Bouillotte Lamps: A Collector’s Guide

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For those who appreciate the elegance and refinement of bygone eras, the bouillotte lamp is a brilliant and unique lighting fixture that brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of aristocratic entertainment from centuries past. With its graceful silhouette and intricate metalwork, the bouillotte lamp stands as both captivating objet d’art and functional illumination.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history, design, and collecting of these antique beauties that still mesmerize design lovers today. Read on to learn all about the bouillotte lamp’s emergence from an 18th-century card game to a prized addition to any antique collection.

Bouillotte lamp. Source.

History of Bouillotte Lamps

To understand the background of the bouillotte lamp, one must first understand the card game from which it drew its name. Bouillotte was a popular gambling game in 18th-century France, played by aristocrats and elites in private drawing rooms and parlors across Paris and beyond.

Similar to modern poker, bouillotte involved wagering and bluffing as players were dealt from a shortened deck of cards. Players would ante up with jetons, or counters, as each round progressed, raising the stakes [1].

The game was often played on round bouillotte tables designed specifically for the pastime. And at the center of all this action sat the hallmark bouillotte lamp, providing directed lighting so players could clearly view their cards [2].

With adjustable metal shades, bouillotte lamps allowed players to control glare and focus candlelight on the cards at hand. As the night wore on and candle flames dwindled, the lampshade could be lowered to maximize flickering illumination.

Design of Bouillotte Lamps

The adjustable brilliance of early bouillotte lamps stemmed from their specialized design. The classic bouillotte lamp shape typically consisted of a heavy rounded base shaped like an oil lamp pan. Extending up from this base are two to four slender branches, or candle arms, spreading out like a candelabra [3].

Bouillotte Lamp Vignette. Source.

Each arm would hold a candle whose light would radiate through the lamp’s hallmark: an opaque metal shade known as a tôle. Attached to the lamp by a vertical shaft, this shade was highly reflective on the interior while exterior surfaces were often painted or lacquered. Made from thin sheets of brass, tin, copper, or other metals, the tôle shade directed candlelight downwards [4].

Another key element was the adjusting key that allowed the shade, and sometimes the candleholders, to slide up and down the central shaft. This allowed adjustment of shade height and candles as needed [5].

Decorative details like flower garlands, classically inspired figurines, finials, and faceted knobs added sumptuous finishing touches sure to impress aristocratic gamblers.

Value of Bouillotte Lamps

Given their aristocratic origins and gorgeous artistry, authentic antique bouillotte lamps can be quite valuable for collectors today. Prices at auction can range from a few hundred dollars for more modest bouillotte lamps to over $100,000 for exceptional examples bearing the mark of renowned Maisons like Odiot.

Values vary based on factors including [6]:

  • Age – Earlier examples from the late 18th century tend to be most prized. The Directoire period of 1795-1799 produced especially fine bouillotte lamps.
  • Maker – Pieces bearing marks from famed makers like Odiot or Thomire fetch higher sums.
  • Materials – Precious materials like silver, ormolu, and cut crystal increase value.
  • Condition – Lamps showing significant wear, repairs, or later alterations are less desirable.
  • Provenance – Lamps with documentation of prior ownership or inclusion in famed collections are more valuable.

Tips for Collectors

For those wishing to start collecting bouillotte lamps, there are certain steps to take:

Conduct Thorough Research

Learn all you can about bouillotte lamp history, design details, prominent makers, and value factors. This will help you recognize true antiques [4].

Buy from Reputable Sellers

Purchase from specialists in antique lighting at established auction houses, dealerships, or websites to avoid fakes.

Inspect Closely

Examine for repairs, replaced parts, damage, or modifications that could decrease value before purchasing [3].

Consider Condition

The most prized lamps have original finishes and parts. Repairs or restorations should be minimal.

Verify Authenticity

Ask about provenance and documentation proving age and origins. Scrutinize maker’s marks.

Conclusion

From providing directed illumination for card sharps to accenting the tables of aristocrats, the bouillotte lamp remains an elegant lighting accessory blending beauty and function. For antique collectors, few objects encapsulate historic refinement so marvelously.

By understanding the bouillotte lamp’s rich past and the nuances of collecting, you can choose wisely and add a touch of timeless grandeur to any space. Just don’t let its soft glow lure you into a high stakes game of cards!

References

[1] “Bouillotte Lamps: A Guide for Collectors.” Invaluable, www.invaluable.com/blog/bouillotte-lamps.

[2] Gibson, Sarah. “Trend Alert: Bouillotte Lamps.” Room for Tuesday, 22 Apr. 2021, https://roomfortuesday.com/trend-alert-bouillotte-lamps/.

[3] Aesthete. “Winning Bid: Directoire Bouillotte Lamp.” Reggie Darling, 11 July 2011, http://reggiedarling.blogspot.com/2011/07/winning-bid-directoire-bouillotte-lamp.html?m=1.

[4] Plate Addict. “My New Love…My Bouillotte Lamp.” Confessions of a Plate Addict, 4 Jan. 2010, https://confessionsofaplateaddict.blogspot.com/2010/01/my-new-lovemy-bouillotte-lamp.html?m=1.

[5] Hamish Bowles. “Bouillotte Lamps.” The Peak of Chic, 30 June 2007, http://thepeakofchic.blogspot.com/2007/06/bouillotte-lamps.html.

[6] “Departures and Arrivals.” Airnav, www.airnav.com/depart.


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