Candle holders, candlesticks, and candelabra all have the same simple purpose; to give a candle a place to burn without setting one’s home on fire. To that end, some candlesticks have deep sockets to secure their candles, while others sport lethal-looking spikes known as prickets to keep a candle vertical and in place. To eject spent candles from their sockets, a few styles of candlesticks have rods designed push a useless wax cylinder out of the way to make room for a fresh one; others have “economy” holes in their sides so the used candle can be forced out. And some candlesticks, usually those on ships, are fitted with gimbels, to keep the candles upright, as well as spring-loaded sheaths, to protect the fragile wax from cracking while simultaneously keeping the flame burning at a consistent height.
Related to a candlestick’s engineering is its utility. For example, some candlesticks are decorated with wide rings, which are actually drip pans to keep melting wax from ruining the horizontal surfaces of furniture. Wide bobèches are sometimes built into the bases of candlesticks to accomplish this same goal. Some of these are fitted with sturdy rings or handles so the person carrying the candle has something to hook their fingers through, a useful safety feature when climbing a flight of stairs or making one’s way through a darkened house.
Their engineering and utility aside, candlesticks and candelabra are also showpieces for the decorative arts, be it art glass, art pottery, sterling silver, or metals such as copper, brass, bronze, and pewter. Plain tin candlesticks known as hog-scrapers were popular in rural, 19th-century America, while pressed-glass candlesticks were common during the same period in the nation’s urban areas. In England, Staffordshire potteries such as Wedgwood produced enameled porcelain and Jasperware candlesticks, while Danish designer Georg Jensen made modernist pieces out of sterling silver. Most ornamented of all were girandoles, which can refer to a single Rococo candlestick or a candelabra, whose branches often dripped with cut glass crystal to scatter the candle’s light around a room.