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Cut and Engraved Overlay Lamp with Pressed Square Base

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Artifact Description

The SS Republic excavation produced three distinctive glass oil lamp fonts, one of which represents a rare hand-blown piece with a ruby-colored overlay cut to clear glass, with an engraved, heavily faded vine decoration running along its shoulder. It is accompanied by a pressed milk glass base.

By 1867, most glass factories in the United States were involved in the manufacture of glass lighting devices. So immense had the business become that many glass houses were completely devoted to lamp globes, others to lamp shades and yet others produced only the chimneys. Research however, suggests these two glass parts were both produced by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company of Massachusetts, which began kerosene lamp manufacture in the 1850s. This particular lamp was described as "plated, cut and engraved" by the hardware and lighting companies that sold them. The overlay technique for producing the font involved encasing or plating the glass on the outside with a different color glass, and then cutting it back by hand to reveal the glass beneath. Such production began in the 1840s when the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company set up a small furnace intended for the manufacture of colored glass for plated wares. The labor involved in the glassmaking and cutting made this piece considerably more expensive than most table lamps. Its use, like similar pieces of the era, was intended for city homes and large estates, where a staff of servants could maintain them in pristine condition.

Neither the brass burner nor brass joint connectors were found at the site of the SS
Republic. If these items are the remains of a larger cargo, it is quite possible the ship was transporting separate lamp components, quite common in fact, when the glass industry produced separate glass parts—globes, fonts and bases—for the lamp industry, providing employment for hundreds of workers who derived a living by assembling lighting devices.

Other Details

H: 18.2cm

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