The stepped round top of the oil font with finial on the fluted, "fountain-shaped" font with a lacquered brass prism ring with rampant swans above a standard with applied cast decoration, the fuel tube terminating in the vertical burner tube with intake vent and shade and chimney holder, all raised on a molded base with three lacquered brass dolphins.


Condition: Excellent: bronze and lacquered brass surface restored, glass shades, lusters and chimneys are later replacements, electrified non-invasively. Original burner mechanism available.


The firm Thomas Messenger (1767-1832), began in 1797 with Thomas Phipson was to become the most important manufacturer of oil and gas lighting of the 19th-century.  Listed initially as: “Brass Founders, Manufacturers of Church Candlesticks, Patent Lamps, Etc.” their successors were to survive into the 1920s.   Their partnership lasted until 1823, the year after they opened a London office at 21 Grenville Street, Hatton Garden.  For the next two years Thomas Messenger is listed in London city directories alone and then in 1828 with his son Samuel as “Thomas Messenger and Son” at the same address.  After Thomas’ death in 1832, the firm became known as “Thomas Messenger and Sons” continuing at Hatton Garden, London and Broad Street, Birmingham into the 1860s[1].


Geneva-born philosopher and inventor Francois-Pierre-Ami Argand (1750-1803), finally received a British patent for his lamps developed a few years earlier in Paris on March 15th, 1784 (patent no. 1425).  His invention which promised "a lamp that is so constructed to produce neither smoak [sic.] nor smell, and to give considerably more light than any lamp hitherto known" consisted of a tubular wick held between metal tubes, a rack and pinion wick riser assembly and a tall, narrow chimney that fit closely around the wick causing air to be drawn up through the center of the flame as well as around its outside creating more thorough combustion.  It was designed to burn rape-seed (colza) and whale oil issuing from an oil reserve or “font” positioned so that the oil would flow from the force of gravity to the burner.


This invention, developed initially with Matthew Bolton and James Watt in England, was subsequently manufactured by a host of makers in Birmingham including Messenger, Johnston-Brookes, Phipson & Lambley, Fletcher & Day and Ratcliff.  Hailed by Rees in his encyclopedia of 1819 The Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature saying "it may be justly ranked among the greatest discoveries of the age" and by Benjamin Franklin who noted it was "much admired for its splendor," Argand's invention was the most important advancement in home lighting since the discovery of fire.

The design of these lamps, like many Classical Argand lamps, were inspired by ancient Greek and Roman urns, stands and bronze vessels.  The work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a rich source of inspiration for early 19th-century designers currying to the tastes of a populace fascinated with ancient cultures and focused on the electrifying, on-going archaeological discoveries in Southern Italy. 


Piranesi published two books that were particularly influential: Diverse maniere d’adornari i cammini in 1769 and in 1778, Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcofagi….  In the latter volume of engravings, Piranesi illustrates many lidded urns and tri-pod candelabrum with dolphins at the base such as the "marble candelabrum in the collection of the author" that probably influenced the design of these.


In this case, the fuel reservoirs or fonts, are in the form of fountains and the birds perched on the prism rings drink from the "fountains" and the pendant prisms represent water flowing over the edge.




[1] Gerald T. Gowitt 19th-Century Elegant Lighting (Atglen, Pa., Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2002), p.125-132.

Dealer Carswell Rush Berlin, Inc.
Date: c.1832
Origin Birmingham, England
Artist/Maker Thomas Messenger & Sons
Measurements H: 17
Inventory View Dealer's Inventory
Price inquire
Contact Carswell R. Berlin, 646-645-0404 or

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