The Settlers' Light - the Hogscraper
There are few things that reflect our collective pioneer spirit better than the hogscraper candlestick. At least that's what I feel whenever I look at one. Plain, hard-working, simple, sturdy, acquiring a mellowness with age, - like our settler ancestors.
The hogscraper is quintessentially American. Every colonial household had several. But very few were made here, and none before 1850. Almost all of the antique ones to be found were made in Birmingham, England, and shipped here in the 1700s through about 1850, at first because England wouldn't allow the colonies to make them, and later because they were cheap to buy. You don't find many in England, although they were used at the same time. They were considered "cottage lights" - for the poor. The English preferred brass and pewter candlesticks, and if they were wealthy, silver.
We colonists liked brass and pewter, too, but the plain old hogscraper was good enough for most lighting, even in wealthier homes. It speaks to our yankee-ness.
American preferences also played a role in the form and shape of the hog scrapers used here - we preferred shorter, sturdier ones to those in England and the Continent, which were rarely shorter than 7" and almost always had a slimmer shafts than ours.
The fact that the hogscraper candlestick could also be used to scrape the hides of hogs, (hence the name), a necessary activity on most farms, also spoke to our collective frugality.
Antique hog scrapers are relatively easy to find in the marketplace, and can be had for under $100. If it isn't perfect - missing a pusher or a chair hook, you might find one for under $50 - it will still give you "the look", and still work as a candleholder.
There are lots of repros out there, so beware. Here's what to look for:
- they are made of sheet iron - reproductions are often lighter in weight.
- they often have a chair hook - used to hang the hogscraper over a chair rail. The hooks on reproductions tend to be longer and curved more deeply than on antique ones.
- the candle socket is attached to the base with a domed ring which is a separate piece from the base. Often, in reproductions, the ring is not a separate piece. The exception to the domed ring is hogscrapers made in America after 1853 - the date of the first patent on a hogscraper. The ring on these is narrow and close to the shaft.
If it is a wedding band hogscraper (more on them below), the brass rings will not be attached with solder, so if you see solder lines around brass band, run the other way.
A few more notes about early hog scrapers: not all of them had chair hooks. Feel the edge of the top for any rough spots. If there is a rough spot, the chair hook might have broken off, - many did. Really narrow rims are earlier than the wider ones.
The earliest hog scrapers had their candle shafts cleated through the base. These were likely made in the 1700s. Most of the ones we see today are attached with a square nut attached to a screw inside the shaft. These date until about 1860. The ones with a smoother round ring on the base are later, after 1853, and likely made in America.
The "wedding band" hogscraper was produced to add a little glamor to the simple stick.
A bright bit of brass was put into the middle of the shaft, which reflected the candlelight with a glow. These are fairly rare and hard to find (read "expensive", $300 and up). They were also relatively expensive when they were new, so few households had them. If the brass ring is undented and shiny new looking, it probably is, so don't buy it.
Most hog scrapers are not signed, but if there is a maker's mark, it is on the pusher.
Old paint on a hogscraper enhances its value and can drive the price up well over $100. But it has to be really old paint, and it has to look good. How you tell if the paint is old will be the subject of another blog - it's not always easy.
A single hogscraper on a scrub topped table is beautiful to me. A group of them by the hearth is even more beautiful. I have really good ones, and really ratty ones, and I love them all. The first one I ever bought was dented, lost its pusher and chair hook, and it kind of wobbled, but I love it still. And use it.
The hogscraper says home, hearth, pioneer, settler, colonist, farmer, American spirit, all in its humble little self. Take one home and love it too!
For comments or questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on hog scrapers, see:
"Hog Scraper Candlesticks" by Judi Stellmach, 1/28/2010, www.bluedogantiques.com.
"Fire & Light" by John Caspall, Antique Collectors' Club, 1987
"Candleholders in America 1650-1900, by Joseph Butler, Bonanza Books, 1957.