Some Safety Ideas for Collectors of Lanterns

The potential dangers from oil lamps come from the two main areas of Fire and Fumes. Both can hurt you and your home, so here are some ideas to keep in mind while working with old lamps and lanterns.

  • Kerosene, gasoline and alcohol are all toxic. Wash off with running water if any of these get onto your skin.
  • Kerosene, gasoline and alcohol all burn fiercely. Take great care when filling lamps, and clear up spills before lighting.
  • Old founts might leak. Check integrity and look for cracks and corrosion before adding fuel and building pressure.
  • Joints and valves sometimes leak. Check soundness before attempting to fire up a newly acquired lamp.
  • Old mantles may contain radioactive Thorium. Handle as little as possible, and store mantles sensibly.
  • Smoke from new mantles contains Beryllium, which is toxic even in small concentrations. Burn-off new mantles outside in the open air.
  • All oil lamps consume oxygen when lit. Only light your lamps in well ventilated places, never use them in a confined space.
  • Poor combustion produces lethal carbon monoxide. If the mantle blackens or starts to smoke, turn it off.
  • Lanterns tops and valves get very hot. Handle with care when in use, remember old designs were not very clever.
  • Always use the correct fuel - gasoline in a lantern designed for kerosene can be spectacular and fatal. Check thoroughly before filling.


Keep in mind that there was not much concern for Health and Safety when these older lamps were manufactured, either for the factory workers who made them or for the customers that bought and used them. Quality control wasn't exactly a priority either, and there are many cases of a fount rupturing or blowing out a plug when under pressure, so check very carefully when pumping up old lamps, and never work near open flame.

Kerosene or Gasoline? Be certain

Why you should be careful with gasoline and kerosene


The newspapers from the early 1900s are littered with graphic reports of fires and fatalities caused by mishaps with kerosene and gasoline lamps. All too often the victims died in a horrific way in the hours and days following the accident. Kerosene and Gasoline are as dangerous today as they were 100 years ago, and human beings are just as vulnerable. If you are firing up an old lamp, please be very careful, and don't become another statistic.



Extract from a report in the Decatur Herald, November 1909