The convenience of electric light is so much taken for granted that it is easy to forget just how dependent our ancestors were on candlelight. The earliest surviving silver candlesticks were made solely for ecclesiastical use; so it was only the church who could afford such luxuries. Early candles were both smoky and smelly made from beeswax or tallow, with those made in France considered far superior to the English variety.

Although silver candlesticks have been made in great quantity from the late 1600`s, they have always been expensive items; intended for the wealthiest members of the population. The majority lit their way through the dark with far cheaper rush lights or candles burning in brass or pewter candlesticks.

Candlesticks fall into two main categories, cast and loaded; the former cast in moulds and soldered together, the latter stamped or hammered out from sheet silver, soldered together and then filled with pitch or plaster of Paris to give them weight and stability. Cast candlesticks have hollow bases, and loaded examples filled in bases covered with green baize to protect the surface on which they sit. Cast candlesticks are made from much heavier gauge silver than the loaded variety and were made in England and Continental Europe in significant quantity from the early 1700`s and in the United States from the mid 1800`s. They are less prone to wear than the lighter gauge-loaded variety introduced in 1765, the rules on dating are not hard and fast, however, because some earlier examples were made from sheet, and cast candlesticks went on being made, particularly during the English Regency period when earlier styles were copied.
Collectors Notes
Although cast candlesticks are less prone to wear because the silver is of heavier gauge, they do suffer from years of enthusiastic polishing. The corners should be sharp as should any knopped stems, and if they are worn, the price should reflect this.

In the case of the loaded candlesticks, again because of cleaning the corners have a tendency to wear, so much so that it may be possible to see the black pitch that fills them. If you spot this, avoid buying them because it is almost impossible to repair them successfully. The loading has to be completely removed, a lengthy and tedious process, otherwise when the silver is heated to apply solder, the loading explodes and oozes out.

Sometimes two single candlesticks are carefully matched and sold as a pair. Check the hallmarks on each stick and satisfy yourself that they really do belong together or if not, the price reflects this. Two singles will rarely equal the price of a pair.

Collecting Tip
Antique cast candlesticks can be very good value, with modern equivalents almost three times as much.