Rare Antique Cranberry Opalescent Hobbs Miniature Oil Lamp, S2-117
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Rare Antique Cranberry Opalescent Hobbs Miniature Oil Lamp, S2-117:
"Rare" Cranberry Opalescent Hobbs Finger Lamp, S2-117
Hobbs Cranberry Opalescent Finger Lamp, S2-117
About 2 1/2" tall to top of collar
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
Burner marked "P & A HORNET/MADE IN U S A"
Minor imperfection on 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 reheated. 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.
Condition of 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.
Measurements are 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 utilize words 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 ones 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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