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Argand lamp
  • Argand lamp
    Boulton, Matthew, born 1728 - died 1809
  • Enlarge image

Argand lamp

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (made)

  • Date:

    1814-1823 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Boulton, Matthew, born 1728 - died 1809 (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Sheffield plate with glass funnels

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery, case 2 []

Object Type
The innovative aspects of the Argand lamp were the cylindrical wick which, when combined with the tall narrow glass chimney to create a draft of hot air, produced up to twelve times as much light than a lamp of more conventional design.

Design & Designing
François Aimé Argand (1750-1803) was a Swiss scientist who invented the circular wick in 1782. This development allowed every part of the wick to be equally exposed to the air, letting the wick burn evenly and more brightly. With a conventional wick, the thicker it became, the more difficult it became for it to burn at the centre.

Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was introduced to Argand in 1784 by William Packer, a Birmingham merchant. Argand had only provisionally patented his design through not having sufficient funds to take out a full patent. Boulton, a natural entrepreneur, was fascinated by the ingenuity of Argand's invention and put into production lamps made in Sheffield plate incorporating Argand's design for the wick. But Boulton failed to finance a full patent application and his relationship with Argand ended acrimoniously.

The stem of this lamp is engraved with the Arms of Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (died 1854) encircled with the collar of the Order of the Bath. It is most unusual to be able to date closely any piece of Sheffield plate, but since Stewart became Baron Stewart in 1814 and was created Viscount Seeham in 1823, this lamp must have been made between these dates.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (made)


1814-1823 (made)


Boulton, Matthew, born 1728 - died 1809 (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Sheffield plate with glass funnels

Marks and inscriptions

Engraved with the arms of Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1788-1819), encircled with the collar of the Order of the Bath
Base: maker’s mark of two suns for Matthew Boulton and Co.~Crest: engraved with arms of Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, Viscount Seaham, later 3nd Marquess of Londonderry, (1778- 1854) encircled with collar of the order of Bath


Height: 79 cm, Width: 35.5 cm

Object history note

Manufactured by Matthew Boulton & Co., Birmingham

One of a pair. Engraved crest and arms of Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, later Earl Vane and Viscount Seaham and 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, encircled with collar of the Order of Bath. Stewart was half brother to the more celebrated 2nd Marquess, Viscount Castlereagh.

The invention of the Argand lamp in 1784 was a milestone in domestic lighting, which previously had been entirely dependent on candles. It burnt colza (cole seed) oil drawn from a reservoir, and the burner and wick were both enclosed, improving the draft of air, but eliminating the smoke and fumes which had been the curse of earlier oil-burning lamps.

It is unusual to be able to date Sheffield plate, a silver substitute, but the arms on the lamp
show that it must have been made after Stewart was made Baron in 1814. Stewart was the half-brother of the celebrated 2nd Marquess Londonderry, Lord Castlereagh, but was himself a distinguished soldier. The manufacturer, Matthew Boulton, was one of the pre-eminent manufacturers of the late 18th century. Boulton himself died in 1809, but the lamp illustrates his firm's willingness to experiment with new scientific and technological developments.

Descriptive line

Boulton Argand lamp

Labels and date

British Galleries:
The Argand lamp (a type of oil lamp) was invented by the Swiss chemist, Aim‚ Argand (1750-1803). Its efficient functioning produced light noticably brighter than that of candles. The lamps and oil were expensive but the advantage of brighter, cleaner lighting appealed to aristocratic clients such as Lord Stewart who commissioned this piece. [27/03/2003]


Metalwork; Glass; Household objects; Lighting; British Galleries


Metalwork Collection

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