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A Modern Take On A Classic Maritime Lantern

- Dec 01, 2016 -

The traditional fisherman’s onion lamp—with its round globe and tin cage—gets a chic, 21st-century face-lift


THEN | Back in the 1800s, it wasn’t easy keeping a tiny whale-oil flame alive at sea. New England fisherman relied on the bulbous glass globes of onion lanterns to block out rain, wind and sea-spray. Metal cages—first of cheap tin and copper and later rustproof brass—encased the glass to prevent it from shattering against a surface (or being smashed by unsecured objects) when rough water rocked the boat. Hooks on top allowed the lamps to be carried by hand or hung from pegs jutting from a ship’s walls.


NOW | As whale-oil gave way to electricity, the onion-lantern form showed up as street lamps and decorative lighting, becoming more delicate to suit kinder environments but maintaining its nautical charm. The Urban Electric Co.’s new Hull lamp, at right, offers a modern distillation of the features of the seamen’s light. The hanging fixture comes in a number of finishes, including brass, nickel and bronze, and the body measures 22 by 15.5 inches. Michael Amato, the company’s creative director, envisions it lining an outdoor covered-walkway (the light is rated for dampness, not rain), floating above a dining table or giving a child’s bedroom a maritime twist.

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