Thursday, May 23, 2019

19th Century Mining by Candlelight

Sometimes when I am retrieving something from the Benton County Historical Museum's collection storage facility, I see an unfamiliar object with a strange shape. I wonder what it is and what is it used for.  This piece of iron is one such object.
According to donor Louis Raymond, this is a miner's candle holder given to him by the editor of  The Mining Journal. Reportedly, it came from a mine near Nanimo, British Columbia.

Before the mid-1800s, miners used oil lamps to light their work. After Joseph Morgan invented a candle-molding machine in 1834 and the supply of paraffin and tallow increased as by-products of industrialized meat packing and oil refining, the price of candles fell.  Now candles became a cheap source of light. Miners began to develop holders which met the needs of the mining industry, with the first patent issued in 1872.

The iron spike on one end could be driven into a framing timber or a crack in rock.  The cup-like part held the candle, and the hook helped balance the weight and could be used to hang the holder from a projection when there were no convenient beams or cracks. Miners sometimes used them to hang candle holder from their hats. This device was relatively easy to make and soon over 80 brands were being sold.  Some added decorative features such as perforated shapes on the cup or twists to the handle. Some even had engraved designs.  Others could be folded like a pocket knife.

Here are some others from the museum’s collection:
  Candlestick with “H. Blakeman” on the side
 Candlestick from Shasta County, California copper mine
 Weren't candles a danger in the mines?  Candles emitted less smoke and toxic gases than oil lamps and were less likely to ignite wooden support beams if dislodged.  They were also easier to transport. Candles were used to light western mines until 1918-1920 when they replaced by electric lights. 
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon  

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