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Jackson standard candle made from spermaceti

Date: 19th century
Dimensions:
Overall: 110 x 19 mm
Medium: Spermaceti from Sperm Whale
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Janet Hughes
Object Name: Candle
Object No: 00008889

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    Description
    This candle was made from the spermaceti of sperm whales - the finest wax available for making candles during the 18th and 19th centuries. The candle was called a Jackson candle and was used to calibrate a turbidimeter, an instrument for measuring the turbidity of water or other fluids.
    SignificanceCandles made from spermaceti are relatively rare. This original spermaceti candle provides a significant example of the types of candles produced during the 18th and 19th centuries.
    HistoryWhaling played an essential part in 19th century life. Industry and households depended on whale products for which there was no substitute. Whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication until 1860 when kerosene and petroleum started to gain popularity. The pure clean oil from sperm whales was a superior source of lighting and the finest candles were made from the whale's wax-like spermaceti. Light and flexible, baleen - the bristle-fringed plates found in the jaws of baleen whales - had many uses in objects which today would be made out of plastic.

    The Sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and is recognised by its large squared-off head. It frequents all the worlds' oceans and can dive to depths of 1000 metres in search of squid and fish. These whales were a valuable source of ambergris (a waxy substance used in perfumes), teeth for scrimshaw and most importantly oil used in candles and fuels. During the 18th and 19th century whalers drastically impacted the number of Sperm whales and despite their subsequent recovery, they are currently listed as endangered.

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