In many years of going to the Alameda antiques market, I’ve stumbled across some unique and mysterious items, but nothing I couldn’t identify with a little web searching.
Until this, which stumped me for weeks (I bought it impulsively):
Here’s some close-up photos from when I got it home:
I figured this sixty-pound, cast bronze monster must have been some type of outdoor light fixture because it had wires coming out of it. It also had leftover birds-nest type material crammed in its crevices.
But what era was it from? What building? What country (it felt European)? What did the lamp (now gone) look like? Or was it something else, that had later been retrofitted as a light? And what was the ring for?
I emailed several experts (appraisers and museum curators) and got back a variety of ideas, but no definitive answers:
- “it looks like a support arm for a large bronze lantern”
- “perhaps a hitching post?”
- “it looks like a renaissance revival light fixture”
- “its not ancient. a fancy ring for tethering horses”
- “a fixture for tying up canal or river boats?”
Good ideas, but all over the map. I even took it to a local lighting expert who was sure it was one-fourth of a large interior chandelier, bolted together so that the rings hung down.
Still, I couldn’t shake an instinct that it felt like the bronze ornaments that grace U.S. government buildings from the 19th Century – customs houses, mints, post offices, public libraries, etc.
Then one day, driving down 7th Street in San Francisco, I saw this:
Note the two bronze fixtures on either side of the door, rings hanging down below. Bingo!
This is the James R. Browning U.S. Court of Appeals Building (which houses the Federal 9th Circuit Court), built in 1905 as the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office. According to Wikipedia:
“U.S. Treasury architects worked on designs for the building, with Supervising Architect James Knox Taylor (1857-1929) playing a lead role. Taylor selected a design influenced by Italian Renaissance architecture with magnificent Beaux Arts grandeur. To achieve the high level of craftsmanship specified for the interior, skilled artisans were brought from Italy.”
So my instinct was right about hanging off the side of a U.S. federal building.
Of course mine isn’t exactly the same style (or necessarily the same age) as the fixtures in the photo above. And I still don’t know which building it came from – and whether it was demolished, or the fixture was stolen, and when. If you have any ideas, please email me.
Meantime, I’ve set it up as a hitching post, because it’s too heavy to hang from the side of my house!