How do I electrify a Victorian kerosene chandelier?

I recently purchased a kerosene-fueled Victorian chandelier at an auction. I love it because it looks perfect in our 1880s farmhouse. I’m happy that it’s in its original condition and has its smoke bells and glass shades, but its untouched condition poses a problem: I don’t want to deal with open flames in our home. What’s the best way to electrify it without hurting its antique value?

By Dwight Chapel

Dear Reader,

One of the dilemmas for those dwelling in the past while living in the present has been how to update technology without compromising the desire to surround themselves with an aura of authenticity. I, too, prefer to keep things as old as possible, but I’m all for converting oil- or gas-burning light fixtures to electricity.

victorian chandelier

So how do you convert your chandelier to electricity? To preserve its antique value you should be able to perform this without altering the originality of the piece. The first option is to buy replacement “burners” that contain a light-bulb socket instead of a wick and will screw into the glass fonts (the glass kerosene containers). These will also need the appropriate fitters—the brass rings that support the shades and glass cylinders. There are many companies that sell these parts, but it’s important to know the size of the base of the shade and the size of the burner.


The second option is to send the original part to a lighting store that specializes in antiques. These stores deal with this procedure all the time and stock every part imaginable for replacements.


Now comes the tricky part: wiring. Unlike gas fixtures, which have an internal pathway for gas that permits wires to be fished through, kerosene fixtures are flat, cast metal. Lighting stores have thin wire designed for this purpose. It’s remarkably heat resistant given its tiny diameter but will easily illuminate a lower-wattage bulb (such as a 25 or 40 watt) without problem. If you wish to wire the lamp yourself, first tie the wire to the arms at various points with thread that matches the color of the fixture. Instead of thread, you can also use thin wire to tie the wire, sort of like a twist-tie. Feed each wire along the central shaft, tying them off every few inches, and positioning them strategically so the tie-offs are concealed as much as possible. When you reach the flared ceiling canopy, send the wires over the top and tie them together with wire-nuts, connecting them to the power source.


As an aside, you’ll notice that the one I’ve shown, which is very similar to yours, was styled to look like a gas chandelier. Look at the bottom of each arm and you’ll see a vertical ornamental piece that emulates the individual shut-off valves.

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