Auctioneer Sarah Isaacs turns detective to uncover why the humble candlestick has become so collectible It was Professor Plum, in the Library, with the candlestick! Oh, don’t you just love Cluedo…
Candlesticks are a bit like the famous whodunnit board game – they come from a time when it was more fashionable to sit around the table with the whole family. Not surprising then, that items from previous eras are the subject of much interest at auctions these days. So, what to look for if your fancy bidding and buying a pair of candlesticks for your home? The main types are cast and loaded candlesticks, the former being cast in sections and soldered together, and the latter being stamped or hammered out in sections and soldered together, then filled with pitch or plaster of Paris to give them body. This is then concealed by either felt, usually green or mahogany. Loaded candlesticks are made from sheet, which uses far less silver than cast. In the main, cast candlesticks are hallmarked underneath the base, with one mark on each corner if they are square based, or grouped together on the inside rim if circular. Ideally you’ll find partial marks of the lion passant and makers mark on the sconce and detachable nozzle. Loaded candlesticks are usually marked on one side of the base in a group and partially on the detachable nozzle.
The first pattern of cast candlesticks had a stem in a series of knops with a crest engraving at the base of the stem. This later developed into a baluster or inverted baluster form. Progressively, they started to get more detailed and the bases moved from pleats into shell patterns.
While early Victorian candlesticks were fairly simple, later designs became much more ornate particularly as the influence of classical design took hold. This style culminated in an abundance of swags, rams heads, wreaths and urns.
These followed the form of candlesticks, which then have two, three or more branches made with a bezel so that they fit into a candlestick. Chambersticks, known as ‘hand candlesticks’, were used as a guiding light from room to room; the earliest type is affectionately known as the ‘frying pan’. Certain examples have a pleated ‘strawberry’ dish and a companion conical extinguisher, which slot into the handle or aperture on the side of the sconce.