With hundreds of individually cut and polished pieces of leaded glass, an antique crystal chandelier often is seen as a work of art. The painstaking skill and craftsmanship invested in the deliberate shaping of the crystal allow the material to capture and reflect the myriad of colors that make up white light. The dazzling shine and light-reflecting qualities originally were used to enhance and distribute the soft light of the candles that once were used as the light source. As is the case with many antiques, finding a stamp or maker’s mark on a crystal chandelier can be challenging -- or even impossible if none exists. Therefore, correctly identifying an antique crystal chandelier depends on your recognition of certain design features and characteristics.
Identifying Drip Pans
One way to identify the maker of an antique crystal chandelier is by examining the drip pans. Drip pans, also called bobeche, are the cup-like pieces of crystal located at the base of each candle nozzle, and originally were designed to catch candle wax. Perry & Co., one of the most prestigious British chandelier makers, has a distinctive thumb-printing feature, which is an oval-shaped depression repeated on the underside of the pan, on parts of the body and along the curved arms that extend from the body of the chandelier. F & C Osler of London was one of the leading makers of chandeliers in the 19th century, and its chandeliers are known for their deep, distinctive, tulip-shaped shades with brass fittings that hold the candle-shaped lights at the end of each arm. Baltic chandeliers may be identified by their brass drip pans.
Characteristics of French-made chandeliers include shallow, pressed-glass drip pans with a floral shape. British chandeliers may be identified by a very distinctive star-shaped drip pan with almond-shaped drops -- shaped glass pieces with holes drilled on one or both ends -- hanging from each point. A classic Baccarat drip pan features a round, thinly cut piece of glass with fluted edges, similar to a pie crust.
The color of the glass in an old crystal chandelier is another clue as to its origins and age. The high lead content of a 19th-century chandelier makes the glass appear to have a gray tint. This is a good indication that the chandelier is authentic and not a modern reproduction. Baltic chandeliers, which originate from Sweden or Russia, have a characteristic blue, dish-shaped piece in the center. Bagues chandeliers, of French origin, commonly feature colored kite-, almond- or plaque-shaped drops.
Look for other characteristics to help you identify the origin, maker or age of a chandelier. Antique chandeliers were not wired for electricity. Instead, what followed candles was gas. In the middle of the 19th century, gas-powered chandeliers began replacing candle chandeliers. Candle chandeliers were converted into the new “gasoliers.” Hollow glass or metal tubes were used to form the arms, allowing gas to reach the candle nozzles. Austrian- and Italian-made chandeliers had a metal core surrounded by glass, which made the chandelier easier to disassemble for traveling.
Look for materials such as brass, bronze or copper. The drops on antique chandeliers usually were faceted on both sides as opposed to modern drops, which often feature a faceted side and a smooth side. A common feature seen on 18th-century chandeliers are daisy-shaped glass buttons.
Buy From a Reputable Dealer
If you are looking to purchase an antique crystal chandelier, make your purchase from a reputable antique dealer. Ask the dealer for more information on any chandelier you are interested in buying. An expert dealer should be able to give you a lot of information about the chandelier. He should be able to identify the maker and the approximate age of the fixture based on the characteristics of the materials used, the shapes and coloring of the cut crystal, and the design.
About the Author
Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at LoveToKnow.com and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.
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