Lighting

Silver looks its best by candlelight.

Perhaps for this reason, and because candles are still widely used even after the introduction of oil, gas and electricity, there are still relatively large quantities of silver candlesticks surviving from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. Candlesticks have to withstand heavy usage and so metals, including brass and pewter, have proved the most practical material and they also reflect the light, enhancing its glow.

Different forms of candle holder were developed in accordance with how and where they were to be used: tapersticks for desks, chambersticks for the bedroom, wall sconces, candelabra and (in only the wealthiest households) chandeliers. As the time for dining moved from mid-day into the hours of darkness, the height of candlesticks increased and branches were added to give more light. Ancillary utensils were also made in silver. Snuffers, used to trim frequently the wick of tallow candles, were made with stands or trays; they usually have a useful spike to lever out candle stubs. When safety matches replaced the tinderbox, from the late nineteenth century onwards silver covers were made to hold matchboxes often enamelled with scenes of foxhunting, pretty young ladies, or packs of cards. As a large house needed several dozens of candlesticks, they were often numbered on the base, to make checking of the plate easier (the same was done with dinner plates).

Until the second half of the eighteenth century nearly all candlesticks were cast. With the introduction of thinly-rolled sheet less silver needed to be used, but the sticks had to be filled with pitch for solidity. Candles were often an integral part of epergnes and centrepieces, held in branches that could be detached, depending on the time of day a meal was being served.

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Photo: Christie’s.
Candlestick, David Willaume, London 1701/02