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Candles in The Wind, Home And Other Places: Wherever Did They Come From?
by Marjorie Dorfman

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candles in ChinaIn the course of the 18th century, there were several changes in candle design and origin. In China, weights were designed and fitted into the sides of candles. Thusly, when a candle melted, the weights fell off, making a noise as they fell into a bowl. (It is not known how 18th century Chinese insomniacs may have reacted to this.) Also in that same century, around 1750, spermaceti, which comes from the sperm whale, was used as a source for very expensive candles.

Several major changes occurred during the 19th century that marked this period as a "renaissance" for the craft. Colza oil was discovered, which provided a much cheaper alternative to spermaceti. Candles made from that and similar oil derived from rapeseeds yielded candles that produced clear and smokeless flames. Molding machines were developed and also stearin (a wax hardener) was introduced in 1811 by two French chemists. Derived from animals, like tallow, these candles had no unpleasant odors because they contained no glycerin.

paraffin candle The year 1825 brought the braided wick, and paraffin development began in 1830. (It would not be manufactured until 1850.) In 1834, the mordanting of wicks, which caused the burned end of the wick to curl outside of the flame and turn to ash, marked a major breakthrough. In 1854, paraffin and stearin were combined, creating stronger candles. These were very much like those that are manufactured today. Styles are different and varied as the advent of modern technology bought improvements in molds and additives, such as dyes and scents.

oil lampThe candle industry was devastated by the distillation of kerosene, which provided an excellent and safe fuel for lamps. From this point on, candles took a step backward and never stepped forward again as the light supplier of the world. From that time on, they have been considered as decorative items only.

Paraffin is the major ingredient of most modern candles although beeswax is also very popular. Candles will always have their place in homes throughout the world. They are symbols of home, hearth, hope and enlightenment, and have often been depicted as such in literature and art down through the ages. They may never have the important task of lighting the world they once had, but speaking of candlelight, per se, there’s not much that can "hold a candle to it."

reading by candlelight
Happy Candles and personal enlightenment to all and to all a well-lit night!


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