The Glow of Antiquity

The rich history of candlemaking is a seasonal attraction in the Nantucket Historical Association‘s Hadwen & Barney Oil & Candle Factory.

The immaculate brick and hardwood interior of the Nantucket Historical Association’s Hadwen & Barney Oil & Candle Factory is a beautifully preserved reminder of the island’s vital role in America’s candlemaking history. Standing under a mammoth lever press that dominates the room, it’s easy to imagine the odor of whale oil and the greasy, smoky faces of the workers who once transformed raw oil into a product that helped build an island.

The Glow of Antiquity

In contrast to the gritty island workers, the spermaceti candles created in the factory were elegant and distinguished, and once graced the homes of prominent Nantucket whaling captains and Parisian aristocrats alike.

The Glow of Antiquity

“While the romance of candlemaking hardly matches the mythology of the whale hunt, it is critical to recall that the overarching goal of that whaling trade was to secure the raw materials for lighting the private chambers, city streetlamps, public halls, and lighthouses of Europe and colonial America,” says Ben Simons, chief curator of the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA). Today, the Broad Street building houses thousands of artifacts from the factory’s heyday: the original whale oil lever press, spermaceti candles, whale oil casks, lighting devices, candle molds, stenciling, and photographic records among them, all of which illuminate a seldom-considered aspect of the island’s history.

The Glow of Antiquity The Glow of Antiquity
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