by Dr. Lori Verderame
From the Latin verb “candere” (to shine), candles are a portable lighting solution that have been around for centuries. Unfortunately, a candle’s open flame was problematic in barns with hay and other flammable materials. The solution was an early lamp, called a betty lamp, made in various forms.
In the 1800s, betty lamps were a widely available lighting source. The betty lamp got its name from the German word “besser” meaning better. And, all in all, the betty lamp was a better lamp… much better than a candle. Betty lamps were found in barns, workshops, etc. The typical shape of a betty lamp was round with a shallow, hinged reservoir for grease which served as the lamp’s fuel source. A betty lamp had a spout that kept the wick and its holder in place. The wick holder allowed the lamp to burn and provide light as the user’s hands were free to do tasks. A hook on the lamp was used to hang the betty lamp from a barn beam or workshop nail. Made of tin, brass, or sheet metal, the better lamp had a wick holder inside the oil reservoir which secured the wick and a lidded oil reservoir which allowed the lamp to burn longer than other period lamps. Learn about other types of oil lamps.
Collecting antique lamps
These attributes of the betty lamp outperformed earlier crusie lamps and differed in form from other contemporary fat or grease lamps like the kettle, trunnion, or convent lamps.
Early lighting enthusiasts and lamp collectors collect betty lamps vigorously as they are of interest to Colonial period, farming, and lighting collectors alike.
What to Look For
Look for betty lamps that have retained all of their parts including the oil reservoir lid, hook, etc. Condition of the betty lamp and evidence of use will positively impact value. Look for betty lamps that are in good, original shape and have evidence of burned oil or fat. Some collectors look for betty lamps of diverse materials like tin, sheet metal, or brass. Most early betty lamps were hand made by farmers, handymen, blacksmiths, and other handy tradesmen. These old examples are widely sought after and valuable.
Get an online appraisal report of your antique betty lamp from Dr. Lori.