Fat LampMade in Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America
Artist/maker unknown, American, Pennsylvania German
Red earthenware, lead glaze
1916-270Purchased with the Baugh-Barber Fund, 1916
This fat lamp was made from high-quality clay found under the wet topsoil of Pennsylvania's low-lying plains. Southeastern Pennsylvania's terrain could support farms on the topsoil and potteries on the subsoil, so by 1810 potteries could be found in almost every township in Buck's County.
The work of the potter fit into the agricultural calendar. The clay was dug in the fall: topsoil was cleared and a foot-deep layer of clay was sliced and shoveled into a wagon, hauled to the pottery, and stacked. Before freezing weather, the clay was carried in baskets and dumped into a mill - a round tub with a revolving post set with blades. A horse harnessed to a sweep walked slowly around the tub, turning the blades. Water was flushed through to clean the clay and the resulting mass of plastic earth turned gray to yellow. The clay was then shaped into one hundred pound blocks and stored in a cellar where it was kept moist but would not freeze.
This fat lamp started out as a flattened ball of clay. The heavy body and thin neck were formed by the potter on his wheel, which was rotated at variable speeds by the potter pushing a foot wheel, which in turn was connected to a balance wheel, allowing for smooth and continuous rotation. The surface is covered with iron oxide in a thick clear lead glaze, causing the reddish tint.
The liquid fat was poured into the body through the pan fitted over the neck of the base, and therein held a coiled wick. Because it is small, this particular fat lamp has a very low capacity for oil, and is therefore not very functional.
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