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The one disadvantage for the Argand oil lamp and its many imitators in the early Victorian period was that the best oil then available, colza, was so thick and viscous that it had to be fed to the wick either by gravity from a reservoir above, or pumped up from below.Most colza oil lamps have a reservoir often shaped like a classical urn to one side which in some fittings obstructed the light.The amount of light which can be produced by a wick is limited by the surface area of the wick and the amount of fuel and air able to reach it. The gas mantle, on the other hand, provides a much larger three-dimensional surface, and is far more effective as a result.Invented by Carl Aur von Wesbach in 1885, the incandescent mantle was the last major breakthrough in oil and gas lighting of the period, before both succumbed to electric lighting.However, much brighter and more sophisticated lamps had emerged late in the 18th century, the most important being the Argand oil lamp.

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At the start of the Victorian period most houses were lit by candles and oil lamps.Many of the electric light fittings shown were converted chandeliers and sconces with light bulbs protruding from imitation candles, illustrating a nostalgia for the candle which remains as strong today.Oil had been burnt in lamps at least since the Palaeolithic age, and the cheapest light fittings used in Victorian homes had changed little since then, with a simple wick protruding from a small container of whale oil or vegetable oil.By the end of the period gas lighting was common in urban homes and electricity was being introduced in many.Three types of candle were commonly used at the start of the period; tallow, spermaceti and beeswax.(Linley Sambourne House, London/Bridgeman Art Library) Left: a type of paraffin lamp with a Duplex burner which was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


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