A brief history of candle making

28 June 22
history of candles

As you can probably imagine, candles have a long and storied history. First used in ancient civilisations like Roman Italy and the Qin Dynasty of Ancient China, candles were relied on for thousands of years, providing a source of light for homes and businesses, while also being extensively used in religious and spiritual worship.

Many great thinkers across the world have contributed to candle making as we know it today. Here at Melt, we’ve been creating luxury scented candles for over 20 years using our own carefully refined chandlery techniques, which are based on some of the evolutionary practices we’ll be discussing below. So, here’s how it all began!

Origins of candle making

Like many modern marvels that we benefit from today, candles owe their origin to the ancient Romans. They first created dipped tallow candles back in 500 BC using tallow wax, which was a substance derived from the meat of cows and sheep. At the time these were considered luxury items, and were given as popular gifts during the Saturnalia festival, which celebrated the classical Roman god, Saturn. Another early example of candle making was discovered in the 1990s and dated back to the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC, so it’s safe to say they’ve been around for a while!

The turning point

A surge in the demand for quality candles came after the fall of the Roman Empire, when olive oil became a scarce commodity across Europe. People had to seek out alternative methods of lighting their homes and businesses, and as a result, commercially-viable dedicated candle makers came to fruition (the word ‘chandlers’ first came into widespread use around this time). Following this, the predominant ingredient used for candle making across Europe was tallow. However, tallow contains a chemical called glycerine, which means that when it was burned, this glycerine produced quite an unpleasant smell. Some time later it was discovered that beeswax was a much more reliable substance, but this was reserved only for the super rich, so the common folk had to make do with tallow for the next 500 years.

Change once again came in the18th century – as the global whaling industry began to grow, it was discovered that spermaceti from the head of sperm whales served as a fantastic alternative to tallow. Crucially, just like beeswax, it didn’t produce a horrible smell, which lead it to become the first mass-market form of candle wax in the world.

Modern history

By the 19th century, candles were being made on an industrial scale. This was mainly thanks to the work of Joseph Morgan, a Manchester-based pewterer who patented a machine which allowed for the continuous production of moulded candles. Morgan’s machine was able to pump out over 1,500 candles per hour. The invention of the light bulb in the late 19th century meant that candles fell out of widespread use as a household utility, but they’ve since evolved to become luxury items – to treasure and enjoy rather than to simply use. And that’s where we come in!

The UK candle market is now worth over £1.9 billion, and here at Melt, you can see for yourself the kinds of luxury scents we can offer you. Some of our personal favourites include the delightful Eden, and the seasonal Summer scented candles.

Feel free to browse our full range of scented candles to find the ideal one for you, you won’t be disappointed! If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with our team, or pop down to our Shop on the Farm to smell our candles in person. We can’t wait to help you pick your perfect fragrance!

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