Light is essential to penetrate the absolute darkness of an underground mine. Hard, white stearic acid candles were the preferred choice, as they did not melt in the desert heat and burned slower. These candles were typically held in a steel holder with a looped handle, a thimble to hold the candle, along sharp point and a hook. The holders were either stuck into timbers* or hung from the rock walls of the mine.
A miner’s candlestick in the Southwest Mine
Conditions of the working area determined the number of candles a miner would use during a shift. Miners working in a stope with limited ventilation would use fewer candles than a mule driver who was constantly on the move and in areas of high airflow. Movement and wind caused a greater amount of wax to be lost to dripping rather than burn. In 1914 two of the largest mining candle producers, Mission Soap & Candle Works Company and E. Schneider & Company tested their candles in Bisbee mines. It was determined that Schneider candles burned longer. Generally, miners used between four and six candles a shift.
Even though candles were expensive in remote Bisbee, mules were also provided candles. These were placed in makeshift candle holders attached to the harness under the head. Candles continued to be a personnel light source even after electricity had been introduced underground in 1908, as only main workings were illuminated by electricity.
Mine fires were of constant concern. The mines were also filled with timber and candles had been the source of mine fires in other camps. When a candle burned short it often fell out of the thimble and could set the timber on fire. As a result the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company developed and made a cast iron sconce. They are sturdy with a heavy socket and a wide trough to capture overflowing wax. These sconces allowed areas that needed extra light to have it, but also the candle could be left unattended for long periods of time. Chutes, shaft stations and important intersections were some of the locations sconces were used.
Candle box ends from two manufacturers that competed for the Bisbee market
A Copper Queen Sconce
Miners were responsible for providing their own candlestick and a wide variety was available. However, photographs reveal that miners generally purchased one of the styles of candleholders produced by Nathan E. Varney, but local blacksmiths made candlesticks as well, some of which are true works of art.. One of the local blacksmith produce a number of candlesticks that are careful imitations of the standard Varney candleholder, except a few are marked Copper Queen and some are stamped C.Q.C.M.Co, Sconces were cast in the Copper Queen mine blacksmith shops from mold Q413. A bronze mold or possibly a prototype still exists. Even though sconces were produced in large numbers they oddly difficult to find. This is likely due to the fact they generally abandoned underground.
Four different candle holders manufactured by Nathan Varney, from left to right 12”, 10” , 8” and a wire model. A folding version was manufactured but there is no evidence they were used in Bisbee.
A wire Varney hanging from a gobb fence
A miner using a Varney style candlestick
Left. A blacksmith’s imitation of a Varney candlestick marked C.Q.C.M.Co. (Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company)
Right a Varney Candlestick
The long sharp point made candlesticks an opportunistic weapon. Underground in the Lowell mine two miners Tom Carter and A. Otto began arguing over how to install a set of timber. The argument ended with Otto being stabbed twice with Carter’s candlestick. In 1906 James Rulofson chased his wife around their house then stabbed and wounded his wife with a candlestick.
Carbide lamps began to replace candles in Bisbee around 1914. The last documented reference to candles being used in Bisbee was in April of 1915 when miner Chris Mizdor lost a hand while using his candlestick to clean out a misfire.
Timbers will often have shallow squares holes in them with splatters of wax from candle holders being driven into them