Argand vs. Argan: #HistoricalResearch
Argand vs. Argan–what’s the difference?
Last week I had the opportunity to visit James Madison’s Montpelier estate outside Charlottesville, Virginia. In case you’ve fortgotten, Madison helped found the United States, served as the fourth president, and crafted the U.S. Constitution. He also had a very popular wife named Dolly.
The Montpelier Foundation has done an awesome job of restoring the house with period-era furniture, whenever possible recovering the original family pieces.
What caught my eye was the multitude of Argand lamps–one or more in every room except Dolly’s bedchamber where candles prevailed.
I’d heard of these lamps before, and I think I’d even used one in a story. But of course, I forgot all of that research. My sister and I left Montpelier discussing the use of argan oil in 18th century lamps. (Head-smack here.) Wonder how many other visitors make that mistake.
A Frenchman named Aimé Argand invented the Argand lamp, which would have been fueled with common oils such as whale oil. Argan oil is a Moroccan tree oil–not likely used at Montpelier for lighting!
I’ve read conflicting reports of whether this type of lamp was commonly used in the period. The light produced supposedly equaled that of eight to ten candles. So I imagine it would be the first choice of anyone engaged in writing, reading, or sewing. The Montpelier docent speculated that the presence of so many Argand lamps was a sign of the Madison family’s wealth.
If you know of any other resources on lighting for this period in history, please share in the comments!
All images are the author’s.