Journey of a Lamplighter

Photo Provided This 19th century newel post figural lamp finally found the perfect spot to show off his skills.

Antiques enthusiasts enjoy showing off their treasures and I had the pleasure of seeing an antique that I took care of for 35 years, finally placed in the perfect spot recently.

The antique I refer to is an attractive newel post lamp. The brass figure is dressed in classic Roman attire and seems to be a fisherman, holding a string of fish in one hand and a lantern to light the way in the other raised arm.

I came about this particular lamp after my mother Margaret Bierkortte died and her estate was distributed. Mom was an avid art and antiques lover who shopped yard sales, second hand stores and antique shops, seeking bargains.

This newel post lamp was never in use at my childhood home, however I liked it well enough to tote it to my home and attempt to install it on my newel post in the 1980s.

With three active children though, it didn’t last long and the fragile lamp became a liability so I retired it to the basement for years.

Not too long ago, I cleaned it up and began to use it in my front room as a side lamp on a small antique table. The lamp works well and has a nice long cord so it was perfect near my sofa, adding a bit of light to a dark corner.

Recently, I heard my daughter discussing the idea of a newel post lamp and the fact that she thought her husband might like one for their hall. (She and her family live in an historic 1880-era home that has a long hall and dramatic staircase.)

I decided right then and there to gift it to my daughter and her husband, saving her the trouble of shopping around and finding one.

The lamp is perfect in their hall and lights the way with elegance. My son-in-law, Chad Hill, is exceptionally handy and installed the lamp safely, which was something I was never able to do.

The lamplighter fisherman never looked better and I swear that he stands just a bit taller in his new location. Plus, their home is located near the Ohio River so he looks natural standing there with his catch.

Newel post lamps like this one were very popular in the 19th century and come in all sizes, some with more than one light extending from the fixture, which often features a neoclassical figure holding the lights up in dramatic fashion.

Figures like Mercury or Venus are the usual look, but soldiers, maidens and cherubs are other figures selected for the task of lighting the way.

Also referred to as pillar lights, the lamps were used in shops as well as homes. Originally, these light fixtures were gaslights but later became electrical.

Versions, too, can be found in the arts and crafts style, and rather than figures, display an architectural look and natural designs.

Many of these stylish antique lamps were created in pairs for center standing staircases that featured two newel posts and needed matching lamps. These lamps might even stand in opposing directions and often include delicate etched or painted glass shades.

When shopping for a newel post lamp, be careful to look at all the features and make sure the fixture works. Don’t be put off by the patina, since aged metal is valued for its verdigris look and this adds to the value. Just enjoy the added bit of elegance lighting the way.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of the Sunday News-Register, 1500 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003.


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