Sandwiched in between was something rather different. At a rather different price: £10,500 (plus 21% buyer’s premium).
Offered together with a Demon King bicycle paraffin lamp was an item catalogued as a ‘c.1850s Birams patent safety lamp economy 100’. The latter immediately started potential bidders twitching.
Benjamin Biram (1803-57) is renowned for the many improvements to mine safety he introduced, ranging from giant fans to prevent dangerous gases building up and help ventilation to anenometers (patented in 1844 then made by John Davis of Derby) to measure airflow around collieries.
He is particularly associated with Elsecar in South Yorkshire as Earl Fitzwilliam’s steward and superintendent in the 1840s, where he oversaw the sinking of two state-of-the-art collieries. He was closely involved in their design and development but found the time to work on and invent mining technology.
Miner’s safety lamp
Biram’s 1849 miner’s safety lamp offered at the Leicestershire auction house came in a box from a gentleman who was having a clear-out and had no idea of what it really was.
Offered without estimate in a general auction, the ensuing widespread interest extended to a collector in the Netherlands. Bidding started at £420 on thesaleroom.com and rose rapidly with one particularly eager phone bidder who “literally kept skipping the bids, if we went up in 100s he would do 500s”, said Debbie Sterland, co-owner of Sutton Hill Farm Country Auctions. However, he was unsuccessful and when the hammer fell after 47 bids over four minutes it went to another avid collector.
The buyer believed one of these types had not been sold in over 60 years. He knew of just three other examples: one owned by Barnsley Museums, another now missing which had disappeared in Newcastle 20 years ago, and one owned by a mining institution.
Sterland said this example was a rarer form of Biram’s safety lamp: “I know it’s a manager’s lamp – they did do one very similar to it, not as tall, not as well made, that went more to the miners and such like, but this one was a higher grade.” It was also in “better condition than the museum’s version”.
Early miner’s safety lamps are highly sought after by collectors. When Cirencester auction house Moore Allen & Innocent offered a George Stephenson brass lamp c.1815, bearing manufacturer Robert Watson’s mark, in 2017 it sold for £15,000 (ATG No 2298).