As long as I can remember, my family has always had Aladdin Lamps.
My dad called them “coal oil lamps.” All of ours were made by a company called Aladdin, although, there were other manufacturers.
Before generators and battery-operated lighting systems, we used them to light our home during power outages.
If the electricity went out, dad would get an Aladdin Lamp down from the mantle, and check to make sure there was enough coal oil in it.
Although, by the time I came around, coal oil had been replaced by kerosene as the fuel, but we still called it coal oil.
Coal oil and kerosene are chemically similar, but coal oil comes from shale and kerosene comes from a petroleum process.
These lamps are made from a simple design, but put out an amazing amount of light – the equivalent of an 80 watt light bulb.
Most have a base with a stem. Atop the stem is the tank for fuel. Inside that sits the wick assembly and above that is the mantle (a very fine netting material). A glass globe called a chimney tops the lamp and encloses the fine flame.
The use of these old lamps came back to me after recent high winds, and in some areas of the country, tornadoes, took their toll.
A reader from Kilgore, Texas, shared her story of working on a quilt after her husband had gone to bed when she heard high winds and a tree come down before the the lights went out.
Their damage was extensive, but thankfully no one was hurt.
I remember a night when I was a small child that my father grabbed me and my sister from our beds and we went into a hall closet and then closed the door.
I was half asleep and confused. I began to hear a sound that I thought was a train. It was a tornado.
Our home and family were spared, but the lamp helped us feel better after dad lit it. I was scared, but at least I wasn’t scared in total darkness.
My parents became somewhat obsessed with Aladdin Lamps. Over the decades, they acquired some of the most ornate and rarer ones made. The lamps now fill every available shelf throughout my mom’s home.
When I got married in the early 80s, my parents gave me an Aladdin lamp. Mostly, it has been a decorative item, but after my reader friend emailed me her story, I decided to see if I still had the extra parts I had bought years ago.
In a drawer I discovered the extra mantle and some other parts.
Surveying the box that held the mantle, I noticed the aging cardboard and the $3.19 price written in pencil on the top.
I thought back to my dad showing me how to carefully take a new mantle out of a box by holding only the metal ring. You can’t touch the mantle. The oil from your fingers would cause a problem.
He then showed me how to light a match and only touch the flame to the mantle to burn off the factory coating. The flash from the flame always caught me off guard.
Once the mantle was prepared, he showed me how to carefully insert it into the wick assembly and then put the chimney on.
The mantles will last as long as you don’t bump or touch them.
My mother told me that the lamp they gave me is called, “The Lincoln Drape” design. My lamp was made between 1940 and 1949, according to some web research I did.
My mom also said that Aladdin Lamps that don’t have an oil port are older and more valuable. If there’s no oil port, you have to remove the chimney and wick assembly to pour oil into the lamp.
She shared a story about a lamp that was prized by her mother. In 1950, my grandmother went out to a barrel in the back yard where the coal oil was kept. While trying to fill it, she accidentally cracked and broke it. She cried.
My grandfather showed up with a new one the next day. My mom still has it.
My mom also said that colors matter in regard to value. Red lamps are the rarest, because most people wanted white. White goes with anything.
My mom has one red lamp in her collection. When she and my dad found it for sale, it was black. But my dad got to looking at it and could see that it was red inside and that someone had painted it. They were able to restore it.
Storm season is here, so I’m going to drive to the hardware store and get some kerosene. After that, I’ll install the new mantle on our Lincoln Drape Aladdin Lamp and give it a try.
Sure, we have a generator, but next time we need to, I’d rather light with memories. They burn much brighter.
©2019 John Moore
John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.