Some of the earliest ship lamps burned whale oil, either refined from the blubber of a right whale or harvested from the head of a sperm whale. In the 18th and 19th centuries, sperm oil was particularly prized because it burned longer than blubber. That combined with its relative scarcity made it more expensive, which is why sperm whale was mostly used at sea by naval vessels whose governments could afford the additional cost.

Whale oil was often burned in a lamp called the besser, the German word for better, which was bastardized into the word betty by English-language speakers. The lamp the betty was better than was the crusie, in which a wick floated in a pool of oil. The betty covered that oil tight so it wouldn’t spill, and secured the wick so it wouldn’t sink into the oil and go out.

Inside a ship, lamps were mounted on gimbals so they could pivot and stay horizontal in rolling seas. The best lamps were made of copper and pewter, but many were made of brass, tin, or tin-plated iron. Outside, poop lanterns, or lanthorns, adorned a ship’s stern. While these lamps were often painted on their exteriors, they remained unfinished near the flame, the better to reflect their flickering flames into what must have seemed to be an infinite expanse of darkness.

After the Civil War, kerosene largely replaced whale oil in lamps. Eventually, color-coded running lights (green on starboard, red on port) were installed, aiding navigation in harbors and at sea.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Lampworks

The Lampworks

Lamp collector and dealer Dan Edminster has put together an incredible reference site on antique lamps and related … [read review or visit site]

Texans Incorporated: The History of a Lamp Company

Texans Incorporated: The History of a Lamp Company

Mark Stevens has created an impressive living memorial to Texans Inc., a 20th century Texas manufacturer of ceramic… [read review or visit site]

The Lamps of H. G. McFaddin

The Lamps of H. G. McFaddin

Bruce Bleier's tribute to the Emeralite and Bellova lampshades made from Czech glass and popularized and distribute… [read review or visit site]

Fairy Lamp Club

Fairy Lamp Club

This incredible site is a stunning showcase for Victorian and contemporary fairy lamps, a style of lamp with a glas… [read review or visit site]

Gas Pressure Lanterns, Lamps and Stoves

Gas Pressure Lanterns, Lamps and Stoves

Terry Marsh’s beautiful showcase of gas-pressure lanterns, lamps, stoves, irons, and heaters from the 1920s o… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Antique Aladdin Cast Iron Nautical Ship Lamp W/ Reverse Painted Glass ShadeRare Aged Vintage Antique Maritime Brass Boat Anchor # 1235 1919 Oil Lamp Light Rare 1930's Nautical Vintage Ship Boat Antique Ceiling Light Fixture ChandelierVintage Small Boat Port/starboard Brass, Green & Red Glass Navigation LightsKeystone Ships Dark Lantern Naval 1917-1925 Ww1Vintage Stroh's Beer Nautical Rotating Hanging Lantern Sign Welcome Aboard ManWwii 1942 Us Navy Ship 4" Boat Mark 1 Compass / Kerosene Lamp The Lionel Corp. Brass Ships Lantern Great Britain 1939Antique Dietz Nautical Railroad Automobilia Kerosene Red Blue Lantern L@@k!!! NrVintage Brass Running Light Set - Port, Starboard, White Stern LightVintage Brass Ship Railroad Lantern Oil Lamp British 11" Tall With Handle DownVintage Copper & Brass Oil Lamp Flashlight Magnifying Lens!2 Vtg Brass & Glass Candle Lamps/lights For Ship Or SailboatAntique Cast Iron Ship Medallion Bridge Floor Lamp - A Great Lamp! Vintage Hanging Ships LampAntique Brass Marine Lantern Lighthouse StyleVintage Perko All Round Boat Light 112-309 - Perko Bronze Chromed Light B SeriesLarge Vintage Nautical Maritime Ships Anchor Brass Glass Oil Lantern LampLot Of 3 Vintage Glass 8 Inch Colored Lantern Lenses Red Blue And AmberRed Antique Style Table LanternVintage Brass Nautical Ships Skater Miner Bird Cage Wwii Bunker Candle Lantern Vintage Brass, Copper, Blue & Red Glass Deck Signal Navigation Old Light ShipsWeems & Plath 10" Solid Brass Marine/nautical Yacht Lamp/lanternNautical Oil LampOld Admiralty Ships Emergency Lights.Vintage Ships Brass Oil Lamp Missing Swivel Bracket Maritime Marine Nautical Perko Vintage Electric Ships Lantern Old Small Green Glass & Bronze Rare SalvageAntique Brass Nautical Ship Cabin Lantern Wall Sconce Font Triangular Oil LampAntique Tin-price's White Dropless Tapers -ship Brand- For Lighting Candles &gasCopper Fount Peter Gray Kerosene Burner Railroad Rr Marine Nautical Lantern LampNautical Boat LightVintage Red Port Tung Woo Copper Ship Lanterns Glass LensVintage Green Starboard Tung Woo Copper Ship Lanterns Glass LensAntique Early-19thc Maritime Ships Pewter Gimbal Whale Oil Lamp, No Reserve!10w Warm White High Power Led Lamp Smd Chip Light 2800k-3500k