Details & Cataloguing

Important Americana

New York

Pair of Classical Gilt and Patinated Bronze, Cut-Glass Mounted Argand Mantel Lamps, Manufactured by Thomas Messenger & Sons; Retailed by Baldwin Gardner, Birmingham, England, circa 1825
signed Messenger to the underside of the underplate and bearing a B Gardiner / N. York brass retailer label.
Height including chimneys 18 in.
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Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York.


New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, The World of Duncan Phyfe - The Arts of New York, 1800-1847, 2011-2012, p. 105, no. 60. 

Catalogue Note

There were many innovations in the field of lighting during the Neo-Classical period. The design of this extraordinary pair of Argand lamps relies ultimately on the discoveries of the Franco-Swiss chemist Ami Argand (1759-1803). Argand employed new principles of combustion in the invention of a burner consisting of two concentric tubes surrounding a wick. These tubes drew a double current of air to feed the flame. The Argand workshop was the first to perfect the use of a glass tube as a chimney to increase the upward flow of air. The combination of the two tubes and the glass chimney produced a larger flame that provided a good deal more light-twelve times that of a single candle and permitted much more activity at night than had been possible before. However, the oil used was too thick to be drawn up by the wicks, so these lamps had a reservoir placed higher than the wick so that the flow of oil could be aided by gravity. In a negative way, these reservoirs caused a large shadow, which ultimately led to the development ofthe sinumbra (i.e., without shadow) lamp.

Although many Argand, astral, sinumbra, and other types of lamps have survived with the label of Baldwin Gardiner, J. & 1. Cox, and other American firms of the early nineteenth century, trade catalogues of the period suggest that most of these lamps were actually made in Birmingham, England, from where they were exported to retailers in the United States and elsewhere. Possibly some American retailers were able to offer exclusive designs, as there appears to be some correlation between specific designs and the firms that marketed them. Baldwin Gardiner had one of the most successful retailing establishments in New York in the Classical Revival period, selling lighting, china, silver, hardware, and a wide variety of other household furnishings.

This pair of lamps bears the name of "Messenger" cast into the iron weight in the base of each that serves to balance the weight of the asymmetrical arm with burner, shade, and chimney. The "signature" is placed discreetly, on the upper-and thus hidden- side of the weight, as it was not intended to be seen by the ultimate consumer, who was clearly encouraged to believe that the lamps had been made by Baldwin Gardiner of New York.

The oil tanks are identical to those on a suite of three Argand mantel lamps, which are again marked both by Messenger and Baldwin Gardiner, in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland (acc. no. 1939a-c; see Wendy Cooper, Classical Taste in America 1800-1840, exhib. cat. [The Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1993], p. 158 fig. 116 illus.).

Important Americana

New York