How to Identify Old Chandelier Pieces

By Brian Adler
Old crystal chandelier
chandelier on black image by Andrew Kazmierski from Fotolia.com

Chandeliers are lights that hang from a ceiling. The name comes from an old French word for candle and denotes the fact that old chandeliers consisted of branches of candles. Later, many of these chandeliers were converted to gas. The open flames of both these varieties of chandelier provided a dim light compared with later electric models. Crystals suspended from the branches of the old chandeliers helped to reflect and diffuse the feeble light, making it appear more brilliant. Old chandeliers consist of a variety of parts that relate either to the individual lights on the branches or to the chandelier itself.

Observe the external form of the old chandelier. A roughly tube-shaped body forms the heart of the lighting fixture. Old chandelier bodies can often be highly ornate, with elaborate turnings and applied decoration. The body may bulge out in parts and appear to consist of small balls one on top of the other. Old chandelier bodies may be of metal or wood. Ornamental scrolls may be attached to the body near its base. The branches, or arms, of the chandelier arch outward and upward from the base of the body of the chandelier.

Follow an arm as it extends away from the body of the old chandelier. The branch ends in a candle cup or gas fixture. The candle cup resembles those used on tabletops or in candelabra. A glass shade may enclose the candleholder. The candle fits into the socket inside and emerges over the top of the shade. In gas chandeliers, the gas fixture is almost always enclosed by a shade. Shades help to protect the flame from drafts. They also soften harsh light. Note the presence of bobeches on candle chandeliers. Bobeches are small metal or glass "saucers" that catch dripping wax.

Look for an abundance of faceted crystals. Crystals hang down from the branches of the old chandelier, often in long strands or cascades. Others decorate the chains that may connect candle cups and gas fixtures to the chandelier body. The facets on the crystals increase the reflectivity of the light that comes from the old chandelier. Each crystal is transformed into dozens of tiny mirrors, creating a jewel-like effect. Crystal first became an essential part of chandeliers in 17th-century England, when glassmakers discovered a reliable way to manufacture clear leaded glass.

Note the different shapes of the crystals on the antique chandelier. The wider pieces of crystal are called pendalogues. Generally rounded at the bottom, they can also be shaped like large tear-drops or ornate arrowheads. Many feature a small ball of crystal at the top. Prisms are long, angular pieces of crystal. They help to spread and intensify the light of the old chandelier. Baguettes are flat pieces of crystal that may hang individually from the chandelier or form parts of graduated chains. Graduated chains contain different size and shape crystals that hang from the arms of the old chandelier.

About the Author

Brian Adler has been writing articles on history, politics, religion, art, architecture and antiques since 2002. His writing has been published with Demand Studios, as well as in an online magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Columbia University.