Collections › MESDA Collection › Pair of Argand Lamps

Pair of Argand Lamps

Maker Unknown
Place Made:
Date Made:
silver plated
HOA: 20-1/4″; WOA: 5″; DOA: 9″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: One of a pair of silver-plated Argand lamps. The oval oil founts are faced with mirrors which reflect the light from a lamp supported by brackets. The founts are decorated on top with openwork swags and an urn.

FORM: Ami Argand (1750-1803), a Swiss chemist, invented a lamp to burn a circular wick and “causing a current of air to pass through the inside of the flame and by producing another current of air on the outside of the wick by means of a chimney,” according to a patent issued to him in 1784. That same year, Thomas Jefferson, then in France with Benjamin Franklin, wrote to Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress: “There has been a lamp called the Cylinder lamp, lately invented here. It gives a light equal as is thought to that of six or eight candles. It requires olive oil, but it’s consumption is not great. The improvement is produced by forming the wick into a hollow cylinder so that there is a passage for the air through the hollow. The idea had occurred to Dr. Franklin a year or two before: but he tried his experiment with a rush, which not succeeding he did not prosecute it. The fact was that the rush formed too small a cylinder. The one used is of an inch diameter. They make shade candlesticks for studious men which are excellent for reading. These cost two guineas.” Jefferson brought one of these lamps to America and gave it to his friend Charles Thompson. It was noted in 1807 that “100 of Argand’s lamps burning with fish oil are equal to 218 common lamps, 285 spermaceti candles, 333 tallow ditto, or 546 wax candles, from which it evidently appears that an Argand’s lamp is vastly superior, in point of economy, to any other burning body commonly made use of in families or in shops.” See Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, 11 November 1784; online: (accessed 15 January 2018) and “The Repertory Of Arts And Manufactures,” Vol. 11, 2nd Series (1807), p. 372; online: (accessed 15 January 2018).

Credit Line:
Purchase Fund