Oil Lamps

These glass oil lamps were made for the opium trade and are discussed at length in the section on smoking. They were used to evaporate the opium in a pipe for inhaling. They were all obtained in BC. The two pieces on the right are dug relics.

This is an oil lamp obtained from Boston and originally manufactured in Hong Kong. Brass based lamps of this style were made for portable lighting and may have been pressed into service as opium lamps in Chinese camps in North America in the absence of the all glass type. It has "MADE IN HONG KONG" stamped on the bottom which indicates it was an export item.

These four small oil lamp dishes were found in the 1960s (in San Francisco when they were breaking ground for a new Bank of America building) with the miniature spouted jar shown on the bottles and pots page. They were used for home and/or ceremonial lighting (such as altar lighting) with traditional rush wicks. Originally, there were five lamp dishes found in this group, one is now in Roy's collection. Click to see how the wick could be used. In this photograph (linked, not copied) the wick is placed across the lamp dish with the centre immersed in oil. Capillary action would suck the oil up the wick and one or both ends could be lit. The lamp dishes are 3.5" (9 cm) in diameter.

A close-up of two of the above lamps:

This is a sweet pea motif oil lamp stand, 11" tall, that came from an old Chinese family in Southern California. They had more recently been using it as a candle holder. It is very similar to one shown on the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum website and found along the tracks. When used as an oil lamp, an oil dish, such as one shown above (or perhaps one a little fancier?), with a traditional rush wick would be placed on top of the lamp. Any residue from the burning wick would fall into the dish at the base of the lamp stand. Next the lamp stand is shown with one of the above oil dishes in place.

The lamp has 3 small protrusions on the top serving as stand-offs for the oil dish. Oil, leaking from the wick, would run down the outside of the dish and into the top of the lamp. The lamp was hollow so the oil would run down the inside of the lamp. These lamps had to be standing on a dish to catch this oil. This arrangement prevented unsightly oil dribbles down the side of the lamp and fire in the dish if a piece of flaming wick fell into the oil. The oil lamps that I have seen have these protrusions on the top, an easy way to tell the difference between an oil lamp and a candle stick!


Oil lamp stand--7.5' tall X 3.5" wide. This lamp stand was dug in the Northern California Feather River Canyon area near Oroville, CA in an 1880s exclusively Chinese dump. The central bowl section was used to catch any overflow of oil that may have run down the outside of the lamp stand. The three top protrusions used to hold the lamp up have long since fallen off or corroded away. Since those protrusions are missing this could be a candlestick but I believe it to be an oil lamp stand. Further, the top hole appears much too small for holding candles. Oil lamp stand or candlestick this dug relic is well over 100 years old and as such belongs in the collection.