What is this lamp?

I’m very puzzled by this lamp being auctioned on e-bay:

Antique Copper Kerosene Lantern with Handles, Railroad?

I don’t think it is a kerosene lantern. It looks to me like some sort of very primitive carbide (acetylene) lamp, but if that’s what it is I can’t find anything like it on the web. It would be rather scary, too, because I don’t see any way of regulating the water drip.

The seller’s idea that the upper tank drips kerosene on the wick seems even more ridiculous. This would put the kerosene reservoir above the flame. Anyway, if it’s not a carbide lamp, what’s the second reservoir for?

I doubt you can trust this is really an old lamp either. Kerosene over the flame? I don’t think so.

I would think it kept something hot. Maybe tar or glue even. I don’t know.

No idea what it is. But a few observations:

  1. It’s not a lamp. The light can only get out by a few tiny holes in the side, and the access hole in the front. But the access hole stops at the same level as the wick. So the flame will be almost entirely above the level of the hole. This thing simply won’t give any usable amount of light, and what it does give will go out the sides and onto the ground in front. Nobody builds a lamp like this. If you want a lamp you build the walls out of glass or, if you can’t use glass, you put it in a cage. This thing is all wrong for a lamp.

  2. It’s not carbide. That’s not because there’s no way to regulate a drip from the upper reservoir, because there is: the cap. Loosen the cap, more water flows, tighten the cap an the flow decreases. The problem is that carbide needs to be wet to produce gas. If the upper container is the water reservoir then the water has to drip through the wick to get to the carbide. That’s going stop gas flow and to snuff the flame.

I’m not sure this is real. It could be, but there are a lot of fakes like this too. These sorts of things were often sold in sets for workshops including, for example, an ink well, a coffee urn, a spirit lamp and a letter opener. Over years parts break or are misplaced. Then someone buys the remaining bits at auction, rolls a piece of sheet copper to join them together and sells them as some curio from the distant past. Not saying that has happened here, just that it’ common enough.

Assuming it is real I think Harmonious Discord is close to the truth. It’s a heater for wax or tar or similar. If I could see the little hook thingy at the bottom of the upper reservoir I might be able to make a better guess.

And here

The “hook thingy” does appear to be a metal tube, but it has some sort of apparatus on its end. Judging by the dimensions, this apparatus should sit right on top of the lower reservoir. My thinking was that the apparatus originally directed the water drip into the generator and diverted the gas forward as it bubbled up. I’m inclined to think the “wick” was stuffed in as an afterthought by someone who didn’t know better. Indeed, there may be pieces missing that would make the whole thing seem much more plausible as a carbide lamp.

I think image distortion and the “wick” makes it look like the flame would be much higher, relative to the front opening, than it really ought to be. If indeed it is a lamp, its light would be directed forward and perhaps downward, like in an old pre-optics carriage lantern, although this one is obviously intended to be handheld (if it’s real). In this case the pattern cut in the side would be just a vent.

The hand-hold loops and directional light are features of some more modern carbide lamps, although those all use a parabolic reflector to direct the beam.

The first link is just a small chiminea. The second link is what I’d expect of any achohol or sterno powered tea or fondue pot. Notice that the burner is open on all sides. Why is the OP device closed in like it is? Not to prevent drafts, because the side opening is enough to allow a draft. And why is the top reservoir’s opening so small, if it’s a cooking device?

I’m not sure I buy the notion that it’s a fake, either. I’ve seen plenty of tourist-bait copperware, and most of it is much simpler than this thing, and has a more obvious purpose (teapot, oil lamp, whatever).

Diverted where, and to what? Where do you think the actual flame was located? If it was at the top of the lower reservoir then you’d need a properly constructed burner/valve to avoid an almighty explosion, but such a valve wouldn’t let water in. And if at the top of the upper reservoir then why the vent holes in the side?

True, but then if there are pieces missing then it may be more plausible as all sorts of things.

Carriage lamps weren’t designed to direct downwards and, as you can see the flame was always placed either at the bottom or the middle of the opening.

In contrast in this piece the flame was placed at the top or, even allowing for distortion, the upper section of the opening. That makes no sense. You want lamps to produce light, you don’t want any of the flame to be above the level of the opening as this one would be.

Exactly, they all have directional light. This doesn’t have directional light, it just covers up most of the usable light. I wouldn’t buy that because I can’t think of any other lamp in history that was constructed that way. Even the old dark lamps weren’t built so they could never let out most of their light.

Actually it’s a fairly typical oil burner. Lower flame provided by a spirit or parrafin fuel and a wick, heats the substance in the upper reservoir and produces scented smoke. Very similar overall design to your mystery object, sans hook thingy.

The trouble with this is that it’s a denial of reality. The holes do exist, ergo the designer thought they served some purpose. If the side wall don’t exclude draughts, as you claim, then the builder could have made the device with no side walls at all far more easily. And if the side walls are there to exclude light then he could have made them solid with no holes in them since if the side walls don’t exclude draughts then the same walls with holes certainly can’t.

Yet holes there are. So why? If it’s a lamp then they aren’t there to let light out because the walls exist to keep light in. And they can’t be there for ventilation because you claim the airflow wouldn’t be improved even with no walls at all.

I personally don’t agree with your claim that the device isn’t enclosed to prevent draughts. It is. Wind needs both an entry an an exist point to move through a structure. By having only the front open and the flame seated so high the flame wouldn’t be affected by most winds.

If you look at most of the oil burners I linked to above you will notice that they all have little holes in them to provide ventilation, despite the fact that they all have open fronts just like your mystery object.

If the open front provides sufficient ventilation then millions of people over thousands of years have been fooled into thinking otherwise.

I don’t believe it is a cooking device. I presented some items with the same basic design of a wick powered spirit/paraffin burner underneath an upper reservoir that holds a substance that needs to be kept warm. This object is very similar in general design to the oil burner, with some similarities in material and cosmetic design to the cooking set.

I’m not sure what it actually is. Oil burners with this basic design (top reservoir, lower spirit/paraffin flame wick, side ventilation holes) go back millennia, and I’m not seeing anything that would stop it functioning perfectly well as an oil burner. The only mystery is what function the hook thingy has.

I’m not saying that is definitely what it is, but I do believe that Harmonious Discord got close when he guessed it’s a heater for oil or wax or tar or similar. I don’t believe it is a cooking device.

But it isn’t a hook thingy, it’s a drip tube. Hence, in the seller’s description:

The seller thinks the drip tube deposits kerosene on the wick. This is obviously wrong, but if it’s a heater then what in blazes is the tube there fore? For what possible reason would a cooker of any sort drip its contents into the burner flame?

Also, why does it have handles on the back?

As for the ventilation holes, I agree that some additional ventilation must have been needed, but they are located on the side to keep light from shining back at the user.

The dark lanterns and carbide lamps that we can find on the internet are all advanced technology, as these things go. The most primitive example of a directed light is a can with a hole in one side. I’ve made candle lanterns like that myself–not from any example, just because it’s the most obvious arrangement. A parabolic reflector would be much harder to do.

I am by no means certain that this thing is a carbide lamp. But I’m not satisfied by any alternative explanation that I’ve seen so far.

Once again though, this denies reality. No matter what use the thing was, we don’t know what the so-called “drip tube” does. It’s fair enough to question this, but it’s as big an impediment to the idea that it is a lamp as it is to the idea that it is for any other idea.

IOW, if we knew what the “drip tube” was we’d know what the device was for. The point is that it doesn’t stop it from functioning as an oil burner, but it does seem to prevent it functioning as a lamp of any sort.

Since I have expressly stated that I don’t believe it was a cooker of any sort, why are you asking me?

We all seem to agree that the current owner doesn’t have clue what the device is or what the parts are. If she is “obviously wrong” that the tube isn’t a kerosene drip tube and “obviously wrong” that the upper reservoirs held kerosene, then why believe the hook thingy is a drip tube at all? Without being able to see it, it could be anything at all. It might not even be a tube, it may be solid.

:dubious: So it can be a handled. That’s what handles are for. Hence the name “handles”.
I feel I may be missing something with this question.

Isn’t it far more likely they are located at the side because the back is occupied by the plates and rivets attaching the handles, in addition to which any holes placed there woudl be obstructed when the handles were gripped? We don’t have a rear view, but as far as I can tell it would be physically impossible to locate the holes at the back even if you wanted to.

I really think you’re reading to much into some of these features. Think horses, not zebras. Usually handles are attached to hot metal objects so they can be a handled. Usually holes are placed in locations with the thinnest walls and the least obstruction. Usually engineers use the simplest solution unless there is a compelling reason not to. When some part of a design is not the simplest solution (eg the hook thingy), that tells us something. But when a feature is the simplest solution we can’t deduce that it was done to block light or anything else. It was probably just used because it was easy…

Oh god no. Dark lanterns predate this device by millennia. They are ancient technology as this thing goes. By the time this thing was built people already knew perfectly well where to put the hole sin lamps to get a directed light source.

Nor am I. But there is a reason why it can’t function as an efficient lamp. If we conclude it’s a lamp then we need to explain why there are two reservoirs, what was in each reservoir and why the case is designed to hide most of the flame.

It does have lot of common features with oil burners and spirit heaters and nothing that would prevent it functioning perfectly as such a device. Even with the hook thingy it still works. If we took the hook thingy out of the picture then it would be a perfectly unremarkable oil burner of a type that has been used for millennia.

If we go down that route we only need to work out what the hook thingy is.

IOW Ockham’s razor: it’s a heater of some sort with a hook attachment of unknown purpose. No sense needlessly multiplying entities IMO.

:rolleyes: Did you even happen to read what was written on that first link of yours?

When the seller of the item calls it a chiminea, it just quite possibly, just maybe a chiminea.
FTR here are some pictures of full sized chimineasfor comparison.
You will note that none of these pictures show the unit burning oil. Nor do any of them look like the pictures on the oil burner page you linked to.

FWIW I bid on the item. If I win, I will do some research.

There is definitely some kind of feeder tube coming out of the top piece in a way it would be positioned right over the wick. There are other kind of similar lamps(but with the second reservoir to the side rather than above) that dripped or pumped unmelted lard to the wick. Possibly this was a similar contraption where the top contained some kind of unmelted, relatively non-combustible-when-solid fuel, which was slowly heated and dripped to the wick. Another WAG - it might be a primitive form of colored lighting, where the top chamber slowly released a chemical that changes the color of the light to red or green, etc as it came into contact with the flame below.

I thought about doing that. My wife is glad you beat me to it. I hope you win, but don’t blow yourself up!

I’m a little sorry I started all this. I was hoping someone had actually seen something like this before. I’m getting even more convinced that, whatever it is, it’s a one-off that somebody built, or had built, as an experiment or prototype.

(With apologies to Blake, I’m still taking the drip tube at face value. I can’t see that any of the oil burners you’ve shown us intentionally leak their heated contents into the burner.)

The idea of dripping a colorant into the flame is intriguing, but that gets us back to the idea that it’s a lantern. The top opening seems kind of small to get lard or any other solid stuff into, unless it’s granulated. I wonder what sort of colorant would work as a drip, but not as a fuel additive?

The objection that there’s no valve on the gas outlet doesn’t wash. More advanced carbide lamps have a simple filter, and a tube and nozzle to shape the flame and locate it in the reflector’s focus, but that’s all. The gas outflow is what keeps oxygen out of the generator. (It might pop when the gas runs out, but that’s no big deal.)

Do this in your head. If you put carbide in the lower tank of the OP device, and water in the upper tank, what happens?:

[li]Water drips into the carbide tank, either around or through the “wick” if it really belongs there.[/li][li]Acetylene forces its way out under pressure, bubbling past the moist “wick” if it has to.[/li][li]If you light the gas, it burns at the point where it leaves the lower chamber. It will not flash back and explode because there is no way for oxygen to get back into the tank.[/li][li]Bright white light will come out the front of the lamp, illuminating whatever you point it at.[/li][li]If you’re lucky, investors that you show this to will be impressed, and give you money to build and sell a finishd design, with niceties like a reflector, flint lighter, and drip regulator[/li][/ul]

It occurs to me that a short bent metal tube shoved in beside the wick would serve well as a clean egress for the gas and a nozzle for the flame. That’s all the missing apparatus that we need, and we might not need that to have a working lamp.

So, I’m still not sure this thing was intended to be a carbide lamp. But by some remarkable coincidence it ought to work as a carbide lamp with little or no adjustment, IMHO.

Sure looks like some sort of frankenstein gadget. The nicely done cutouts don’t mesh with those big ugly handles and the big ugly cutout and rivets on the other side; there is no obvious ‘front’ to the thing. The top and bottom container parts are a distinctly different color than the holder part. That ring on the bottom lamp part … huh?

I say it’s some purpose built contraption made by some sort of craftsman for use in his own workshop.

I think I can answer that one. The ring seems to be for pulling out the fount (the bottom reservoir). I’ve seen that on other dark- or carriage-type lanterns.