Friday, September 18, 2009


Just as there are many people today who don't own a CD or DVD player this deep into the digital age, there were many people in the gaslight era who still depended on oil lamps, and even mere candles at home.

Despite the recurring candle craze that comes and goes (apparently enough that mall-stores like Yankee Candle Co. can stay in business), I know of no one who deliberately lights their home solely by candles as a matter of aesthetics. If I didn't have a mischievous cat, I'd try it myself. When there was a prolonged blackout in Louisville earlier this year, I really enjoyed living by candlelight.

A European company is manufacturing brass decorative engines that run entirely on candle power, and dinky little tealights at that. Since we already have potato-powered clock and hand-powered crank radios, could a candle-powered coffee maker be far behind?

And then, of course, nothing makes a home style statement like a candleabra. You can make your own out of ceiling-fan parts, or shell out over a thousand dollars for an fancy floor model.

You can also make your own candles, if you want to go that far. Most of my homemade candles have been just melting down remnants of existing candles and recycling them in new molds, but I've always been curious about the ancient traditions of making candles out of materials such as Tallow (beef fat) and Ghee (clarified yak butter). Don't laugh - Yak butter lamps are a big deal in Tibetan monasteries.

The earliest known candles were those made by the ancient Egyptians, out of beeswax, as early as 3000 BC. Early Chinese cultures made candles from whale blubber during the Qin Dynasty.

The earliest clocks on Earth (aside from sundials, which are not strictly clocks by definition) were candle clocks, invented in ancient China. A candle clock is a thin candle with consistently spaced markings (either on the candle itself, or mounted behind it) that when burned, indicate the passage of periods of time. Candle clocks also functioned as a timer or an alarm clock by sticking a heavy nail into the candle at the mark indicating the desired interval. When the wax surrounding the nail melts, the nail loudly clatters onto a metal plate or bell below.

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