When a tinsmith gets a chance to study an original antique tin item firsthand, or has access to a design drawn from an original, he or she can produce a reproduction. More often what I create should really be called an historic interpretation. I try to stay true to tools, techniques and designs from the period when creating a period piece. But sometimes I end up blending parts of different traditional designs into a new piece that may or may not have existed in the period. Living history people can get really steamed on this subject. This is my interpretation, non-expert like.
One project I was contacted for recently involved making what we called the Wide Awake Lantern.
We had the rooster image to start from and a couple of images of original parade lanterns found online.
I worked up a design that was a combination of features and started working up prototypes.
It always looks so simple starting out on paper, but as I worked through the details I had to make many changes. For example, it was decided that it would be much more practical to have a slide up panel that a hinged door on a lantern that was to be put on a swivel handle.
We also decided to put an asphaltum finish on these lanterns. Asphaltum is an old recipe of asphaltum black, turpentine and varnish. It has to be painted on, dried and then baked at increasing temperature increments to drive off the volatiles. It is a long, stinky and messy process. In the case of these lanterns I had trouble getting a smooth layer of finish. The final result is not as smooth as I would have liked, but I think they are acceptable in a period context.
Another design feature that I had to work with was the wire bracket for the lantern to swing on. No matter what I tried to to stiffen up the bracket, the whole assembly would flex when the lanterns were carried around. The wire looks to be about the same size as in original examples, and the design is similar. I finally decided that the originals must have had a similar flex to them. Just because something was made a certain way in the past doesn’t mean that it was a perfect design.
In the end we came up with what I think is a good approximation of what a tinsmith may have made for a Wide Awake parade lantern in the mid 19th century. it was a real learning process and if I am asked to make more I will be making some improvements to the design again.