Many people still use and love candles for their aroma and ambiance, but while some of us find it hard to believe, many others have never owned a candlestick. If we refer to candles at all, it’s more likely candles in jars, tealight candles and even LED candles powered by batteries.
Candlesticks are an easy, affordable antique accent, however. From glass to brass and ceramic, there are countless forms and styles. Collecting them is often the pursuit of the unusual.
One of the forms that stand out is the pressed glass “dolphin” candlestick. You might know these as pressed glass or sandwich glass, but that’s not because two pieces of molded glass are sandwiched together. The name comes from the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
If you’ve seen one of these beauties, the word dolphin may confuse you as well. The dolphin in American design is not an accurate depiction of the dolphin at Sea World. As with many design elements adopted long ago, the origins are not certain. But we have our ideas.
The beasts on candlesticks we refer to as a dolphin may have derived from early drawings by a Roanoke settler named John White and may actually be derived from mahi-mahi.
When you see a mahi-mahi, it makes more sense than a dolphin!
Boston and Sandwich began making candlesticks around 1827. Glass candlesticks proved to be very popular and soon other companies were making them in many colors and from clear glass.
Aside from color, a differentiating feature is the base. According to a 1969 publication from the Dallas Glass Club, the dolphin candlestick with a single or double square base is generally attributed to Sandwich. A hexagonal base more commonly has Pittsburgh origins. Bakewell Pears & Co. (Pittsburgh) and McKee & Brothers (Pittsburgh) are known to have made dolphin candlesticks in the mid-late 1800s.
Not everyone is certain colors and shapes can definitively be used to determine origins.
There is one that’s easy to identify. It has a square base and is marked with M.M.A. These are from the 20th Century and were sold at the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift shop. The Met calls them Koi Fish Candlesticks. These were made by Imperial Glass (Ohio).
The Met wasn’t the first to reproduce 19th Century candlesticks. As your search begins, you will realize they were widely reproduced at least into the 1960s.
The Corning Museum of Glass is also a good resource on dolphin candlesticks.
Westmoreland Glass (1960s) https://www.cmog.org/artwork/2-dolphin-candlesticks
1860s clear candlestick https://www.cmog.org/artwork/candlestick-50
Milk glass candlestick https://www.cmog.org/artwork/candlestick-42
Also, see the Sandwich Glass Museum.
Top Image: Public Domain Image, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston & Sandwich Glass Candlestick