By Susan Stone of Eve Stone Antiques, Ltd. Woodbridge, CT
One of the most enduring items of beauty and grace continues to be the English 18th century brass candlestick. As often as we try, it is never quite possible to duplicate the aura of candlelight, and the effect it has on the mood of any environment.
The history of the candlestick in England is a long but glorious one. More candlesticks have been made of brass than any other material. Although many types and varieties abound, age and quality are very important factors when collecting. The method of manufacture varies so much that the best way to determine age is through the time tested method of constant handling and observation. Experience, as always, is the best teacher.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, and the making of brass candlesticks is centuries old. In England, though, the brass making industry did not flourish until end of the 17th century because the mining rights in England belonged to the crown and thus raw materials remained virtually untouched for manufacture. Instead, England was primarily an agrarian society that relied on sheep farming with wool as its major source of wealth. Domestic metalware items were of course produced, but most likely out of scrap. It was not until 1660 that the first truly English form is identified. This form, known as the “trumpet”, is the most recognizable in the pure sense. It has a large drip pan and a wide bell shaped base. It was not until 1730 that the candlestick form in England drastically changed. This change came about with the advent of a better form of tallow, the animal fat used to make candles. New tallow did not drip as badly as the old variety. Thus, the candlestick form could change, removing the cumbersome mid drip pans of the seventeenth century.
The most influential 18th century English design is the Queen Anne style candlestick that was made mostly in Birmingham from 1730-1750. Not only is it the most desirable form but the most sought after by collectors; it is not only elegant in form, but beautiful in its simplicity. Most of the candlesticks of this period are between 7 inches and 9 inches tall with the occasional, rare 10-inch (at most) pair. In form, they are baluster shaped with small bulges or knops on the stem and pretty lobed bases. The bases, though, are what truly distinguish one type from another with the most popular forms being known as the “petal” base, “swirl” base, “cut corner” base, and “scallop” base. Many of the Birmingham candlesticks are stamped, or signed. It is a point of much discussion in the antiques marketplace as to whether these were maker’s marks or second hand sellers stamps. In fact, although there are records of the names of the “makers”, according to existing documentation, these names do not list an occupation as candlestick maker!
Thus, this very short article represents just the tip of the iceberg concerning all there is to know about 18th century brass candlesticks in England. As a general rule of thumb, though, Eve always says, “ buy the best you can afford when you are buying, and never buy anything you have to make an excuse for.” An experienced dealer is always your best source of knowledge.Susan Stone of Eve Stone Antiques, Ltd. Woodbridge, CT