Pair of Crystal and Brass Argand Lamps, circa 1830


Pair of crystal and brass single-arm Argand lamps.
Attributed to Messenger & Sons
Birmingham and London, circa 1832-1849
Labeled: B. Gardiner/ N. York.

The blown, cut and stepped crystal oil font with brass luster ring with pendant prisms on a brass shaft with a single arm supported by a scrolled bracket, continuing to the burner tube with a cut crystal bobèche and prisms, the shaft continuing to a blown and cut crystal base with a molded brass collar foot.

Measure: H 21″ W 13″ D 8″.

Condition: Very Good: One lamp with a crack in the back side of the glass base, skillfully repaired, lusters from the bobèche are mismatched, brass cleaned and re-lacquered, electrified.

The firm Thomas Messenger (1767-1832), began in 1797 with Thomas Phipson was to become the most important manufacturer of oil and gas lighting of the 19th-century.  Listed initially as: “Brass Founders, Manufacturers of Church Candlesticks, Patent Lamps, Etc.” their successors were to survive into the 1920s.   Their partnership lasted until 1823, the year after they opened a London office at 21 Grenville Street, Hatton Garden.  For the next two years Thomas Messenger is listed in London city directories alone and then in 1828 with his son Samuel as “Thomas Messenger and Son” at the same address.  After Thomas’ death in 1832, the firm became known as “Thomas Messenger and Sons” continuing at Hatton Garden, London and Broad Street, Birmingham into the 1860s[1].

[1] Gerald T. Gowitt 19th-Century Elegant Lighting (Atglen, Pa., Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2002), p.125-132.

Baldwin Gardiner (1791-1868), was a silversmith who operated a luxury emporium, first listed as a “merchant” in 1827, at 149 Broadway and then at 29 Maiden Lane, New York City until 1848. They offered fancy hardware, lighting, porcelains and silver. Many luxury items such as Paris porcelain and Argand lamps were imported from the finest manufactures in England and France, the lamps “private labeled” at the factory. Baldwin was the brother of Philadelphia silversmith Sydney Gardiner of the renowned Philadelphia firm Fletcher & Gardiner, and brother-in-law of Louis Veron who ran a similar luxury emporium in Philadelphia.

Geneva-born philosopher and inventor Francois-Pierre-Ami Argand (1750-1803), finally received a British patent for his lamps developed a few years earlier in Paris on March 15th, 1784 (patent no. 1425). His invention promised “a lamp that is so constructed to produce neither smoak [sic.] nor smell, and to give considerably more light than any lamp hitherto known.” It consisted of a tubular wick held between metal tubes, a rack and pinion wick riser assembly and a tall, narrow chimney that fit closely around the wick causing air to be drawn up through the center of the flame as well as around its outside creating more thorough combustion. It was designed to burn rape-seed (colza) and whale oil, issuing from an oil reserve or “font” positioned so that the oil would flow from the force of gravity to the burner.

This invention, developed initially with Matthew Bolton and James Watt in England, was subsequently manufactured by a host of makers in Birmingham including Messenger, Johnston-Brookes, Phipson & Lambley, Fletcher & Day, T.C. Salt and J. & C. Ratcliff.  It was hailed by Rees in his encyclopedia of 1819 The Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature saying “it may be justly ranked among the greatest discoveries of the age.” Benjamin Franklin noted it was “much admired for its splendor.”  Argand’s invention was the most important advancement in home lighting since the discovery of fire.