The origin of the pierced tin lantern is lost in antiquity, but we know it was used in Europe in the 14th Century and may have first appeared in Spain. The earliest lanterns were made of brass or copper.
While many considered their first purpose to be to provide light, recent research suggests that they were primarily candle carriers. A lit candle was taken from the shelf and put into the lantern. Then the candle was protected from blowing out during a walk from the house to the barn. It can be carried in a high wind and the flame will not blow out. This would have been an important matter in the days before matches. Once the person arrived at their destination they would take the still-lighted candle from the lantern and place it out in the open. There it could shed its maximum amount of light.
Try this pierced tin lantern in a darkened room. It casts beautiful patterns. But if it were your only source of light, you can see that it would be sorely lacking!_
The metal used in this lantern is commonly referred to as tin, but it is actually tin plate. Tin is a soft and very expensive metal, and is usually used as an alloy. Tin plate is either sheet iron or sheet steel coated with tin. This is the same metal used in tin cans and pots and pans._
When the original lantern is used in a modern heated room, the reflection inside the lantern focuses so much heat back to the wax candle that the candle will melt away, severely shortening its useful life. To correct for this modern day problem, your lantern has been treated internally with a special 1000 degree black paint which soaks the heat away to the outside and lengthens the life of the candle by a factor of three or more. You may detect an odor of hot paint as the first few candles cure the internal finish completely.
Never use a candle more than six inches long in the lantern.
Your interpretation of the use of the, so called, Paul Revere lantern on this website (ed: the text above) is incorrect.
They are true lanterns and not the "candle carriers" that you suggest. Instead of removing the candle on arrival
at its destination, the candle would be left inside and the lantern door would be opened, a unique design parameter
that seems to be universally ignored.::The ideal, at the time, was to light the task and not the room, so the tin
coated back and sides of the lantern are intended to reflect and concentrate the candle light in a primitive form
of beam, while continuing to protect the candle from blowing out.::In addition, a colonial age barn, to use your
example, was full of combustible materials and using an exposed candle would have been quite risky, indeed.
By keeping the candle inside the lantern with the lantern door open, an adequate amount of illumination
would be produced while the risk of fire was significantly reduced.::I have used a similar reproduction
lantern for years and by using the proper size of candle, what was called a "short six", my lantern
works properly. The candle heat does collect in the cone shaped hood, but peters out significantly
about mid lantern. The natural draft created by the many openings tends to cool things down.
At the time these lanterns were in regular use, nothing was done to preserve them. They were used outdoors in the rain and snow and eventually they rusted, but in spite of this rough treatment they lasted many years. The original from which this pattern was taken is over one hundred and fifty years old and is still in reasonably good condition. Undoubtedly , the most care the lantern received was to be wiped off after getting wet. Since the lanterns today are more decorative objects than utilitarian and there is no reason to expose them to the elements, why not just let your lantern age and turn a beautiful pewter gray? Even a little rust will add to its charm! Paint, or most any preservative, will burn off from the heat of the candle burning inside. So we suggest you light up the candle and enjoy this beautiful lantern just as your ancestors did. Wipe it off with an oily rag if it gets wet, but otherwise let it gather its own patina as time goes on. However, it is your lantern, so enjoy it any way you wish, and we certainly hope you do!
Do we need to warn you that the slots and punches in the tin plate have sharp edges that can cut your fingers if you are not careful? No, of course not!