The Cross House

Period Lighting. Issues & Ideas & A Warning

While the Cross House is remarkably intact, all its original lighting is long gone.

When I purchased the house in 2014, I knew it had gas lighting. So, I dutifully started purchasing gas lighting fixtures.

Later I learned that the house actually had gas/electric lighting when built. Which is quite a different thing.

Oh.

Having electricity in 1894 would have been way cool. The White House only received electricity in 1892! So, for a house in a small town, in Kansas, to have electricity in 1894 would have been quite the wonder.

So…I had to re-start my search for lighting. And in fits and starts I have accumulated a stash of gas/electric chandeliers. This stash however came with some issues.

 

ISSUE #1

Most of what I come across dates a bit later than the house, as it has proved irritatingly difficult finding early 1890s gas/electric chandeliers. This can be attributed to the fact that gas/electric lighting did not become popular until the late 1890s and early 1900s.

This vexing situation — and, really, I am entirely vexed by it — has forced me to — EEK! — compromise and acquire almost period-correct lighting when I can find it. Over time though, I will then replace almost with correct, and sell off the almost.

Good plan, right?

Right?

 

ISSUE #2

I had no idea, no idea, that converting the gas parts of a gas/electric chandelier to all electric would prove so daunting. OMG, you cannot imagine how difficult this is. I mean, trying to thread wire into something which was NOT designed to have wire can cause a heart attack inducing level of frustration.

So, while I kept acquiring almost period-correct gas/electric chandeliers, they all just got piled in my storage vault because I did not know how to convert them to all-electric.

Then (insert magical music) a thought recently popped into my head: Why bother converting? Why not just leave them As Is?

Oh. Oh! OH!

I loved this idea!

 

AN IDEA 

The chandeliers I have been stockpiling retain their original gas jets. But these unscrew.

In their place I am installing small brass plates. These will each hold a votive candle. Thus, when I have a party, or have people over for dinner, I can light the candles which will give the illusion of gas jets.

Later, I can easily re-attach the gas jets if need be.

Good idea?

 

SHADES

Finding a period gas/electric chandelier is one thing.

But, oh baby, finding period-correct shades is MUCH harder!

In the end, I have no doubt that acquiring the ideal glass shades will take much longer than acquiring all the chandeliers needed for the house.

My plan is to purchase almost right shades and then replace these with right shades over time.

Good plan, right?

Right?

 

A QUESTION

How low do these things go?

Each night during the age of gas lighting, a homeowner would have had to easily reach the gas valves on a chandelier, turn them to OPEN, and then light the gas jets. Later that night, they would have had to turn off the gas valves.

Thus, a chandelier would have had to be low enough to reach. Right?

With this in mind, I have been playing with heights. Yesterday, I installed one in the round tower. It is 85-inches above the floor, or just over 7-feet.

This seems too high though. I can reach the gas valves, but not comfortably.

Today I installed a chandelier in the foyer. It is 77-inches above the floor, or 6-feet, 5-inches. I can comfortably reach the gas valves, but the chandelier looks…low. I am thinking that 79-inches above the floor might be ideal. Low, but perhaps not weirdly low.

Any thoughts?

 

y8-1
This was just installed in the Octagon Bedroom. It is circa-1904. The shades are not ideal. But I am, so far, proving quite brilliant in not noticing. This fixture is kinda sorta a match to one…

 

v
…I installed in January, in the Long Bedroom. Also circa-1904. This fixture HAD been converted to all-electric. It has the same gas valves and acanthus details as the one in the Octagon Bedroom. Are they both from the same company?

 

n
Yesterday, I installed this in the Receiving Room.

 

b
I am INSANE for this chandelier. I love love love it. I love how the brass arms “grow” out of the acanthus leaves. I also love how the large round body mimics the round room.

 

l3-1
The acanthus leaves “kiss” anthemion flourishes!!!!!!!!

 

A
And all the FABULOUS hardware in the house features anthemion designs!!!!!!!! Note also the stars! I will return to them…

 

n
The gas valves are SO lovely! They remind me of…

 

...
…this detail on the dining room mantel. The Long Bedroom mantle, too.

 

b
So, back to the Receiving Room chandelier. I purchased this beauty online. It arrived quite damaged. The seller tried to remove the arms. The electric arms came off, no problem, but the gas arms (as is typical) proved daunting to remove, as they are basically glued in place (so gas does not escape). One gas arm was horribly twisted by the seller, and cracked along its top edge. I then tried to electrify the three gas arms, but gave up in ABJECT frustration nine months ago. Thus, the chandelier has sat in box, wholly dismantled, all this time. A few days ago I bravely decided to make a go at getting it back together. AND I AM BEYOND EXCITEMENT OVER THE RESULTS! Really, I burst with joy looking at this image! Oh, I do not know the date of this chandelier. Bo?

 

G
Guess what I did today? I installed ANOTHER chandelier!!!!!!!! This one is in the foyer. You can also see the Receiving Room chandelier! TWO! Two!!!!!!!! I am breathless with excitement!

 

n
Is there something demented about installing pretty chandeliers from bare ceiling joists? If so, I DON’T CARE!

 

This
This chandelier is also, sigh, not quite period correct. Note the star shades?

 

A
These are intended to complement the hardware.

 

But,
But, I have these other shades which seem better. They have a beaded detail which matches the same on the fixture. See? And these shade have stars, too!

 

This
See the beaded detail?

 

b
All the shades I have feature designs MOLDED onto the glass rather than FROSTED, as seen here. I would prefer the latter, but these are incredibly difficult finding in matched sets. But in time, in time.

 

 

WARNING

In a day or so I will post images of the parlor chandelier installed!

PREPARE TO GASP!

 

 

 

 

 

32 Responses to Period Lighting. Issues & Ideas & A Warning

  1. So here’s a question. The common knowledge is that the Cross House had gas and electric lights. In 1894, these were rare. So rare than even a professional such as yourself is having a difficult time finding them. (Be patient. I’m getting to the question.)

    You can find all gas fixtures pre-dating the house. And you can find combination fixtures post-dating construction. (Here it comes.) Is there a possibility some other combination of gas and electricity was used? Is there a reason they need to be mixed fuel in a single fixture? Could some rooms be wired for electricity (probably the public rooms) and others for gas? Or could the ceiling fixtures have been gas and electric table lamps used in the same room, or vice-versa?

    I am sure you have found capped gas lines during your deconstruction that would be tell-tale signs of where gas was used. Have you found any 1894 wiring remnants? (I have no idea what this would look like.) Assuredly early wiring was run to previous gas fixtures by the turn-of-the-century. Have you been able to discern different wiring from different periods of installation?

    I know what we are used to seeing is the combination fixtures, but the Cross House has many unique features and may have strayed from the norm in this also. Just wondering.

    • Hi David!

      There is no question that the Cross House had gas/electric chandeliers and sconces throughout when built. The gas pipes are mostly extant, as are the clearly original attendant electric wires.

      Shortly BEFORE the house was built, gas lighting was the norm. Not too long AFTER the house was built, electric lighting was the norm.

      The Cross House though, quite deliciously, inhabits that ephemeral moment in time when gas/electric COMBINATION lighting was the newest, coolest thing.

      • I have no doubt you are correct. Your sleuthing capabilities are beyond compare. I just realized that I was making an assumption of combination fixtures based on “the norm” and was trying to wrap my mind around other possibilities that I–quite honestly–had never considered before. In the meantime, rest assured that your blog troops have been activated and I’m sure you’ll be receiving info about 1894 COMBINATION fixture availability momentarily.

  2. I believe they had extended wick lighter/valve tools for tending the high fixtures. I remember a scene in “Meet Me in St. Louis” where Judy Garland has the boy-next-door, whom she has a crush on, “go through” the downstairs with her, while she turns out the lights 😉

    Like this maybe.

  3. On the chandelier heights: In 1894, people were shorter. So installing the fixtures at a lower height likely wouldn’t have inconvenienced the Cross family or visitors. And no one worried much about inconveniencing the hired help. I can easily imagine short servants lugging a small stool around as they lit the fixtures.

    People today are taller, though. So I think you should install the chandeliers at the height you feel is optimum. If that’s lower, fine. If that’s taller, so be it. I think your comfort matters — and certainly your taste is impeccable. So what you do will be right for the house.

    • There was a wide variance in heights of people in 1894 just as today. Maybe a few more on the short side, especially immigrants, and almost no basketball players pushing 7 feet; but not like the middle ages where they could get away with doorways only 5.5 feet tall. And lighting the chandeliers was the job of a servant, most likely armed with a tool like Jo mentions, or a ladder or both. And some chandeliers in the fanciest mansions actually were mounted on a winch in the ceiling so they could be lowered for cleaning and lighting (the Cross house isn’t that fancy, we’re talking mansions and palaces here). The sconces would have been mounted lower than the chandeliers, so if you didn’t want to wait for a servant to come light a room, you reached over to a sconce. There were also table lamps which were more accessible.

      I believe they mounted chandeliers at the same height we would today. Electric pull chains probably dangled to about 7 feet, low enough for most people to reach without a ladder, and high enough that tall men could walk under one without touching it.

  4. A height comment or question. The last fixture looks like it’s a loooong way from the beams. I can’t imagine you are putting in drop ceilings so how will you mate fixture and ceiling without some long ungainly tube?

  5. Ross, I’d say the fixture you asked about is c1900-1909, or right around that 1904-5 sweet spot we often see and discuss. It features the Empire-style pierced brass castings that were first popularized in the early 1890s, but the overall pan form and simplified styling are more in tune with post-1900 fixtures.

    This recently-ended Horn & Brannen catalog from 1900-1901 on eBay gives a feel for the same transitional look – still quite ornate and plenty of Empire details (wreathes, etc.) but less delicate and filigreed than the early 1890s.

    It is hard to make generalized statements about the spread of gas/electric lighting as it wasn’t so much based on the introduction of technology but more on the availability of power. Gas/electric combination fixtures were available almost from the start and are certainly seen in early 1880s catalogs. However, Edison’s great contribution was less the light bulb than the power distribution system to illuminate it – without power, the bulb was useless.

    For a long time, power supply was localized and transmission distance very limited. Some early homes had their own power generating systems (both for gas and electricity).

    The first demonstration of long-distance transmission of electricity was actually here in Portland (not everything happened in New York City first) in 1889:

    All this relates to Ross’s comments in two ways.

    First, electric (and combination) lighting had been around more than a decade already when the Cross House was built. However, its “novel” use in the house was almost entirely driven by when the generation and transmission of electricity first came to Emporia (which was usually funded by and utilized by commercial interests and city street light systems first, not the residential market).

    Second, electricity and bulbs were both expensive and unreliable while the technology developed – thus the importance of gas as a main lighting source with electricity as a showy back up. Advances in bulb manufacturing technology, the development of better filament materials, and the shift from the single-loop to double-loop filament all happened right around the time of the Cross House, helping bring down the cost of bulbs substantially.

    One other note – at the time the Cross House was built, the battle between AC (Tesla and Westinghouse) and DC (Edison) transmission forms was in full swing, and the electric lighting in the Cross House could have been either, using bulb bases and sockets of any of several different types – not necessarily the familiar screw base we know today.

    More affordable and accessible electric lighting for the mass market really makes its splashy transitional debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which one can’t help but feel certain Cross would have made the 650-odd mile trip to Chicago for.

    Unfortunately there are very few references for early 1890s lighting fixtures. Perhaps the most accessible one is Volume 2 of the Allen’s Antique Lighting of the Nineteenth Century series:

    http://www.antiquelight.com/lighting_books.html
    https://www.amazon.com/Antique-Lighting-Nineteenth-Century-Two/dp/B004WPCZOI

    However, this volume illustrates the problem with many reprints and internet references. While I am unsure of the exact date of the W.C. Vosburgh catalog reprinted in this volume, so are the Allens, and I believe their dating of it is off – I think this catalog is closer to 1890-1892.

    Another example of how challenging it can be to rely on these sources is the Cassidy & Son Catalog 19 from CCA on the Internet Archive site.

    This catalog is dated 1888 by a hand-written note in the front, however, it is much more likely that this catalog dates to 1898-1903 – the same period that so many of Ross’ “Victorian” fixtures date to. Flip through and you see plenty of Empire fixtures, but you also see plenty of hexagonal and spun-body fixtures, simplified bent arm forms, 4″ molded gas shades and – the smoking gun – the bent glass shades and domes, which don’t appear until later in the 1890s (the dome form was especially popular around 1900). This pen-and-ink presentation format was also popular in lighting catalogs around the turn of the century.

    See also this example, dated 1890 but more likely from that same 1898-1904 range.

    These catalogs will feature older designs which continue to be sold, for sure, but that can be misleading.

    My point? Even for the dedicated researcher, sorting fact from fiction around Victorian lighting is challenging at best, and almost impossible without clearly dated catalogs from numerous prominent companies for reference.

    Does it matter, and does anyone really care? No, perhaps not. But there is simply no denying – as Ross so well points out by making the thematic connections between his fixtures and other details of the house, hardware, etc. – every house was built in the language and context of its time, and the authentic products of that time are the ones that best bring that spirit, beauty, and intention back to life. When done thoughtfully and well, at least…

    Thanks goodness we have dedicated souls like Ross to carry the torch for – or at the very least least ask the relevant and often difficult questions about – the importance of authenticity in the restoration of lighting (and every other detail) in old houses.

    • It sounds like it would be worthwhile for Ross to research the utilities that were available in 1894 Emporia. It would be very interesting indeed if the Cross house originally had an electric generator. Ross thinks that if they had a coal bin that it was probably in the carriage house, because he can’t find any evidence of it in the basement. Perhaps there was a coal-fired generator out there too. That may even have been where the steam for the lovely radiators was generated.

  6. Remember, they also had handy dandy lamp lighters back in those days too, on the end had a wick for light and a piece for turning the gas valve.

    http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/antique-gas-chandelier-lamp-lighter-1865-houchin

    http://www.antiquesnavigator.com/d-56654/antique-gas-street-lamp-lighter-key-knob-turner-tool.html

    Has a great collection of period photos of gas lights to show heights..

    http://flickrhivemind.net/flickr_hvmnd.cgi?method=GET&sorting=Interestingness&page=3&photo_type=250&noform=t&search_domain=Tags&photo_number=50&tag_mode=all&sort=Interestingness&textinput=gasolier&originput=gasolier&search_type=Tags

    I know some people are dead set on a period home, with everything original to the build date but like with my property. That means I would need to live with an outhouse, oil lamps, coal burning heat, well and a primitive kitchen at best. I’ve decided I will keep it as period as can be but I will keep the changes. I won’t attempt to replaster every wall, repaper in period paper nor attempt any other museum type restoration. I will keep its history, and the changes it has seen with in the years. I will have a display area of finds, wall paper and other things. At the end, I have to be able to live in it and I can’t reverse history plus there is no way I will ever find a 1867 photo of the one building or 1888 of the other…Let alone be able to reverse all the fire damage it seen near a 120 years ago…

    What I am saying, is don’t attempt to put back what was there and not knowing exactly what was there. Simply put up what you enjoy, what looks good with the house and no one will be the wiser. Trust me, no one will walk in and scream that is an 1904 fixture and not period…Well maybe the original owners ghost lol

  7. I have a similar 4-up 4-down gas/electric chandelier in the best parlor at Hill House. During the careful partial disassembly for cleaning and buffing (yeah, I know–there goes the patina but it had been painted) I was able to thread bell wire through the open gas valves, of sufficient gauge to run low wattage candelabra base bulbs. I unscrewed the gas jets and stored them in the central urn against need by a purist like Ross, and keyless phenolic candelabra sockets screwed right on to the ends of the gas arms. All was well until a tall curious guest, after my description of rewiring, gave a vigorous turn to one of the valves and truncated its wires, luckily not creating a short circuit. It did permanently darken that arm–that chandelier is not coming down again in my lifetime at least.

  8. Sounds like it might be well to disable the gas valves so they couldn’t be turned.

    Although I hate to suggest it in such purist company, LED lighting also uses very little electricity and therefore very small wires and comes in infinite shades of colors now, is cheap in the extreme, and a 4 year old could hook it up.

    We’re off the grid and have gone to all LED for its extremely low wattage use

  9. Fascinating!
    Have you seen those LED votive candles that are rechargeable batteries and have a little remote control? I could see that as a workaround until you work out the wiring (and I’m sure you will!)

  10. I’m vexed with the same questions. All of the gas/electric fixtures in my 1904 Queen Anne, Gay Gardens, were removed sometime in the 30s by the previous owner’s aunt. In their place went bare bulbs hanging from cloth-covered drop-down wires from cheap ceramic holders, with (gasp!) bare copper connections to the original wiring exposed. And a few bonus Romex wires tapped in for convenience outlets. Gas pipes capped and painted the same color as the ceiling…all quite tragic.

    I’d questioned her logic, but then I realized a 4’11” single woman probably didn’t want to deal with gas valves and paddle switches. The first owners were undoubtedly tall..
    A Swedish immigrant widower and his five sons, who built the house with 9′ ceilings. I really have no idea how low to place the period-correct replacement fixtures I’ll use in the house…they kept them more to light, but often so low it necessitated a table in the middle of every common room. Think of your tallest friends before you make your height decision, haha.

  11. Ross, To me what really makes your gas/electric fixtures look like they are from the 1900’s instead of the 1894 time frame you are trying to emulate, are the lamp sockets. I never use post 1900 “fat boy” style bulb sockets on a pre 1900 fixture, and instead typically use common earlier 1890’s “Lange” or “tall skinny” style sockets which present a very obvious 1890’s period look. Many of the earlier fixtures did not change all that much over time, but in that period the socket did. Sockets are an important visual cue to represent the fixtures age. Bryant and others made large quantities of these 1890’s “skinny” sockets. Mostly they were made to accept Thomson-Houston base bulbs but adapters flooded the market at the time so they could use the standard Edison screw base bulbs that were made the US standard bulb base in 1900. These “Antique Sockets” and Thomson-Houston to Edison Adapters are constantly on Ebay (some listed by big collectors with inventory -if contacted) They are not all that expensive, especially compares to a period 1894 gas/electric fixture that still will need proper period sockets. See the socket tutorial at “mosaicshades.com” to see some examples. Very nice project.

  12. I just want to say that this is a wonderful thread. THANK YOU! Much of what’s above I’ve suspected / agree with / etc, but I’ve learned some things, too. I’m continuing the restoration of an 1889 place (now known as Schwixon – there’s a FB page), from where my predecessor left off, and over the last months have been hanging some of the fixtures that languished for decades – maybe closer to a century – on the third floor.

    The socket tutorial is just super, too, and I’d really like to thank whoever wrote that as well. One question: I have one fixture that has R E CO sockets that have odd screw-in bases. They didn’t really make any sense until reading the discussion about different bulb bases. Maybe this was insurance against a different convention taking hold, so to change over you’d just buy different adapters for your R E CO sockets. Anyway, I’m missing two of those adapters, in case anyone has any they’d like to part with.

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