective (they are based on the collective view of a panel of 12
experienced miniature lamps collectors--we were members of that panel),
but were at least arrived at independently of the sale or offering of any
particular lamp. We don't always
agree with the Price Guides ratings but if we disagree, we will still quote the
guide's rating and then provide the reason why we don't agree.
Second, since June of 2002, we have
collected and recorded data on the offering of over 56,000 listed miniature
lamps on and over 5,000 lamps offered at selected live sales (ones
which we attended or from which we were able to get reliable data). Every day we
review several thousand new items; from among those, we identify the
that are listed in the standard reference books and record basic information
(identifying features, condition, sale end-date, etc.) on each.
When the sale ends we go back and record whether the lamp sold or not and for how
much. We keep all of
this data in an online database and make the database available free of
charge to members of the Night Light Club and to others who have requested
access. We don't see every listed miniature lamp that's offered on ,
but we estimate that we see more than 85-90% of them. When we quote the
Price Guide's scarcity rating for a given lamp, we generally also provide
information, from our database, on the number of times during the period we've collected data that
we've seen that lamp offered on . And it's this data that allows us to
substantiate, refine or, at times, to respectfully disagree with the rating in the Price Guide.
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