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From Thomas Jefferson's letters and memorandum books, Monticello researchers have compiled the following references to lamps.

Primary Source References

1784 August 11. "Pd. for a box of wicks for lamps 18s."1

1784 October 19. "Pd. for book 4f—lamps 1f16."2

1784 October 22. "Pd. Daguere for lamps 91f8."3

1784 November 11. (Jefferson to James Madison). "There is a new lamp invented here [Paris] lately which with a very small consumption of oil (of olives) is thought to give a light equal to six or eight candles. The wick is hollow in the middle in the form of a hollow cylinder, and permits the air to pass up thro' it. It requires no snuffing."4

1785 February 19. "Pd. for lantherns 30f."5

1785 March 2. "Pd. for a lanthern 6f."6

1785 March 6. (Charles Thomson to Jefferson). "I am much pleased with your description of the Cylinder lamp and wish for an opportunity of procuring one."7

1785 April 27. (Madison to Jefferson). "I am so pleased with the new invented lamp that I shall not grudge two guineas for one of them."8

1785 October 8. (Jefferson to Thomson). "In yours of Mar. you express a wish of an opportunity of getting the Cylinder lamp. Colo. Senf going to America furnishes me an opportunity of sending you one, which you must do me the favor to accept. There is but one critical circumstance in the management of it; that is the length of the wick above the top of the cylinder. If raised too high it fills the room with smoke. If not high enough it will not yeild it’s due light. The true medium is where it first ceases to give a sensible smoke in the room. Two or three experiments will set you to rights in this. I send some spare wicks, and a set of spare glasses."9

1786 March 27. "Pd. for a plated reading lamp 31/6."10

1786 March 30. "Pd. for two lamps & balance of the former £4."11

1786 April 6. (Thomson to Jefferson). "I thank you for the trouble you took in sending the cylinder lamp ...."12

1786 April 22. (Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee). "In your letter of October the 29th. you desired me to send you one of the new lamps. I tried at every probable place in Paris, and could not get a tolerable one. ... I now deliver one with this letter .... It is now found that they may be used with almost any oil."13

1786 April 22. (Jefferson to Thomson). "In one of your former letters you expressed a wish to have one of the newly invented lamps. I find them made here [London] much better than at Paris ...."14

1786 April 24. "Blue lamp chimneys 3/."15

1786 July 8. (Thomson to Jefferson). "I have just received by the way of Baltimore your letter of the 22 April with the new invented lamp, for which I return you my most hearty thanks. ... The one you have now sent is an elegant piece of furniture, if it were not otherwise valuable on account of its usefulness. I am informed this kind of lamps is coming into use in Philadelphia and made there."16

1787 February 13. "Pd. for books 2f8—lamps phosphoric 37f."17

1791 January 8. "... rack to lamp 3.D."18

1793 January 25. "Pd. for 2. lantherns 3.6."19

1801 May 18. (Thomas Claxton to Jefferson). Among other items required for the President's drawing room, "4 Girandols ... The following articles are stated to be wanting by the Steward & Cook ... 4 Brass Patent Lamps ...."20

1801 May 28. (Claxton to Jefferson). "The green semi vase lamps, I believe I shall not be able to procure [for the President's House]— indeed any colour of that article seems to be very scarse."21

1804 October 23. (Caldcleugh & Thomas to Jefferson). "When Mr. Claxton was in this City some time ago, he requested us to order from London for your use, six patent Lamps of a particular form & color; he also requested us to inform you of their arrival, in order that you might direct their destination—the Ship Active arrived yesterday & the Lamps conformable to order are in her, they will be landed in the course of a few days—we take the liberty of mentioning that by the same Vessel we have received a number of mantle piece fountain Lamps, of which Kind Mr Claxton informed us you would probably be in want;—should this be the case we will forward with the other Lamps the nearest your directions as to form or pattern that we may have, which if not approved of can be returned—"22

1804 October 28. (Jefferson to Caldcleugh & Thomas). "... I will thank you to send the lamps (half a dozen) bespoke by mr Claxton which you have imported, with the note of their cost. ... with respect to the Mantle piece fountain lamps, perhaps you could give me some idea of their forms by a sketch which would enable me to select or decide without the trouble of sending them. those which are gilt or plated would be preferred to glass."23

1804 November 12. "Remitted sd. ord. for 47.25 to Caldcleugh & Thomas Phila. for lamps."24

1804 November 12. (Jefferson to Caldcleugh & Thomas). "Your favor of the 5th. has been duly recieved, and I now inclose you a draught of the US. bank of this place on that at Philadelphia for 47.25 D for the lamps you have been so kind as to forward, which I presume will arrive in due time. with respect to the mantle-piece lamps, being, as I mentioned to you, in no hurry for them, I can wait till I have an opportunity of getting those which would be exactly to my fancy. I have below sketched the form I prefer. perhaps yourselves may now, or ere long have of that form, in which case I shall be ready to take a pair of them."25

1804 November 14. (Caldcleugh & Thomas to Jefferson). "We have a few pairs of Lamps constructed on the principal you describe, though not exactly as to the pedestal, which supports the Lamp—this form of Lamp is very little used in this City and the demand for them so small that we cannot find an advantage in keeping any variety of them; those with the fountain or reservoir to contain the Oil, above the burner; never fail to burn well when good Oil is made use of, whereas those with the Oil below the burner (as are those you describe) will scarcely keep lighted for one Evening, and, as the wick is shortened by consumption, will burn but a very few hours—We send annexed a sketch of those patterns we have on the principal you allude to—"26

1805 May 22. (Claxton to Jefferson). "Inclosed you will find rough sketches of different lamps—Such of them as you may think proper to call for on your own account you will please to designate on the sheet of paper inclosed & send it back—The passage lanthorn marked out, is simple and easily mended—the size of the inferior priced ones is hardly to be discovered—"27

1805 May 26. (Jefferson to Claxton). "[Y]ou will observe in the inclosed that a pair of lamps are wanting here. take whichever form you prefer. be so good as to have my articles packed in a box addressed & forwarded for me to Messrs. Gibson & Jefferson at Richmond."28

1805 July 12. "Paid ... Thomas Claxton, lamps, & diaper 81.35."29

1807 August 29. "Mr. Barnes is to pay the 1590.D. as follows. ... Caldcleugh & Thomas. lanthern ornaments 24.43."30

1808 October 28. "Inclosed to Th:J Randolph to pay for an alabaster lamp 10.D."31

1825 September 4. (Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist to Nicholas Philip Trist). "Part of the wicks and two pairs of the shade are an addition! By unscrewing the lamps you will see how they work. The cylinder for the oils screws off and, at the end of the bottom tube, you unscrew a plug, and here the oil is poured in. Screw in the plug, and put the cylinder into its socket; Screw it together, and then push down the valve, by means of an iron wire which you will see for this purpose. The oil then runs into the lamps and diffuses itself over the wick—which when lighted, should be exactly so high as to give the greatest possible light, without smoking in the least. You need not fear that it will break the chimney-glass if it the wick be exactly trimmed, even, all around, and not put so high as to smoke! The cup which is attached to yr. cylinder for the wick, in like manner, screws off: when the lamp has been used some time if a little oil falls from the neighborhood of the arch, where the air passes up through the flame, and gradually fills the cup, which must them be taken off and emptied. It must not be—to fill, as, in such case, the lamp burns thick and sickly. There being no passage for the air. These directions are sufficient; only remembering that now and then, once in a whole winter, perhaps, the inside of the lamp should be washed with a little pearl-ash and water, or if you have not this, with soap-suds, to keep the passages free and clean ...."32

Further Sources


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