Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

13. Domestic Uses of Ceramics

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13.4 Lighting

Oil lamps, Roman 12 light lamp from South India, courtesy Government Museum Chennai; Cypriot Neolithic, source Guzelyurt Museum and Spanish lamps with animal decoration, source Museum of Archaeology, Seville

Oil lamps, Roman 12 light lamp from South
India, courtesy Government Museum Chennai;
Cypriot Neolithic, source Guzelyurt Museum
and Spanish lamps with animal decoration,
source Museum of Archaeology, Seville

The driving force for artificial light was to extend the daylight, primarily to extend the working day. The earliest oil lamps would have been simple shells or hollowed out stones, so pottery oil lamps would have been a significant improvement as they could be designed for optimal light. They were made commercially in large quantities in 6th century BC Greece, on a wheel, with the spout added by hand. Later Greek and Roman lamps were moulded in two parts and luted together. The styles of these and their decoration are useful for dating archaeological sites and analysing trade.

Candles were a development of oil lamps, being more portable, and candleholders were often made of pottery. One of the more unusual developments was glass magnifiers for candles, some filled with water to make them more powerful called “lace maker’s condensers”. Then sophisticated oil lamps were the next step in technology, and by the 19th century they had a tall glass chimney to force a draught increasing the airflow to the flame.

Brass oil lamp with glass chimney, converted to electricity

Brass oil lamp with
glass chimney, converted
to electricity

Gas mantle and lighting a gas lamp - sources Aubuchon Hardware and Stockholm Stadsmuseum

Gas mantle and lighting a gas lamp -
sources Aubuchon Hardware and Stockholm
Stadsmuseum

Also in the 19th century gas became the fuel for domestic lighting in large cities and some ceiling gaslights had large decorative pottery casings such as those made by Doulton. In the 1850s steatite was being used for nozzles in gaslights, as its lower thermal conductivity permitted a hotter flame and much better wear, so the nozzles lasted much longer (at this time the gas was just burnt in air). Gas mantles were then introduced made of thorium oxide, which glowed brightly when heated by the gas flame, significantly increasing the light output. The mantles were very fragile so were transported with a coated protection that burnt off on first use, but they could not then be handled or knocked. Porcelain had an important technical role to play in these gas lamps as it supported the components and kept the metal gas/air pipe cool.

Modern electric lamps are made from various special glasses that are described in more detail in part 15.

13.5 Enamel Coatings

Russian kovsh source Herschede; medallion of St Demetrios, source Louvre; Cloisonné, Japanese box, courtesy Pocket Antiques; and Chinese bowl source ed museum

Russian kovsh source Herschede; medallion
of St Demetrios, source Louvre;
Cloisonné, Japanese box, courtesy
Pocket Antiques; and Chinese bowl source
ed museum

Coloured enamels were used as early as the 4th century BC to cover silver and copper jewellery, and fired enamels are still used in the production of jewelry. Examples are the beautifully hand enamelled vases such as cloisonné from Japan.

In the home, enamel coatings are thin layers of very hard wearing ceramic material that has been fused onto metal surfaces such as steel and aluminium to protect them from oxidation or corrosion, to improve their abrasive strength and to produce products with a range of decorative colours.  Their characteristics are tailored to match the thermal expansion of the metal, and they are fired to melt at temperatures sufficient to adhere to the metal but not to distort it. Many metal appliances for domestic use are enamelled, such as pots, pans, fridges, washing machines and stoves

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