Candles: a brief history

Candles: a brief history

before the candles

Man, woman, fire, water and a bunch of animals trying to eat the man and the woman! That was the scene a few millennia ago. Perhaps fire was man’s main protection against predatory animals that roamed the ancient world? We know that it was used to cook his food, illuminate his shelter and obviously keep them warm. This rudimentary need for fire in and around our lives is in our genes. Fire satisfies some deep need that has been held for a long time within each and every one of us. Candles, open fires, wood burners, etc. they are becoming more and more desirable nowadays. It’s an animal thing and it helps make our homes more welcoming and attractive. This article provides a brief history of candles in particular, the people who made them, the societies that used them, and the materials from which they were made.

Candles In The Ancient World

Candles have been recorded as far back as 3000 B.C. C. The Egyptians made candles with beeswax. Whale blubber candles were made by the Chinese during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). Candles made from insect wax and seeds, wrapped in paper, were produced in early Japan and China. Cinnamon was boiled and the resulting wax was used for temple candles in ancient India. The first century AD C. saw groups of people in the Pacific Northwest fusing Eulachon (or “sailfish”) oil to make a rudimentary candle. Candles have been in use for a long time in one form or another.

up to 1300 AD

The ancient Romans used tall sails. Made from tallow, tallow is a crumbly animal fat and was very smoky to burn, but was easy to obtain and process into candles. The Romans forged smoke as the light it produced was very useful. In ancient Rome, these tall candles were used everywhere. On altars, shrines, temples, and in many private homes, candles were very popular. Producing tall sails was a simple matter. The tallow was put in a crucible and poured into bronze molds. The wick was usually a rope made from the pith of reeds and was hung from a horizontal rod above the mold when the molten tallow was poured.

1300 AD – present

Formed around AD 1300, the Tallow Chandlers Company of London was given a coat of arms in 1456. In 1484, they acquired a charter. Chandlers were also known as Smeremongers, as they also oversaw the manufacture of sauces, vinegar, soap, and cheese. Tallow candles have an unpleasant odor due to their high glycerin content. Wealthier establishments, such as royalty, churches, and wealthy merchant houses, used candles made from beeswax. These generally had an unpleasant odor. The smell from the shops that made tall candles was very unpleasant. In fact, it was so bad that its manufacture was banned in several cities at the time. Paraffin was invented during the 19th century. Without the awful smell and cheaper, paraffin soon became the most widely used material for candle making. The mechanization brought about during the industrial revolution included the manufacture of candles. Soon cheap candles were available to most if not all homes.

the candle maker

Candle makers are known as Chandlers. By the 14th century, candle making had become a guild bribery in France and England. The Chandlers went from house to house selling their own candles or making candles for the homeowners with grease saved in the kitchen.

Market and recent candlemaking developments

The 1990s saw a much greater demand for scented candles. In response, Industrial Chemists developed soy wax. Soy wax was a softer and slower burning wax than paraffin and a natural product produced from soybeans. Palm wax was also developed on the other side of the world. Today, wax blends are continually developed in pursuit of the cleaner burning, more sustainable candles the world craves. Scented candles had an estimated global market value of US$2.5 billion in 2005. The journey has been a long one, but candles persist today as a symbol of romance and to make our lives more comfortable.

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