Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

19th century lantern

Working up a pattern for an unusual lantern.

Rob GorrellComment

I am always looking through books and websites looking for more information on period lanterns.  I don't know what it is exactly about lanterns that interests me so much, but I have been making a bunch of them lately.

I came across this lantern in the online collection of the Winterthur Museum and had to try to figure it out. It had two doors, a tube on the back (extra candle?) and a storage area on the bottom.  The original has horn panes.  The museum dates this lantern to 1800-1850. 


Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Lantern, 1800-1850,United States, Tinned sheet iron, Horn, Iron, paint, Bequest of Henry Francis DuPont, 1965.2836.

Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Lantern, 1800-1850,United States, Tinned sheet iron, Horn, Iron, paint, Bequest of Henry Francis DuPont, 1965.2836.

My lantern is an interpretation on the original, not an exact reproduction.  I used mica for the panes, but am working on getting horn replacements made. There were a few items on this design that were new to me and I hope to make improvements on the next attempt.  For example, the skinny lower door was difficult to get hinged properly and came out a little longer than the upper door, also, getting the three vent cones on the top scaled  out for cutting took a few tries.




The original lantern is painted black, but I antiqued this lantern. i will probably use asphaltum on the next one. If I remember to do it, I will take photos of the construction process next time.

I would be very glad to hear comments or suggestions to improve this design.

I am looking forward to trying this out at our next living history event.   

Special thanks to Susan Newton at Winterthur Museum for her assistance.

Creating a Wide Awakes parade lantern.

Folk Art, Tinware, UncategorizedRob GorrellComment

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.

Wide wake 1


We had the rooster image to start from and a couple of images of original parade lanterns found online.

lantern_ITM_63013      lincoln original 2   railsplitter

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.

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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.



Making a large Parade Lantern.

Folk Art, TinwareRob GorrellComment

  A while back I was digging through the online collection of metalwork on the website for the Winterthur Museum and came across this great pierced tin parade lantern.

Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, parade lantern, 1800-1825, United States, Sheet iron, Paint, Iron wire, Wood,  gift of Henry Francis du Pont, 1959.1656

.  This looked like a great project to try to reproduce or interpret in some way.  I figured it would be a good way to practice laying out the dreaded frustrum of a cone for each of the conical parts.  Plus we think it will be a great party beacon outside of our tent the next time we go to rendezvous.



I have not found much information about this particular style of parade lantern.  I have found reference to the parade lanterns that swing on a hanger and burned oil or kerosene, like this one for sale on Etsy, but no other that is pierced and on a pole like this.  But I have only checked a few sources so far.il_570xN.569153673_agjcLaying out the round parts and doing the tin punch was pretty straight-forward with ruler and compass. However, laying out the cones gave me fits.  There are a number of period books that show how to do the geometry to lay out the cones, But every time I tried it the large diameter of the cone came out too large.  In hindsight I think it was an error in adding the extra needed to do the set down seam between the body and the cones that threw me off.  Laying out the six vent holes (under the little half-cones) so that the came out even when the lap seam was soldered took some time to learn also. There is probably one a simple geometry tricks that I haven't learned yet to get them right.

As I mentioned, there are a number of books available online and in print that cover layout techniques that were written in the early 1900's.  There is a chapter on tinsmithing in this one.  I have downloaded or purchased several the same information is presented in almost all of them.

As usual, I had intended to take lots of photos as I worked out the pattern to illustrate my successes and failures along the way, but I did not.  But here are a few shots of the finished lantern.

Shelleys party light


Party light at night