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70,000 BC     Primitive lights using hollow stones with moss or grass, animal fat as fuel

7,000 BC     Early Greek pottery lamps with cloth wick, rendered fat or oil as fuel

All ages     Tallow candles & flaming torches using animal fat as fuel

18th C     Simple whale oil lamps and more candles

Central burner invented, greatly improved lamp efficiency, more candles

1783     Swiss chemist (Argand) invented hollow circular wick, glass chimney

1784     First use of coal gas as lighting fuel, and more candles

1853     First kerosene lamp introduced in Germany

1879     Edison improved design by Thomas Woodward to produce first successful incandescent electric light bulb, candles still going strong

End 19th C     Electric light was steadily replacing gas lighting

Late 20th C     Electric light almost supreme; candles for unscheduled blackouts!



No single criterion can adequately classify electric lighting, convenient as that would be. However, a rough classification is possible using two criteria: Type of fixture and Historical style.

Types of fixtures 

Floor lights

Table lamps


Hanging fixtures

- chandeliers

- pan lights

- drop bowls

- pendants

Flush mounts

Historical styles "Victorian"

- Rococco Revival, 1850-1870

- Egyptian, 1860s

- Neo Grec, 1870s

- Renaissance Revival, 1870s

- Victorian Aesthetic, 1880s-90s

Crystal Chandeliers

Arts & Crafts, 1870-1910

Art Nouveau, 1880-1915

Mission, 1900-1920

Art Deco, 1920s-30s

Modern Movement, 1920s-30s

This is not intended to be fully comprehensive, and remember that for every type of fixture there can be several styles.



The Victorian era lasted some 70 years, from about 1830 to 1900. During that period styles changed many times, and often overlapped. Electric lighting did not reach the Victorians until after 1880. Before that there were elaborate candelabra and chandeliers, as well as innumerable oil lamps. By mid-century there were very elaborate gas powered sconces and chandeliers. Many of these devices, both gas and candle, have subsequently been fully electrified for modern use. In addition, for elegant (and well heeled) homes, assorted lighting devices, especially crystal chandeliers, were imported from Europe.

Rococco Revival Rococco was an architectural and decorative style of early 18th C France, growing out of the Louis Quatorze style. It was characterized by generous, detailed shell and foliage work, often becoming asymmetrical. Rococco Revival lights were originally powered by gas. Look for grapes, acorns, lots of leaves, shells and also for cranberry, engraved or frosted and cut glass shades.

Egyptian, Neo Grec The Victorians were enchanted by Classical Antiquity, the mystery of the pyramids and the inscrutable sphinx. Gas lights bearing sphinx heads or human heads in medallions are characteristic. Look for these motifs and U-shaped arms with up-turned shades, frosted and/or cut glass shades.

Renaissance Revival This movement was one of many introducing a simpler cleaner style following the ornamental excesses of the 1850s after the Great Exhibition. The style is characterized by slender, elegantly curved arms supporting up-turned shades.

Victorian Aesthetic An extension of the Renaissance style, becoming more elaborate with the slender curved arms ending in one or more spiral curlicues (monkey tails). At first these fitting were for gas, later for both gas and electricity, and finally straight electricity.



The Victorian home of the 1850s and 60s was cluttered with elaborately decorated furniture, tasseled upholstery, ornate lighting and innumerable knick-knacks. At the same time burgeoning industrialization was separating the craftsman from his product. The architect, artist, poet and socialist William Morris started the Arts and Crafts Society, dedicated to simplifying styles, removing surplus decoration, and bringing back individually hand crafted products. The movement flourished from about 1870 to 1910, most especially in North America where artists skillfully tailored their designs for machine production. The Arts & Crafts style relied heavily on rectilinear designs, plane surfaces, at least the appearance of hand work, and most especially on the beauty of the materials used – wood, beaten metal and glass. The idea behind Arts & Crafts was that the material and mode of construction was decoration enough. So look for straight line designs, square, unadorned materials, visible riveted joints and a simple hand made appearance. Arts & Crafts lighting is very versatile and goes with most furnishings except, perhaps, the high Victorian.



The Mission style emerged from the Arts & Craft movement but is more somber and austere, lacking the lightness of touch – it is, if you like, a more stolid descendant of A& C. For furniture the chosen wood was oak, cut heavy and square. In lights look for square brass pieces and the shades are commonly pendant, cylindrical, often of rather dark colored glass; flaring, square clear glass shades, like truncated pyramids, were also used, sometimes upright, sometimes turned down. Mission style lighting is the most desirable compliment to Mission furniture and goes very well also with Arts & Crafts.


Art Nouveau

As the name implies, this was a new art form, inspired by the idea of "total art". It grew out of the Arts & Crafts movement, but unlike A & C it welcomed and exploited new industrial manufacturing techniques. For its practitioners there should be no distinction between high and low art (roughly what we would call Fine Art and household decorative design). They envisaged an all-embracing art form to include architecture, furniture design, painting, graphic arts, music, textiles, pottery, cutlery and everything else you can imagine. Everything we see and touch should be beautiful in its own right. Art Nouveau is characterized by flowing curves, feminine forms, curly hair, elegant flower stems, willow leaves, intertwined waves, fleeting clouds – in short, by the graceful and sensual aspects of Nature. So look for gracefully curved lines, asymmetry, impressionist designs featuring stylized flower forms – especially tulips and irises – nymphs, Pan figures, and birds – especially peacocks. There is a timeless quality to Art Nouveau lighting which allows it to fit seamlessly with almost every dιcor.


Art Deco

The roots of Art Deco grew out of the later years of Art Nouveau (c1910-1915), but it sprang into prominence with the 1925 Paris International Exposition of the Arts. It was the art form of the 20s and 30s, dominating architecture, automobiles, locomotives, furniture, domestic appliances, jewelry, graphic arts, and much more. It was art for the Jazz Age, for the Age of Transportation, for blossoming cities (just look at Miami), for Hollywood and the Age of Movies. At its outset it was denigrated as "Modernistic" and did not come to be known as Art Deco until its revival in the 1960s. Look for rectilinear designs, tiered ziggurat structures with zig-zag edges, lightning bolts, speed lines, streamlined shapes and the inclusion of new materials such as plastics, opalescent glass, and the Ariel technique of sand blasting to produce surface decoration on glass.



International Modern Movement

The Modern Movement also grew out of Art Nouveau but unlike Deco it abhorred all decoration: its prevailing mantra was "function is beauty". Its leading practitioners were architects Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, joined by he Bauhaus School and Russian Constructionalists. The lighting of this movement is simplicity itself: perfectly formed white glass globes of different shapes on simple hanging or flush mounted bells. So called "school lights" are a good and familiar example, but there were many more superb shapes. They hang suspended like luminous asteroids or space ships, casting a light almost free of shadows. These white glass lights are absolutely the first choice for loft apartments in converted industrial buildings and, of course, the ever popular converted school houses and churches.


Crystal Chandeliers

Hanging light fixtures with multiple candles have been used for some hundreds of years. In 16th C Venice bronze fixtures encrusted with glass flowers were produced. However, chandeliers as we now know them came from 17th C France and early 18th C England. French chandeliers were lavishly ornamented with cut and faceted rock crystal (pure quartz) which brilliantly refracted the light. Rock crystal chandeliers probably reached their peak in the court of Louis XIV and the style is still recognized, and in demand, as Louis Quatorze. These structures ranged from 4 feet to 8 feet in height, carried hundreds of candles and thousands of crystals. They were suspended from the ceiling with a mechanism for raising and lowering them for ready access to the candles. In England, George Ravenscroft developed an ultra clear glass amenable to cutting and polishing, a glass which became known internationally as lead crystal. It was much cheaper and easier to work than rock crystal which it completely displaced by the middle of the 18th C. Throughout the 18th and 19th C English chandeliers were amongst the finest in the world and, by mid 19th C had reached enormous size and complexity. However, manufacturers recognized that not all of us live in the Palace of Versailles, and crystal chandeliers of all styles and sizes were produced. Indeed, many of the "Victorian" style fixtures were also embellished with fringes, swags, festoons and lead crystal droppers. Not only crystal droppers, clear narrow gage glass tubes were also used in concentric fringes (how the Victorians loved fringes!), as well as various colored baubles.


Brass Pan Lights

Brass pan lights consist of a shallow brass pan with a lid, suspended from a chain which is usually attached to an adjustable brass post emerging from a ceiling cup. Under the pan there are 2, 3, 4, or 5 arms radiating outwards, each of which bears a light bulb. In most pan lights the bulbs are directed downwards. The bulb fitting is either enclosed in a brass bell from which the glass shade hangs, or there may be a wide collar and no shade. The brass pan is almost always plain and the ornamentation comes from the cast brass arms, which can be quite elaborate, and the central dangling finial which holds the assembly together. Additional ornamentation is, of course, provided by the glass shades. There is a wonderful array of old shade patterns in pressed, etched, frosted and cut glass, in opaque, colored glass, and in "scenic" glass – that is, with flowers, fruits, buildings and other scenery. The brass of pan lights was often gold painted, sometimes using a darker copper color on the arms. Unfortunately, cheaper non-brass lights were similarly painted, so you should always check the piece with a magnet to be sure it is brass. Pan lights were enormously popular from about 1900 through to 1930 and are today one of the most popular forms of "antique lighting", partly because of their pleasing simplicity and partly because of their relatively low cost.

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