Victorian: a style inspired by empire, artistic striving, and industrial expansion
While Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901, I am using the term “Victorian” to cover lighting styles from just after the Civil War until just after the turn of the century – the period of rapid industrialization and Gilded-Age homebuilding.
During this time, light fixtures tended toward the romantic: graceful multi-arm designs featuring exceptional metalcraft, finely detailed decorative glass shades, and rich gilt, silver-plated, or antiqued finishes. Given that the primary light sources were low-output gas burners and carbon-filament bulbs, fixtures typically had as many sockets or jets as possible. Since most required gas piping or were turned on and off directly at the fixture, they usually hung on stems quite low by today’s standards.
In this article and Part 2, we will walk through some of the elements of Victorian style, as well as sub-styles within the genre. It’s worth noting that each new style was seen as the most advanced and fashionable – even radical – trend of its day… until the novelty wore off and something new came along. This rapid evolution reminds us that there are no “good” or “bad” styles, only those that each of us relate to personally based on our own tastes and values – which can change over time, too!
While older and more exotic homes like Second Empire and Stick Style are certainly eye-catching, many Victorian homes are Queen Anne or less fancy vernacular farmhouse or cottage styles, like above. (Rejuvenation archives)
Victorian interiors were colorful and richly textured settings – and it took strong and beautiful lighting designs to hold their own amidst the visual feast. Even the ceilings from which fixtures hung were treated with thoughtful pattern and decoration. (c.1886, Rejuvenation archives)
Lighting: Sears & Montgomery Ward
Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues give us a sense of what the average homeowner would have been able to purchase. As lighting in mail-order catalogs is hard to find before the 1890s, this image collects examples mostly from around the turn of the century. Gas fixtures were common, as well as kerosene designs that mimicked them. (Rejuvenation archives)
Lighting: Higher-End Manufacturers
This collection of images from higher-end manufacturers only hints at the variety and richness of designs that were available. Far from being one long period of undifferentiated ornamental excess, lighting trends during the Victorian era changed substantially about every five years. (Rejuvenation archives)
Read Part 2 to learn more about Victorian lighting sub-styles.