19th Century Silver & Silverplate Candlesticks, Chamber Sticks and Candelabras
Up until the mid-19th century, candles were the principal source of artificial light in the home. Candle holders were fashioned from many materials, including wood, pottery, porcelain, copper, brass, iron, pewter and, less commonly, silver or silver plate. Since their basic shape was dictated by the simple cylindrical form of the candle, they remained virtually unchanged for centuries.
The early 19th century brought with it the advent of the woven wick, stearine (a highly refined animal fat), and paraffin. Prior to this time, candles had been made of tallow (animal fat) or wax (vegetable fat). Candles usually burned inefficiently and resulted in messy drippings. Therefore, candlesticks almost invariably had saucer-like disks, called drip pans or bobeche, to catch the melted wax for re-use. At first, these wax catchers were located at or near the base, but by about 1800, they were always placed at the top and were often removable.
Candlesticks made primarily for stationary use on tables are typically 6” to 12” tall. They were often made in pairs, although the wealthy sometimes had sets of 4 or more. Chamber sticks, a more portable variety, are under 5” high and have an unusually wide saucer-like base, which caught dripping wax as the stick was carried room to room. Most have a finger loop for easy transport.
When greater amounts of illumination were needed, several candle holders could be clustered around a single shaft. This arrangement is called a candelabrum. Candelabra are typically quite elaborate. Some late examples even have pierced shades and spring-loaded holders to raise the candles as they burned.
An essential feature of European and American life for centuries, candlesticks have been made in a tremendous variety of shapes and materials. Silver, however, has remained the most desirable material. Even after the advent of electric lighting, silver candlesticks were used chiefly in the dining room, suggesting that by then, they were considered decorative rather than function.
Today, candlesticks, give an aura of elegance to a room. Some of the many styles which candlestick collectors collect are candlesticks from the era of George III, Colonial candlesticks, Victorian electroplated candlesticks, Federal candlesticks and art deco candlesticks.
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