It was while I was at an antiques fair last year that I spotted them. Two. Together. Perfect. Slightly rusty. But not too rusty. Matching. Gorgeous.
‘FEUERHAND’ (firehand) proclaimed the engraved banners across their bases and, once I’d rubbed off some grime with my thumb, more lettering was revealed: ‘275 BABY’, ‘WESTERN GERMANY’.
I tried to act cool. Enquired – just a bit too casually, probably – how much they were. ‘£2 each,’ came the reply and – without attempting to conceal my delight – I parted with four quid on the spot and practically skipped away from the stall. I’d been ‘watching’ similar lanterns on eBay for months, and knew they usually went for around £25 each at least online.
Ah, the Feuerhands. Still useful after all these years. Silverware maker Carl Hermann Nier started manufacturing miner’s lamps in 1877 and established the Nier-Feuerhand company in 1902, which was later run by his three sons, Bruno, Woldemar and Curt. The firm holds many patents including one for the clever globe-lifting crank system they came up with and made (now rare) coloured glass lanterns (in red, green, blue or yellow) during the Second World War for signaling.
Feuerhand lanterns were (and still are) built-to-last and both of mine work perfectly, even though they date from the 1950s. You can buy long-lasting wicks and spare glass globes online easily – German firm Pelam has a great range – and, if you’re so inclined, you can also buy new ‘276’ lamps in a plethora of colours, although I personally prefer the plain metal, older ones with a slightly rusted patina and plenty of character.
In the winter months, I keep them on the hearth and light them for cosy evenings in, then, in the summer, I take them outside and hang them from hooks in the shed wall to illuminate garden barbecues.
Citronella oil (available for £4.99 per litre, Homebase) is perfect for outside use, because as well as smelling heavenly, it also repels mosquitoes and midges so you won’t get eaten alive as you sink a leisurely, evening, drink.
They’re great for ‘glamping’ – but, if you want to use your lantern inside your tent, then naked flames are not advisable (and neither are fumes), so empty the reservoir safely and place a battery-operated tealight candle inside your fuel-less lantern instead for an atmospheric – but safe – glow.