Fairy Lamps Go on Display at Stagecoach Inn Museum
By Jennifer Ludlow, Acorn Staff Writer

April 26, 2001

Newbury Park residents Lloyd and Nan Graham have been in search of "fairy lamps" ever since they bought their first one back in September of 1994. The Grahams, whose fairy lamp collection is currently on display at the Newbury Park Stagecoach Inn Museum, say collecting the lamps that date back to the 1880s is "contagious."

Samuel Clarke of London, England, patented the original fairy lamp, or a lamp to hold a candle as a method to sell more of his candles, which was a very competitive business in those days, according to the Grahams. The first fairy lamps were quite simple and consisted of saucer-like designs made of plain glass. They soon evolved into lamps with handles so a person could carry them up the stairs to bed. And eventually elaborate designs such as chandeliers and table centerpieces were made. Clarke also patented such inventions as a baby food warmer, a vaporizer, night lights and even what he called a "burglar’s horror"– a fairy lamp placed by the front door to scare away potential housebreakers. Clarke’s invention changed candles from being purely functional to being more of a decorative enhancement to the home. Clarke used the colorful glasses that were also being patented around the 1880s. Fairy lamps were made of many kinds of glass, including Burmese, threaded and cut crystal glass.

Lloyd and Nan became interested in fairy lamps because one of Lloyd’s uncles collected the lamps back in the 1940s. So when the Grahams saw a fairy lamp at an antique shop in San Diego they both knew exactly what it was and they immediately bought it. The couple purchased two more lamps before that weekend was over and their collection was born. "Three is a collection," said Lloyd. "Nobody ever believes when you say once you’ve got three you’ve started your collection," said Nan. "I guess because they haven’t gotten three of anything yet."

Six years later the Grahams have many fairy lamps in their collection and have more than 30 on display at the museum. They find most of their lamps at antique shows, antique stores and flea markets all around the western United States. The lamps have two parts: the base and the dome. More than once the Grahams found the base of a fairy lamp in one location and then came across the dome half a couple of years later in a different spot. The first one they put together was a Victorian fairy lamp.  They found the base at the flea market at the Rose Bowl where it was being sold as a Victorian candy dish, and then two years later, they found the dome half of it at the flea market at the Ventura Fairgrounds. Another time they found the dome and cup of a fairy lamp in Sacramento and 18-months later found the base in Reno, Nev. being sold as a flower bowl.  "We tool around a lot," said Nan. "We poke into a lot of dark corners."

The Grahams are members of a fairy lamp club with about 150 members from around the world. Members have written books about fairy lamps. They also have a newsletter.  "We like to keep track of where these fairy lamps are going," said Nan.

The fairy lamp exhibit will run through June 22 at the Stagecoach Inn Museum. The museum is at 51 S. Ventu Park Road in Newbury Park. The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.

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