Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spiral Candlestick

A few months ago I forged out a spiral candlestick common to the eighteenth century. While this is obviously no great feat in the realm of blacksmithing, I’m still happy with the way it turned out. I've heard these spiral candlesticks referred to as “courting candles”. The idea being that parents would adjust out a section of candle and when it burned down to the frame of the candlestick the date was over. I believe this is more folklore than fact. 

In the 18th and well into the mid 19th century, people were using tallow candles. They were cheap and could be made on the frontier using locally available resources. The problem with tallow candles is they tend to be soft and prone to flopping over if unsupported. It’s my belief that these candlesticks were used to support the tallow candle within the spiral frame. Unlike my picture which shows the candle all the way up, the proper use would be to have the candle down inside the frame. The user would    then turn the handle like the one seen on the right of my candlestick. This would work like a screw and follow the spirals of the candlestick thereby lifting the candle. 

Next to the candlestick are candles I made the other night. They're made with a 50/50 mix of beeswax and beef tallow. I mixed the candles with beeswax to make them harder and cleaner burning. I've read that this was done in the past to stretch-out the more expensive beeswax. Beeswax is expensive even by today’s standards.

For some historical background, an advertisement in the Nebraska City News, dated February 27 1858,  list the prices of goods sold at a local store. The going rate is as follows: “Candles Star 35cts”, “Tallow Candles 15-20cts”. It doesn't state what quantity the candles were sold in, but obviously tallow candles were much cheaper. I don't know if "Star" is a brand of candle or a type of candle. 

To the right is a picture of a box of Star Candles recovered from the Steamship Bertrand that sunk in the Missouri River north of Omaha Nebraska on August 1st, 1865. It was located in 1968 and contained a sizable quantity of candles and candle molds.

If you’re wondering, tallow is nothing more than rendered down animal fat. It can be from deer, beef cow, or just about any other type of animal. Pork fat; however, tends to stay soft and doesn’t burn as well as beef fat in my opinion, so I would avoid it. If you’re interested in making tallow I suggest watching Keith Burgess’s videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/historicaltrekking