|My recently acquired Bouillotte lamp,|
lit with candles, and reproduction
18th-century playing cards at the ready
While at the sale I found myself bidding on, and winning, a silver-plated Bouillotte lamp of the Directoire period. Just as I have a weakness for silver cigarette boxes, so have I weakness for Bouillotte lamps, which I consider to be the perfect occasional lamp for one's household. Well, at least our household. With the addition of this latest acquisition to our collection, we now have six Bouillotte lamps scattered about Darlington House.
So, what is a Bouillotte lamp, you might ask?
|The Bouillotte lamp, with unlighted candles|
A Bouillotte lamp is a type of lamp that was used to provide light during night-time games of Bouillotte, a card and counter gambling game popular in France from the late eighteenth century well into the nineteenth century, supposedly similar to the modern game of poker. The lamps feature a dish-shaped base, designed to hold counters (chips), a central shaft with a movable candelabra attached to the shaft with a key, a movable metal or tole shade, also attached to the shaft with a key, and a ring at the top of the shaft that can be used to pick up the lamp or hang it from a hook. Because both the candelabra and the shade are movable, and slide up and down the lamp's central shaft, Bouillotte lamps are a highly versatile form of lighting, and can be adjusted to shield the game players' eyes from the candles' flames as they are burned. Bouillotte lamps provide a most pleasing, directed form of light to one's table.
|A detail of the key that is used to fasten|
the candelabra to the shaft of the lamp
Most Bouillotte lamps are electrified today. Old ones made before the days of electricity, such as the one I found at auction, have in many cases been subsequently electrified. Newer ones are routinely made as electricified lamps (and oftentimes as a result do not have as many movable features as the original ones do). Half of the Bouillotte lamps that we have at Darlington House are old and were originally made to hold candles. The other half are of a more recent vintage and were electrified when made.
|Here the lamp is shown with the candelabra|
and shade at the low end of the lamp's shaft
Most of the Bouillotte lamps we own are electrified, but a few of them are not. We like to use a candle-burning Bouillotte lamp on our dining table at night when it is just the two of us for dinner. When lit with candles a Bouillotte lamp casts a most lovely and intimate light.
|Although one wouldn't normally slide the|
candelabra and shade to the top, I am showing
it here to demonstrate the lamp's versatility
Bouillotte lamps have been popular forms of lighting since they were first made, and they are frequently seen in photographs of chic, classic interiors of upper class tastemakers of the latter half of the twentieth century, such as those of Brooke Astor, Jacqueline Onassis, Bill Blass, and Cy and Alessandra Twombly. Bouillotte lamps work well in both traditional and modern interiors.
|A detail of the key used to fasten the tole|
lampshade to the shaft of the lamp,
and the ring used to carry or hang the lamp
When I attended the auction on the day it was held, my sole purpose for doing so was to bid on the silver bowl and cigarette box. I did not go expecting to buy a Bouillotte lamp. Not only did we not "need" another, but lamp buying was simply not on my radar screen that day.
|The discarded candle-form electric sockets|
I arrived at the sale well before the silver bowl or cigarette box lots were up, in the middle of the auction's household furnishings section. I noticed that there were probably five or so Bouillotte lamps of varying quality in the sale, some first (pre-electrification) period and others later. The first two lamps were hammered down at remarkably good prices (Bouillotte lamps tend to be rather expensive), which perked up my interest (Reggie being one who appreciates a bargain), and I found myself bidding on the sole Bouillotte lamp that I had admired at the preview, a diminutive silver one with an old tole shade.
Residual evidence of the lamp's later electrification
Within a minute or two I found myself to be the owner of the lamp. I was relieved when I picked it up to bring it home with me that it appeared to be first period, made in the late eighteenth century. While it was catalogued as Directoire style, I am convinced it is of the Directoire period, dating from 1795-1799. This was confirmed to me by Isaiah Cornini, the architectural historian we work with at Darlington House, who is an expert on early period lighting and whose opinion I trust in such matters.
|The Bouillotte lamp, restored to its|
Since we didn't "need" another Bouillotte lamp, Boy decided to de-electrify my purchase so that we could use it with candles. He pulled out the lamp sockets and wiring, and in so doing restored the lamp to its original functionality. Although the lamp was unfortunately (but discretely) drilled in a number of places when electrified, it is easy to have such holes plugged by knowledgeable silversmiths, which I shall do at some point. Or not.
Tell me, do you have any Bouillotte lamps in your house?