Miniature Glass Lamps: Old and New Burners
Miniature glass oil-burning lamps were popular from the last quarter of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century, ca. 1875-1925. There is some debate over the exact use of miniature lamps. Collectors often use the names courting lamps, night lights, children's lamps or toy lamps depending on what purpose they believe the original lamps served.
Regardless of original use, miniature lamps are a popular collectible in high demand. Part of this demand has been met with reproductions. Some styles of miniature lamps have been reproduced since the late 1940s. Others have only recently been brought back as mass-produced copies. This leaves buyers with the problem of separating pre-1930 originals from post-1950s copies as well as current reproductions.
This problem was further complicated when the molds of L.G. Wright Glass. Co. were sold in 1999. From the 1950s through the 1980s, Wright was one of the major producers of reproduction miniature lamps, many of which have become collectible for their own merits. Since the auction, many Wright molds have been brought back into production both in the United States and overseas.
It is impossible to cover all the copies of all the miniature lamps reproduced over the years. We have tried to show a wide selection of new and old burners and how they are marked. How burners are marked can be a valuable clue to age, but there are several factors which can affect your examination of burners.
First, it's important to keep in mind that the traditional burner names – Acorn, Hornet and Nutmeg being the most common–describe burner styles, or shapes. Those same names are used on new burners made today that have no relationship with the original burner styles.
Second, burners can be replaced. Old collars and burners mounted in plaster can be removed from genuinely old lamps and re-plastered on reproduction lamps. In such cases, you would find genuinely old parts on brand new lamps.
Third, you may find genuinely old lamps with new burners. New burners have been made as replacement parts since at least the 1940s. Old lamps that have been in everyday use as working lamps frequently have had the original burner replaced.
Buyers can often avoid the most recent reproductions simply by using a long wave black light. Virtually all glass oil burning reproduction lamps are assembled with glue. Glue is used to fasten new burner collars to bodies and join fonts to bases. Old collars, of course, would normally be plastered not glued on. Old glass fonts and bases were generally joined together while hot and are permanently fused together. Many new two-piece lamps are made from two separate batches of glass–the base and font fluoresce different colors (see Figs. 5 and 10).
Other New Miniature Lamps
Other new miniature lamps not shown in this article are listed below. Following each entry is the corresponding entry in the standard reference book on miniature lamps, Miniature Lamps by Ruth and Frank Smith, volumes I and II.
Greek Key (Smith-I, #169) Made new in cobalt and pink; the original was made in clear glass only.
Fleur-de-lis (Smith-I, #228) The new base is 3 inches tall; old base is slightly over 2 inches tall.
Cosmos (Smith I, #286) Original was made in milk glass only; any other glass is a reproduction. Daisy is the original name of this pattern, but now almost universally called Cosmos.
Swirl (Smith I, #293) The original was made in a four-part mold and has four mold seams. The new was made in a two-part mold and has only two mold seams.
Embossed Swirl (Smith I, #369) Originals made in various colors including cranberry and milk glass. New lamps have been found in clear glass with thin cranberry flashing and milk glass. Originals had Hornet-style burners.
Beaded Drape (Smith I, #400) Extensively reproduced by L.G. Wright in many color combinations. Generally, Wright reproductions are much thicker glass than originals.
This list of additional new miniature lamps appears courtesy of Bob Culver and the Night Light Club, www.nightlightclub.org.
All new miniature lamps shown in this article were under $10 each, wholesale.
Fig. 1 There are at least three generations of Plume miniature lamps. A recent version is shown above left. Another version of Plume, above right, was made by L.G. Wright Glass Co., ca. 1950-1980s. See Fig. 2 for the original.
Fig. 2 The original Plume miniature lamp was made in milk glass only with old Nutmeg-style burners.
Fig. 3 The metal collars on the great majority of new pressed glass lamps are glued on the lamp base. The neck of the glass base (arrow) is usually exposed when the burner is removed. There is a gap between the glass base and the collar.
Fig. 4 Collars of the great majority of pre-1930 glass kerosene lamps were held in place by plaster, not glue. Generally, the neck of the glass lamp base is not visible when the burner is removed. The area between the collar and glass base is filled in with plaster.
Fig. 5 The bases and fonts of many new pressed glass kerosene lamps are joined together with glue. The glue joint is visible under long wave black light.
Fig. 6 New Sweetheart pattern 5-inch lamp copied from an old counterpart. New lamps are available in ruby, blue, amethyst and pink with white casing. Originals were never made in cased glass. The top of the new font is perfectly flat (arrow); top of old font is depressed. Original lamps are known in clear, green and clear with frosted hearts. The brass collar is glued, not plastered to the glass base.
Fig. 7 New embossed-scroll 10½-inch lamp, sold during the 1990s. Sold in satin pink, pink cased white, milk glass and clear satin. The base is now discontinued, but the cased shade is still available. The original lamp was made in red satin only. The brass collar is glued, not plastered to the glass base.
Fig. 8 These small lamps with "Nutmeg" embossed on the side of the 2¾-inch tall glass base are also reproduced. Originals have a removable brass handle (arrow) as shown in this original catalog illustration. The reproductions are missing the wire handle. New lamps are available in a variety of colors. Originals are known in clear, milk glass, green and cobalt.
Fig. 9 This new Bullseye pattern miniature lamp is copied from an old counterpart. The new lamp has a glue seam about halfway between the base and font. Original lamp has a patent number molded in the glass around the collar, "Patented Sept. 19 & Nov 14, 1911." The new lamp does not have the patent date. New lamps are available in red, cobalt and green. The original bullseye miniature lamp was sold in clear colorless glass, ruby staining over clear glass, milk glass, amber green and amethyst.
Fig. 10 The new miniature Bullseye lamp is made from two pieces of glass. In fact, one of our sample lamps was made from two different glass batches. The font, a deep ruby red in room light, has no reaction to black light. The base, though, made from another glass batch, fluoresces a bright mottled orange/yellow (Fig. 10). The new burner wick-raising knob is marked "P & A ACORN" (Fig. 24). The brass burner collar is glued, not plastered to the glass base.
Fig. 11 New miniature glass lamp copied from original Twinkle pattern lamp, Smith #432. This lamp features raised molded stars in the shade and base. "TWINKLE" is in raised molded glass on the base. Both new and old lamps are the same size, 7 inches tall to the top of the shade. Original lamps are known in blue amber, amethyst and green. New lamps are available in ruby, shown here, and amethyst. The new burner wick-raising knob is marked "P & A ACORN" (Fig. 24). The brass collar is glued, not plastered to the glass base.
Fig. 12 This new miniature lamp with molded daisy-like flowers is copied from the old original shown in Smith #155. Both new and old lamps are about 8 inches tall to the top of the shade. The original shown in Smith is known in clear glass only. No other original colors are listed, but may be possible. New lamps are available in ruby, shown here, cobalt blue and amethyst. The new burner wick-raising knob is marked "P & A ACORN," (Fig. 24). The brass collar is glued, not plastered to the glass base.
Top View of Plume Miniature Lamp Shades
Fig. 13 The glass in the current Plume reproduction miniature lamp is cased, or lined, with opaque white glass. The white casing measures only about one-sixty-fourth-inch thick, about the same thickness as the cardboard in cereal boxes.
Fig. 14 The L.G. Wright Plume copy, made ca. 1940s-1990s, has a much thicker opaque white casing than the current reproduction. The Wright casing measures almost one-sixteenth-inch thick, about four time the thickness of the casing in the current reproduction.
Fig. 15 The original pre-1930 Plume miniature lamp is not cased, or layered. Original Plume bases and shades are made of a single thickness of solid white milk glass only. No cased colors or other solid colors have ever been documented.
Fig. 16 Another good test to separate vintage L.G. Wright Plume lamps from more recent Plume reproductions is to examine the base just under the metal collar. This area in the Wright version is oval, above right. The same area in the current reproduction is almost square in shape, above left.
Examples of reproduction and Wright Plume lamps and their backgrounds, provided courtesy W.C. "Red" Roetteis.
The Most Common Original Burners
Fig. 17 Hornet burner
Fig. 18 Acorn burner
Fig. 19 Nutmeg Burner
Figs. 17-19 Illustrations from a Plume and Atwood Mfg. Co. catalog of the three most common burners on American miniature kerosene lamps: the Hornet, Acorn and Nutmeg. All these burners use a flat wick. The Hornet is the largest, taking a chimney of one and a half inches in diameter. The Acorn is shaped like the Hornet only smaller, using a chimney of slightly over one inch in diameter. The Nutmeg burner has a vertical cylindrical shape and takes the same size chimney as the Acorn, slightly over one inch.
Fig. 20 Hornet burner The Hornet is one of the largest burners found on miniature lamps. It takes a 1½-inch diameter chimney.
Fig. 21 Wick raising knobs on old Hornet burners can be marked "P & A Hornet," shown here, or completely plain with no marks. We couldn't find any new burners of any style marked Hornet but they may exist.
Fig. 22 Acorn burner Reproduction Acorn-style burner. This new burner is marked "P & A ACORN" on the wick-raising knob as shown in Fig. 23. Some reproduction Nutmeg-styled burners are also marked Acorn (not shown).
Fig. 23 Wick raiser knob marked "P & A Acorn" found on the reproduction Acorn burners sold with the new lamps shown in Figs. 9, 11 and 12. No old Acorn knob was marked in this manner.
Fig. 24 Original Acorn burner. The oldest original Acorn burners have wick knobs marked "The P & A Mfg Co. Acorn" (Fig. 25). Some knobs are plain with no marks; another style has a ring of six dots (Fig. 26).
Fig. 25 Original Acorn knob marked "The P & A MFG CO ACORN."
Fig. 26 Another style of an original Acorn knob has six dots arranged in a circle. Shown here as an illustration.
No genuine pre-1940 Nutmeg-style burners that fit miniature lamps are marked with the word "Nutmeg." Any burner marked Nutmeg has been made after ca. 1950 at the earliest. Burners marked "Nutmeg Burner" are currently being made. There are also some Nutmeg-styled reproduction burners marked "Acorn." No authentic pre-1930 Nutmeg-styled burner made by Plume & Atwood is marked Nutmeg nor Acorn.
Fig. 27 Only currently made reproduction burners are marked "NUTMEG BURNER." This new burner is found on the reproduction Plume lamp shown in this article.
Fig. 28 Nutmeg-styled burners on at least some of L.G. Wright miniature glass lamps made, ca. 1950s-1980s, are marked "ABCO NUTMEG." These burners were supplied through Angelo Brothers Co., a Philadelphia, PA-based manufacturer and wholesaler of lighting products and parts. These ABCO burners, although found on some collectible miniature lamps, cannot be older than mid-20th century at most.
Fig. 29 Pre-1930 Nutmeg-style burner by Plume and Atwood. No pre-1930 Nutmeg burner is marked Nutmeg, neither on the burner or the wick-raising knob. The most common markings on typical authentic pre-1930 Nutmeg burners are shown below.
Typical Knobs on Old Nutmeg Burners
Fig. 30 Authentic pre-1930 Nutmeg knob marked "P & A MFG CO."
Fig. 31 Authentic pre-1930 Nutmeg knob marked "MADE IN USA."
Fig. 32 Authentic pre-1930 Nutmeg knob with a 12-point star design.
New Knobs with Other Names
Fig. 33 This new knob is embossed with a crown-like design. It is found on inexpensive novelty and souvenir lamps from the last half of the 20th century. It accepts chimneys with a one and one-quarter inch base. Unlike the other burners shown in this article, this burner does not screw into a separate collar, but screws directly on threads molded into ceramic and glass bases. This burner uses a string wick.
Fig. 34 B & P Lamp Supply is one of the largest suppliers of new replacement lamp parts. Its initials, B & P, appear on the new wick raising knob shown above. B & P also makes new burners marked Acorn, Nutmeg and Gem Arctic. A sample page from one of its catalogs is shown in Fig. 36.
Fig. 35 A new knob by B & P Lamp Supply marked Gem Arctic. This new burner accepts a chimney with a one and five-eighths inch diameter. No sample was available to photograph. This example is an illustration developed from a catalog description.
Fig. 36 Sample catalog page from B & P Lamp Supply. B & P is a leading supplier of new replacement lamp parts. All pieces on the page shown here are new shades for miniature lamps.
Fig. 37 A page from an L.G. Wright Glass Company catalog showing miniature lamps. Although made in the last half of the 20th century, Wright's glass is becoming collectible. Since the Wright molds were auctioned in 1999, however, other companies are now making new pieces in the Wright molds. Use the guidelines in this article to avoid the current reproductions.