Jason Clarke Antiques

Early Nineteenth Century Dobereiner Lamp by Johann Cassel of Vienna


For sale, an early Nineteenth Century Dobereiner lamp by Johann Cassel of Vienna.

This fascinating piece is often considered the pre-cursor for the humble cigarette lighter but it is ultimately more interesting.

Working by means of pure chemistry, the main glass jar would be filled with a dilute mix of sulphuric acid, the brass lid has a wax seal on the underside with a secondary bell shaped glass jar attached to the centre which is open at the base and hangs free within the outer jar. Inside the bell jar is a piece of zinc suspended on a hook. When the zinc comes into contact with the sulphuric acid it reacts and creates hydrogen which fills the internal bell jar and pushes the acid down by means of hydrostatic pressure. Once the acid is pushed back to below the zinc, the reaction ceases and the lighter is fully charged.

The top of the lamp has a spring release which allows the hydrogen to escape through a jet on the side which exhausts towards a receptacle containing platinum guaze. The reaction of the hydrogen, air and platinum causes the platinum to react, heat up and light the gas being emitted causing a flame which can be used to light a match or wick.

Once the hydrogen gas is completely exhausted, the sulphuric acid fill the inner bell jar again and the reaction starts all over again to recharge the lamp.

Used extensively throughout Europe, the UK and The USA, these lighters were once common before the striking match eventually superceded them, they are however seldom encountered in good condition probably due to their glass construction. They were originally invented in 1823 by Johann Wolfgang Dobereiner (1780 – 1849) an eminent German scientist who became Professor of Chemistry at The University of Jena but owing to the lack of a patent application, he never capitalised on the widespread popularity of this fascinating and useful invention.

This large and early example measures 23cms in height and 13cms in diameter and is stamped to the Austrian maker, Johann Cassel in Wien (modern day Vienna). Reference to Cassel is made in an 1899 history of the striking match by Professor Dr. A. Bauer which reflects that,

Dobereiner Lamps are produced annually in large numbers by the Johann Cassel company (address: Vienna, Seilergasse No. 1082) and are set up for convenient use.

This example also has numbering painted to the base and to the outer glass cylinder and has the remanants of a paper label. It suggests that it may have finally ended up in a laboratory setting for demonstration purposes which may explain it remainign in such good condition.

As mentioned, surprisingly few are still in existence but examples of Cassel’s lamps are currently held in The Museum of the Kremsmunster Observatory in Germany and in the Technisches Museum in Vienna.

A very early example circa 1840

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