Crusie Lamp and Betty Lamp

Crusie Lamp and Betty Lamp

The primitive Crusie Lamp was popular in the 1600’s to 1700’s, and still widely used into the 19th century by poor households. A simple lamp, the Crusie is basically a formed metal bowl to hold fuel (oil) with an indentation or channel to hold a wick. This was a durable improvement over the clay pottery lamps of ancient times. The word “crusie” is of Scottish origin and seems to have been derived from cruse, meaning “a vessel for oil.” In Cornwall they were called chills, and in the Channel Islands they were called cressets. The designs remained the same, but some lamps had multiple channels to accept multiple wicks to increase the lighting. Because unburned oil would drip from the wick onto the ground in waste, another bowl was placed under the the main bowl to catch this oil. These lamps are called Double Crusies or Phoebe Lamps. As a basic use item, Crusie Lamps were rarely ornate or made with fine metals, but there are always exceptions, as seen in the extant examples below.

Crusie Lamps (L>R, top to bottom):
English, 1730, brass;
American, Double Crusie with rooster motif in iron and tin;
Dutch, 18th century, brass, double 4 wick Crusie;
19th century, brass;
4 wick iron Crusie;
wrought iron Double Crusie;
18th century Double Crusie or Phoebe Lamp

Betty Lamps evolved in the 1700s as an improvement on the Crusie Lamp. In fact, the name itself comes from the German word “besser” which means “better, or to make better.”

Unlike the open Crusie, the Betty Lamp added a cover to the top to confine the heat, decrease smoke, and make the oil burn more efficiently. Most importantly, the addition of a wick holder inside the oil reservoir allowed oil from the wick to run back into the lamp’s bowl, preventing it from dripping onto the ground to be wasted. Although an improvement over other spout lamps (of which there were many varieties), Betty Lamps were still rather messy to deal with, so were most often used by farmers and tradesmen rather than the quarters of the wealthy.

Betty Lamps were typically found made of sheet steel, but are also found in tin or brass. They have a hook on top to hang (see the image to the right) or can be sat onto a flat surface. The simple Betty Lamp produced excellent light for that period of time. The larger the size and better the material used for the wick effected the light output.

Animal oils or grease were commonly used fuels. Fish oil gave the poorest light and was very smoky. Animal fats were better but still burned with an odor. Whale oil produced the best light, equal to that of two ordinary candles, so was most sought after but also the most expensive.

While more efficient, the Betty Lamp did not replace the Cruise Lamp. Both were very common and used well into the 19th century.

Betty Lamps (L>R, top to bottom):
American, 1834, brass, copper, and wrought iron;
Canadian, ca.1800, painted Betty Lamp;
brass and wrought iron, miniature Betty Lamp, late 18th century;
iron with heart motif;
French, 18th century, wrought iron;
wrought iron, 18th century



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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Keith Myrom

Wow! A very nice collection! I have all of these lamps in my own collection. Your brief history is mostly accurate and I will not pick nits over terms. The only thing I would point out is the very top lamp is a specialized version of the ‘Betty’ lamp. The finials reveal this as a lamp used in underground mining and is of French make. In the mine lighting area of collecting they are called “frog” lamps, a pejorative reference to their French origins I suppose. The bird finial is a somewhat unrefined representation of a rooster. The rooster symbol has long been associated with wards against evil and in general a good luck charm. They were often included on this type of mine lamp for obvious reasons. I can’t imagine carrying one of these lamps with its feeble light source into the utter blackness of a coal mine, especially when carried into an area where firedamp was present.

Steve Nichols

What were the wicks made from?

cindie snyder

Interesting looking contraptions!lol


These aren’t particularly attractive (even the more elaborate ones) and certainly not portable like a candle. I do remember caravans we stayed in when a lot younger had gas lamps. Thank heavens for electric lights!

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