Miniature model of a railwayman’s lamp

This lamp was made by Samuel Jacob
This lamp was made by Samuel Jacob

Alex from High Salvington has sent me a set of photographs of a very unusual piece of silver.

Inherited from his grandfather, who worked on the railways, and standing just over three inches high, he currently uses it as a paperweight on his desk.

Having an unusual serrated strip on the base of this item has always raised the question with him as to its purpose.

The object in question is a miniature model of a railwayman’s lamp with a striking red glass lens, the top of which hinges open to reveal a void.

This could be nothing other than a vesta case, or match holder and striker.

This one assayed in London in 1894 was made by Samuel Jacob, who was a prolific producer of novelty objects such as menu holders, decorative caddy spoons, castors and the like.

When smoking was at its most prolific and popular in the late 19th century, a gentleman would be required to have all the requisites to hand when entertaining their friends or relations.

Of course, not to be outdone, it became the norm to have unusual talking pieces – items of fine quality or rarity to amuse or impress ones guests.

Vesta cases took many different guises, from animal subjects such as pigs, owls, dogs and popular horse racing related subjects in the form of horse shoes, or even horses’ heads depicting famous nags of the day, to popular comedic subjects such as Punch & Judy.

Sentry boxes with embossed enamelled soldiers on the front were also popular and Boer war topics lead to an array of munition and firearm related vestas, along with many monarchy-related objects in support of the Empire.

The leading firm for these curious items, and the most sought after today, were Sampson Mordan & Co, of London, which was a family firm in business from 1790 until 1941, when its factory was destroyed by bombing during the blitz.

Collectors covet these items and they remain as popular today as ever before and rarity of the subject matter defines the value.

I think the lamp in question was probably made as a long- service or retirement gift, and is really rather rare.

I could see a collector parting with at least £500 to own this beauty.

Clean it sympathetically with some silver polish by hand and never submerge it in water as the foil backing behind the red glass, which gives it that lively glow, will start to disintegrate. This is an item to be truly treasured.

It is normally the things that look the least likely that turn out to be of considerable value.

This is where I come in with this column.If you have an item that you want further information about, whether its history or value, then send a photograph and any details of how you obtained it to me at ask@henrynichollsantiques.co.uk.

I may then feature it and give you some exciting news.

Until next month.