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Antique chandeliers are a great addition to any home and an imperative part of any historic restoration. They are usually pretty easy to have wired for electricity, giving the homeowner an authentic look with all of the convenience of modern technology.
What Is a Chandelier?
A chandelier is defined as a decorative, ceiling mounted light fixture with two or more arms that bear lights. They can be simple or complex and made from everything from wood to porcelain. Most often when someone hears the word chandelier they think of the beautiful, ornate crystal monstrosities in castles and expensive hotels but not all chandeliers are that elaborate. In fact, they were quite simple when they first began.
History of Chandeliers
The earliest known chandeliers were used in medieval halls and courts. They were simple and rugged, often taking the form of a wooden cross with spikes driven into it. Candles were then pushed down on the spikes to secure them and the whole contraption pulled up to the desired height with a rope or chain.
During the 1400s chandeliers became more decorative and complex. The designs often were based on a circle, emulating a crown. These increasingly elaborate light fixtures were lighting not only halls and castles but were also found in cathedrals and the homes of wealthy merchants.
Because of the high cost involved in lighting a room at night the chandeliers were a symbol of status for centuries.
By the 1700s chandeliers were commonly found in the homes of wealthy merchants. These were made in cast metal or gilded wood and often were styled with classic Greek and Roman motifs. As the century progressed new developments in glassmaking allowed cheaper production of lead crystal and this became a popular addition to chandeliers.
The crystals served two purposes. They were beautiful and decorative but they also scattered light, allowing a room to be brighter with fewer candles. It wasn't long before an all crystal chandelier was created.
During the 1800s gas lighting became available in many city homes and branched ceiling fixtures were produced. These were called gasolier, a juxtaposition of the words gas and chandelier. Many older homes had their candle holding chandeliers converted to gas and with the addition of electricity to many homes in the 1890s chandeliers became more common. There were even fixtures that used gas and electricity.
After electricity was common in homes chandeliers lost their importance as a lighting fixture and became more of a decorative object in a room.
Styles of Antique Chandeliers
There are many styles of antique chandeliers and which you choose should be dependent on your personal preference. It is important to stay with the style of your home, however, if you are doing a restoration.
It can be difficult to find authentic antique chandeliers that are older than about the 1880s. If you are doing a restoration of a Colonial home, for example, you have two choices. You can either use a reproduction fixture that mimics the style of what would have been used at the time or you can use another antique style that compliments your home. After all, people would have updated their homes and even a house built in the 1600s might have boasted a Colonial Revival or Arts and Crafts style chandelier.
Colonial style chandeliers were simple in design and often made of tin. They were little more than hanging candlesticks made to hold several candles. Here is a typical Colonial design in a modern reproduction.
Victorian antique chandeliers were sometimes elaborate but most often quite simple in style. If the glass shades turn upward the chandelier was made for a gas fixture and if they turn downward they were electrical. The majority of antique lighting you find will have been made after about 1890. The fixtures were often suspended by a single, central piece with several lights branching off at the bottom. More elaborate fixtures might have several chains, scrollwork, or other features.
Shades, if there were any, were often made of slag glass, milk glass, or other special glass popular during the time.
Mission style was blocky and chunky, often with hammered metal detailing. Details were often very geometric and looked handcrafted. These fixtures do not look delicate, but like they have been around a long time. Copper and bronze were popular materials in Mission style.
The earliest Art Deco styles incorporated shells, scallops and tulip shapes in the design. Porcelain was being used as a material for the fixture itself, in addition to the traditional bronze and pewter. Beaded edge glass was a popular design addition.
Whichever type of antique chandelier that you choose be sure that it has been rewired by a professional. Have the wiring checked prior to installation. It is important to be safe.
Where to Find Chandeliers
Architectural salvage companies are the best place to start when looking for the perfect antique chandelier for your home. Getting on locally allows you to be able to touch and see the fixture and better visualize how it will fit into your décor. It also allows you to see the actual condition of the piece without the surprises that can happen when you order something online.
If you can't locate a chandelier in your area you may want to consider eBay.