Antique Oil Lamps With Wick

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 | Author:
Oil Lamp Wicks at The Antique Lamp Co.

The Antique Betty Lamp

Lamps in the olden times were not as fancy and classy looking as the ones we find today in many different homes. This is simply because we are lucky to have electricity, and 100 watt bulbs, while the people of the olden days had no such thing. They used lamps made of clay, which burnt oil, small pieces of wood, grease and leftovers of fat, i.e. simply what was on hand. As improvements came about in life, copper and iron became a substitute for clay.

However, even then, the lamps gave off too much of smoke, odor, and leaked oil and grease, so that it fell drop by drop on the objects placed below. This was because of the fact that the wicks in these lamps were of cloth. These lamps absorbed oil more quickly than it would burn, and the extra absorbed would then leak.

The Betty lamp was an invention during the colonial times, which took away many of the problems associated with lightning. It had a wicker holder at its base, allowing the oil which dripped to run back into the bowl, and be consumed again. Further improvements were made when the lamp was covered. This reduced the smoke, and maximized the burning of the oil.

Different forms of the lamp were invented. Some were made of metal; some had oval or round sides. Many had rods attached, which would fetch the wick if it dropped into the oil.

As more and more people became aware of the usefulness of the invention, the American colonials began using the lamp as the primary source of light. Sometimes the Betty lamp was hung from a lamp stand that was on a counter or an elevated iron stand that rested on the floor. Another technique of elevating the Betty lamp was placing it on a turned wood or tin pedestal that sat on the table. The lamp then elucidated the work surface or reading material of the person sitting there.

The word Betty was originated from the word besser which means better. The lamp was selected for the Logo of the American Home Economics Association, because it symbolized light. In the olden days, when the source of lightning was improper, the Betty lamp gave homes the much needed lightning. Therefore, it was chosen as the appropriate symbol for the Association. Even after the Associations name was changed to American Association of Family and Consumer Services, the logo was continued to be used.

The Betty lamp was accepted as the symbol of learning. It symbolizes the following:

The need of exact knowledge
The blessing of fellowship
The value of service
The appreciation of beauty
The spirit of joy
The power of strength
The satisfaction of achievement
The bond of cooperation

Since then, the Betty lamp has become a collectors item, and the original lamps which were used in the homes have been put into museums, and restored. Betty lamps are being made today but now most people burn olive oil, vegetable oil, or kerosene in them. They are popular with living history buffs. Many people who want to give their homes a colonial touch buy the imitation lamps from shops which sell lights and lamps.

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Frequently Asked Questions

    How do I retrieve the wick in an antique oil lamp?
    My father gave me a pair of antique lamps last spring after the power went out and all I had was candles. I moved again and during the move one of the wicks fell into the font and I can’t figure out how to get it back up, I think it’s rusted shut and I’m not sure how to get it off in the first place.

    Any ideas?

    It’s a lamp like this: But with a clear glass font.

    • ANSWER:

      Firstly, the metal section comes apart for you to fill with oil.

      Take the glass funnel off, then try rotating the entire metal assembly side to side. Usually it 1/8 turns and lifts off.

      The two wheels may operate 2 wicks or one will move the wick and the other a metal shroud. Depends on type.

      see if you can buy new wick. Feed it up through the base while turning free wheel untill the little cogged wheel catches it and feeds it through.

      Just make sure the lamp is on a big enough table if you are using it. Most get knocked off from small tables.

    Can I use citronella in an antique oil lamp?
    When we moved into our new house about 2 years ago, we found 3 antique oil lamps in the attic. These are not knock-offs like you’d find at Hobby Lobby, these are the real thing. They still have wick in them and everything – the oil is long-since dried up. I’ve had a really hard time (that’s an understatement) getting the opening to the oil entry open. One of them I got open (the cap was all twisted from me taking it off with pliers, so I had to shave a rubber cork down to size and wedge it in there. I had filled it with citronella – these are for outdoors, and my question is – is this going to work? It seems like it just might…has anyone done this before? Also, do I just light it by opening the wick part REALLY quickly, lighting it and then closing it? Or is there an easier way?

    Here is a pic of one exactly like the ones I have:

    • ANSWER:

    how to use an oil lamp???
    I have an old antique oil lamp but I’m not exactly sure how to use it.

    It has a screw on cap with a peice of TALL glass that sits inside the cap and covers the wick.

    Can someone tell me how to use this?
    I know that I fill it with oil that I got at walmart in the candle section for oil lamps and hurricane lamps. but, how do I do the wick?
    do I completely soak it in oil before putting it in the wick feeder or do I just put a SMALL part of it in the oil?

    any instructions in photos on how to use it would be great. 🙂

    Thank you all for your answers!!

    • ANSWER:
      There should be directions on the bottle of oil, but…
      fill the bottom with oil, put the whole thing back together, and let it sit for a couple of hours (might take less). The wick will “suck” oil up. You’ll want to leave just a little wick showing at the top (1/4 inch or less). Now, take the TALL glass off and light the wick. The flame will get smaller the less wick you have showing. Get the flame to a safe size (about 2″, depending on the size of the TALL glass. Put the shade (tall glass) back on. Enjoy — but don’t forget to blow it out before you go to bed!

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