Kerosene Lamp Question
My sister gave me an antique Kerosene lantern for my birthday a few weeks ago, and I was wondering first, how can I tell if it's period correct for Civil War re-enacting, and second, if it is, does anyone have advice about cleaning the rust off of it or cautions about using a tin kerosene lantern?
If you could post a picture of the lantern in question it would greatly assist in the evaluation.
Generally... There are many different types that existed. Most of the 1840-50 era oil lanterns predominately used whale oil. throughout the 1850's whale oil continuously became more and more expensive. Thus many sought out alternative fuel oils made of tallow, fat etc... Depending on ones economic ability. The wicks and burners on these were much different than the oil lanterns that most are familier with. "Kerosene", aka coal oil, was fairly new product in the latter 1850's, and civil war era. It was also fairly expensive due to the then complex and difficult production process. The production of which was mostly limited to the Pennsylvania coal field regions at that time.
The kerosene market and proliferation of available lanterns designed for it didnt really take off till well post war when the production process was better perfected, making it more marketable and less expensive. The old kerosene lanterns that many refer to as a railroad lantern commonly seen in the old western movies such as was made by Dietz and some others with the flat single wick didnt come around till about a decade or more after the war. Despite the usage of such by many reenactors. because something looks old, it isnt always old enough for the civil war era.
If the lantern and tank is made of tin, a primary concern would be how much rust the lantern has. In many cases the most damage typically is inside the tank where moisture could have been trapped and a cause for internal corrosion. Always store and transport an oil lamp sitting upright to help prevent any leakage from the burner or its flange etc.
While not of much help in if you can use it or not I found this page which has some interesting care and feeding instructions, even has leak fixes: http://www.lanternnet.com/faqs.htm
An history of American Oil Lamps can be found here. It is meant to be a general survey introducing the topic. If you want further info, you'll have to dig deeper for yourself. They do include clear photos of several original examples.
A few "big box" stores will carry some lamps that look similar to the "simple" style. I don't want to list them because the links change too quickly... but Amazon, TSC, and some hardware stores should prove helpful.
I question the accuracy of the statement about the limited distribution of kerosene lamps. The Steamboat Bertrand which sank in 1865 was carrying only kerosene lamps as opposed to the Steamboat Arabia (1856) which only had whale oil. Those kerosene lamps had the flat wick and not the round wick found in whale oil lamps. And the wreck was out on the Missouri River near Omaha, NE, and the lamps were part of the ship's cargo headed even further onto the frontier. So if the lamps were bound in that direction, there must have been a reasonable established market for them quite far from the Pennsylvania coal fields.