Friday, May 6, 2011

Duke of Oil

by J.S. Holland

You thought I was just being hyperbolic about this retro-lighting stuff, didn't you? I'm not just whistling Dixie here. (I have been known to whistle "Old Dog Tray" though.)

I went out yesterday and scored me this charming oil lamp, just like our grannies used to have in the living room. It's unfortunately filled with red kerosene, which I don't particularly care for because of the less-than-pleasant fumes. I didn't slog through endless antique malls looking for an oil lamp just to ditch one hazardous light source for another. So, I need to go find me some better quality, unscented, oil before I can make the scene like Miss Twiddle in her conservatory readin' the latest issue of Notes and Queries.

I was wondering who is credited with inventing the oil lamp and so consulted the Wikipedia. I learned that no one invented it; that is to say, we don't know the caveman's name. Soon after the discovery of fire and the utilization of cooking animals with it, someone probably figured out that a twig sticking out of a blob of animal fat burned a good long time. The earliest oil lamps were just a bowl of oil or animal fat, with something acting as a wick sticking out of it. The earliest bowls were probably skulls. Curiously, it took the candle a lot longer to catch on, even though conceptually it's really just an oil lamp on a stick. Says Wikipedia, the earliest known candles originated in China around 200 BC, and were made from whale fat and from natural waxes derived from insects and seeds.

The simplicity of the oil lamp concept is such that, honestly, I didn't even need to go out and buy this contraption - the internet is filled with tutorials on making your own which consist of little more than a glass of vegetable oil with a piece of string hanging out of it. But of course, such coarse neo-survivalist methods, applicable though they may be to, say, a hippie or an eskimo, lack the proper aesthetics I seek for the JSH Plantation - a place where the past kills the future dead on contact.

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