Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Oil Pitcher

Several days ago I was visiting a neighbor, and he showed me this antique bronze pitcher that was used for heating oil in the Ocracoke lighthouse lamp before lighting the wick. This would have been used until 1929 when the lighthouse was electrified.[This correction was posted June 18: the warming pitcher was probably discontinued soon after 1877 when kerosene was substituted for lard oil. See my comment at 9:52 AM, below.]

With a magnifying glass I was able to read the embossed name of the manufacturer: "A. Gruet & CiF Paris 11 Ple St. Sebastie."

 A July 5th, 1884 letter from Boston resident, T.H. Bartlett to the editors of American Architect and Architecture, Vol 16, has this to say about the A. Gruet foundry: "There is one founder in Paris, A. Gruet, Jne., who as a nobleman as well as founder, is alone sufficient to sustain the reputation of France as a country where great work in bronze-casting is kept in an enviable state of perfection."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the curious story of Vera/Charlie Williams. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news052114.htm.  


  1. Anonymous1:34 PM

    Hmm --was the OI lighthouse decommissioned or when the peoples were no longer needed to operate the lighthouse were the items such as the oil lamp er Federal property paid for by the tax payer no doubt, were the items auctioned off? Such as the old life saving memerobilia that just found it self into the hands of those that have these items??? All thses artifacts bought and paid for by the Federal government unlike public lands which are used and grazing fees left unpaid or maybe there is just too much to be bothered with -- yeah, the moon landing equipment landed on the moon and it is still there and the NASA knew those O-rings would not handle the cold temperatures..... God Bless America

  2. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Philip...I am trying to understand why the oil would have to be preheated before it was ignited? I am sure that was the case as you have stated, but why? Any idea's on this? Thanks, NS

    1. Good question. I wondered the same thing, but never did the research to learn why. Maybe someone else knows.

  3. Anonymous12:13 AM

    Seeing the photo and reading the description of the oil pitcher raised two thoughts in my mind:

    #1: I was reminded of a former brother-in-law's long-ago story told about some sort of mechanical counting device that was used many years ago at Bethlehem Steel to tally up the number of items made in some production process. You simply pulled a chain to display the next number. "Appropriated" from the mill, the device found its way to a local flea market, where the person trying to sell it spun a fanciful tale for would-be customers about how the counter had been used to track the number of pedestrians traversing some long-gone historical toll bridge that had once been prominent in town. The point being that potential customers are suckers for a good story. (Which goes to the question, why would oil need to be preheated?)

    #2: Looks more like a coffee pot to me.


    Always interesting, Philip, as usual.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Bear MacDonald left this message on Wednesday's post, and I thought it should be shared here:

    "With all flammable liquids, it is not the liquid for that actually ignites, but the fumes. Any liquid needs to be at or above a given temperature to produce the fumes to be ignited. It may be possible that with the older processing techniques or quality of the older oils that they may need to be heated to produce enough fumes to ignite.

    I could be wrong, but that is just my educated guess."

    I will see if I can find out any more information about the oil pitcher.

  5. From https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/ResearchResources/Michigan_Material_Statewide/Michigan_Lighthouses/Pages/History-of-Michigan-Lighthouses.aspx:

    "In the 1860s preheated lard oil had become the most common fuel used in lighthouses. Preheating, however, was difficult and required keepers to somehow keep the oil warm as it was brought from a stove to the light. The development of the incandescent oil vapor lamp allowed the board in 1877 to adopt kerosene as the primary fuel for lights...."

    So, I was wrong about the final date this oil pitcher would have been used. It would no longer have been used after kerosene was substituted for lard oil.