How dark was it indoors at night before electric lighting?

Nov 2014
456
ph
How dark was it indoors at night when they only had candles and oil lamps, even in the houses of rich people, like how dark was it in the palace of a Han Dynasty emperor or a medieval castle in the year 1250, compared to well lighted houses nowadays, I mean if you look at modern TV shows about ancient times, I am sure I was nowhere near as bright indoors as currently portrayed at night.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,971
Dispargum
Until the invention of electric lights reading and writing were considered daytime activities. It was possible to light enough candles or lamps to read or write at night, but most people would have thought it unusual to do so. Candles and lamp oil were expensive. Edison would not have invented the light bulb unless he thought it would be cheaper than candles and oil. Otherwise, no one would switch to electric lights. Because oil and candles were so expensive, people kept lighting to the minimum necessary.
 
Nov 2014
456
ph
Until the invention of electric lights reading and writing were considered daytime activities. It was possible to light enough candles or lamps to read or write at night, but most people would have thought it unusual to do so. Candles and lamp oil were expensive. Edison would not have invented the light bulb unless he thought it would be cheaper than candles and oil. Otherwise, no one would switch to electric lights. Because oil and candles were so expensive, people kept lighting to the minimum necessary.
So how dark was it, for comparison?
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,403
Welsh Marches
It depended on people's resources, it was possible to light a room quite brightly if they could afford many candles or numbers of lamps; but generally we would find rooms to be quite dark and gloomy by comparison. Candle-light can be very soft and attractive, though, and a room lit by candelabra would look very good in its way. It is funny to see films of historical scenes in which someone lights a single candle or light, and everything is suddenly as bright as though several electric lamps had been turned on (which is in fact what has happened!).
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,971
Dispargum
So how dark was it, for comparison?
Try an experiment. Turn off all but one electric light. In the one remaining lamp, replace your current light bulb with a lower wattage bulb. Reduce the light to the point where you find it difficult to read or write (about a 25 watt bulb). You will still be able to navigate around the room without bumping into furniture. Needle point is another task one would have found difficult to do at night. In the 19th century, women still sewed clothes, but usually in the daytime.

For even more accurate results, turn off all the lights and replace them with candles.
 
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Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,403
Welsh Marches
Menzel, 1847; with a good lamp, not necessarily much darker than a room lit by a singl electric side-lamp:

menz71848.jpg
 
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