Antiques: Police Lantern

Victorian Police Bullseye Lantern.

A couple of years ago, I found the coolest rusty lantern in a out-of-the-way antique shop near Milford, NH. Two of my friends were with me, and I instantly felt drawn to the small odd-looking object. When I looked at it, the large magnifying lens set into its front created an unusual image.

Now, I’ve long appreciated fairly macabre items. I mean, in grad school, I wrote an eschatological study on Joseph Lamson and his son, early American gravestone carvers. A fan of Dickens’ Bleak House (the first widely read detection novel, & my favorite), Stevenson, Doyle, Poe, & penny dreadfuls, I loved this late 19th Century police bullseye lantern.

A famous periodical illustration from the Jack the Ripper murders.

In late 19th Century periodicals and illustrations for penny dreadfuls, you can see the distinct shape of the bullseye lantern in the hands of dismayed policemen happening upon dead bodies, usually of women. Of course, the Jack the Ripper case heightened the fervor for grotesque stories and detection fiction (now we consider these police procedurals).

Like other readers, I find something sublime in the uncanny, the taking of something recognizable & familiar making it a source of fear. Thus, upon finding this antique, I simply knew I had to have it. Antiques that help me envision literary settings carry great appeal for me.

And, yes, it still works! Yet, it’s not quite the floodlight that the illustrations would have you imagine, but for contemporaries it was likely the most powerful portable light they had at the time.

An illustration from a Victorian penny dreadful.

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