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Roman Terra Cotta Oil Lamp with Intact Discus, Cross & Grapes motif ca. 200-300 AD
Ancient Roman earthenware oil lamp with simple geometric decoration and intact discus. The color of the terracotta clay is captured best in the first photo and in the last two photos where the clay appears orange-tan rather than pinkish. This lamp was made in a two piece mold and the original mold lines were removed by paring before the clay was fired. The nozzle was also pared and the base leveled while the clay was still workable. The intact discus and the absence of any blackening or carbonized soot around the nozzle indicate that the lamp was not used for providing light. There are some small patches of fine silt on exterior of the lamp and the interior of the lamp also has some silt and fine debris. The clay contain crushed bone or crushed limestone along with mineral temper that popped during kiln firing (there are very tiny craters about 1/32 inches across on the exterior underside lamp where the clay popped off and leaving behind a small piece of mineral or bone visible). On the flat base, there are small pieces of crushed red siltstone or high fired red pottery used to keep the lamp base from sticking to what it sat on while it dried before being placed in the kiln and fired.
This terra-cotta lamp has other notable features. The underside of the lamp has two double straps running down each side of nozzle that show up as ridges, other wise the back side is undecorated. The base has been partly pared and reworked and it took me a while to determine exactly why. Only by shining light down the nozzle and then looking through the fill holes in just the right angle, one is then able to see that the base was originally open so that the two molded pieces of the lamp could be luted together from both the inside and outside. The original round hole at the base was about 1 inch across and gave just enough room for a finger to be used to smooth the inside seam. This would produce a firm bond between the two halves and the outside seam was removed with a paring blade. The base was then closed using a disc of clay and that step left behind a interior seam between the former opening and the clay disc used to fill it. This circular seam is visible by looking down through the fill holes and at the bottom of the lamp where the round the base ends. Finally, on the inside of the nozzle and along one side are two fine linear fragments of carbonized wick filaments and I have also left these (they are hard to see without using a hand lens). One of the burned filaments is visible in the close up photo of the open nozzle.
As many collectors and museums know, there are more reproductions of Roman era oil lamps on the market today than authentic ones. The last two photos show an example of a Holy Land reproduction Roman terra cotta oil lamp from the last 20 years next to the lamp for sale here to help show some of the major differences. The Holy Land reproduction is not for sale at this time but is shown here only for making important comparisons. The reproduction is poorly formed, has far too many decorative designs, has firing fissures and cracks, is made of a denser redder clay lacking any air pockets from production, and was smoothed by hand rather than pared with a blade. The lamp style has no discus which is a later style from the Holy Land region whereas Roman oil lamps had discuses (disci), however in certain regions the discus was broken off for certain reasons not entirely understood today (some may have been removed to remove pagan symbols, other may have been broken to allow easier refilling, etc.).
The oil lamp listed here is authentic and about 1,750 years old. It dates from about 200 to 300 ACE (abbreviation for After Common Era which is another way to say AD). This oil lamp is rare in that it has a cross motif and shows no evidence of being used to burn oil. It also retains certain features from production (paring marks, mineral/bone tempering, small pieces of red grog used to seat the lamp during firing, interior remnant of basal hole, etc.) that are not present together on clay oil lamps made as fakes and reproductions. Also, the clay itself retains features from the mold used to produce it and yet there are no other copies exactly like it on the market today. Finally, common reproduction lamps made from molds in the last 50 years are readily recognizable from the many copies still available today making it easy to find yet another example simply by using Google images. In any event, this terra cotta oil lamp is unique in decoration and comes with a full guarantee of authenticity. If the buyer is not 100% satisfied, then she or he may send the lamp back post marked by 7 days for a refund minus shipping costs (see my return policy details below). Common styles of Roman period clay oil lamps with intact discuses and no damage are typically priced from $350 to $800 whereas those with Christian symbols can fetch up to $1300 at a formal auction.
SIZE: This oil lamp stands 1 3/8 inches tall at the discus and measures 3 5/8 inches long by 2 3/8 inches wide. It sits on a flat circular base that is about 1 inch across in diameter. The two fill holes are not exactly the same and the larger one measures just a hair under 1/4 inch across whereas the smaller one is about 3/16 inches across. The nozzle opening is slightly oval and measures 9/16 inches long by 7/16 inches wide. A nice Roman artifact that will certainly capture attention and interest in most any display setting.
CONDITION: This clay oil lamp is in excellent condition with no chips, hairlines, star cracks, major wear of repairs. It has some minor silt attached in a few places and has some minor kiln darkening from firing on the underside of the spout and on the thumb rest. The lamp was apparently never used to produce light and so it is in excellent condition with no blackening or removal of the discus. It is genuine and about 1,800 years old, and if the buyer is not completely satisfied, then she/he may return this lamp undamaged for a refund (see our full refund policy as noted below).
SHIPPING: All US mainland buyers pay $11.70 for well packed and insured USPS Priority Mail (this is an estimated savings of about $2 to $5 since insurance and tracking are also INCLUDED in the above quoted amount for all mainland US addresses). All international buyers will pay less than the exact shipping costs for all verifiable locations outside the continental US mainland. A signed for international option using first class registered mail is also offered (request us to send you our shipping cost quotes for several options to your country). To date, we have shipped items to some 28 countries world wide and have had no items lost or damaged (we also pack well), but this does not guarantee protection against any future mishandling). Finally, we use the USPS to help reduce broker and VAT fees when possible. Please note that import duties, taxes and other charges are not included in the item price or shipping costs and these additional charges are the Buyer's responsibility. We do offer a petition for VAT relief on the behalf of the buyer which may help reduce certain import taxes should your country allow such petitions for items over 100 years old and the buyer selects an option where a petition can be included. Please check with your country's customs office to determine what these additional costs will be prior to purchasing this item -- thanks.
RETURN POLICY: Satisfaction and peace of mind are guaranteed for all Docs Antiques Ruby Lane listings -- please refer directly to our Service Pledge and our Return Policy for full details. And this means that if you are unhappy with your purchase, then you may return it by sending the item back undamaged and post marked within seven days of original receipt for a refund (certain shipping costs are non-refundable). Items damaged during shipping within the US are covered by insurance and while this rarely happens because we double box, we will gladly help you file your insurance claim should it ever be necessary (to date, we have had only two claims for damage from shipping in over eight years). Of course, never send an item back that was damaged by shipping since that will void the original insurance. Instead, contact us for help and we will gladly assist.
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Dr. Moir, Frisco, TX
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