• Carole Conn

The Witch's Hat Candle Snuffer


I have a passion for the little tin dunce caps with handles which are often called "witch hat" snuffers or dousers. I'm not sure why I love them so much, but I do.


In the 1700s the most ubiquitous and common candle snuffer was the scissor-type snuffer.

The advantage of this type of snuffer is that it not only doused the candle, but snipped the used wick at the same time.


The other type, primarily in country homes, was the douser with a long handle. (People in the cities on the east coast often had fancier brass snuffers from England and France). Country people made their own.

These had the advantage of keeping fingers well away from the flame.


But the simple dunce cap became the most common in the 1800s. They were easier and quicker to make, and could be made up of scraps of tin used to craft larger tin items. You could have lots of them and they fit anywhere. They were very utilitarian. There was nothing fancy about them.


Until there was. Like many country made items for utilitarian use, many craftsmen of the time couldn't resist making them pretty.


Most, but not all, had thumb loops because the doused flames could make the cone hot. Thumb loops in and of themselves are interesting: some are so tiny that you can barely hold them, and others are huge in comparison to the cone. Some are round and some are oval and some are just misshapen.

And some had no handles at all. There is also the hook-like handle.


This is seen when the douser was originally part of a chamberstick - it hooked onto the side, or sometimes had a chain to attach it to the stick. And some had handles that just didn't make much sense - I guess this one was meant to hang from something:



Dousers did not need finials, but they were a very decorative enhancement. You see many ball finials, but there are lots of other interesting inventions of country craftsmen:





Sometimes they were painted. The most common color was black - best to hide the ash. Others were painted to match a tole painted candlestick, or just because...


You also see slight variations in shape - some are wide, some narrow. Some have narrow little extended base rims, and other have raised lines around them.


Size varies widely:


Most are 2 1/2" to 3" tall, but some can be as much as 4 1/2" to as small as 1/2".


They are easy to fake. There is a seller on Ebay who sells many of them and calls them "primitive early 18th century style" snuffers. Some look very realistic. He does identify them as made since 2000, but some unscrupulous resellers might not. (By the way, the ones with the wide "brim" like a real witch's hat are fakes.). You can't really tell from the solder marks, although the solder may be shinier than it should be. Very sharp edges are another sign of a fake. After handling the real thing for a while you get a feel for what it should look and feel like. As always, buy only from a dealer you know and trust! Expect to pay around $100 or more for the real thing.


It is hard to date these snuffers very accurately. They were made by every country tinsmith during the entire century, but most before 1870 when machine made snuffers became available and cheap. More crudely made ones aren't necessarily earlier ones.


Surprisingly, these cost a lot more in today's market than the earlier scissor snuffers, which you can find for under $100. These sweet little dousers are highly collectible. I buy good ones whenever I can, and I just can't part with many - too many, I'm afraid. Why? No clue. I just love them!


Carole Conn