A Georgian miners’ lamp which recalls one of the most contested inventions of the industrial revolution has sold at an auction in the Cotswolds for a record-breaking £15,000.
Just over two hundred years ago three engineers were claiming credit for the invention of the first miners’ safety lamp.
Prompted by the Felling Colliery tragedy in 1812, in which at least 90 men and boys were killed after naked flames caused a methane gas explosion, safety lamps were devised independently by three scientists.
Early miner’s lamps
Sunderland-based physician Dr William Reid Clanny was first off the blocks with the cumbersome Clanny Lamp in 1813. Chemistry professor Sir Humphry Davy and self-taught engineer George Stephenson brought their lamps – which were smaller and could be carried by hand – into production in 1815.
The fact that these lamps are generically known as Davy lamps suggests who won the argument. But debate rages about whether Stephenson should claim some of the credit. Stephenson tested his lamp in the Killingworth Colliery near Newcastle before going into production with local manufacturer Robert Watson of High Bridge, Newcastle.
Lamp sparks frenzy
And when one of these lamps went under the hammer with antiques auctioneer Moore Allen & Innocent in Cirencester earlier this month it sparked a bidding frenzy with two collectors edging the bid to £6,000 on the internet before a further two bidders on the telephones pushed the winning bid to £15,000.
The brass lamp, bearing Robert Watson’s mark, had come to the saleroom in a box of junk metal, and was spotted by auctioneer Philip Allwood, who took the decision to sell it as a separate lot. Robert said, “I did some investigating and found similar lamps making a few hundred pounds, but nothing identical to this one, which suggested it could be rare. I put £100 to £150 on it, but told my colleagues it could make much more.”
The lamp was bought by a private collector on the continent.
Elsewhere in the sale, a Georgian mahogany chest of drawers achieved the second-highest lot price of the day at £800,and a mahogany and satinwood bound Globe-Wernicke five section bookcase achieved £650.
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