Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Replica Artifact To Illuminate Young Minds

     As Education Coordinator of the Angels Camp Museum, it's my job to translate and present information about the past in an interesting and informative way. For my money, one of the best ways to enhance the learning experience is through the use of replica artifacts. While developing the gold mining lesson for our 4th grade education program, I realized that our interpeter could use a special prop to help with a critical point in the story.

Classic Combination
An Original Cap and Lamp, Circa Late 1800's
Image Courtesy lebint.com

    During the early phase of the California Gold Rush, most of the mining activity involved surface deposits of Placer Gold.  As these deposits grew scarce, some miners began exploring for Lode or Vein Gold deposits below the earth's surface. Miners literally had to change hats and that simple fact lead to my idea for the perfect prop.

A Original Cap Sans Lamp
Note the Leather Peak and Metal Part to Secure the Lamp
Image source inknown
      I'm familiar with the classic cloth cap of the late 19th century underground miner, as we have a nice example in our Museum's collection similar to the one above. We also have a rather comprehensive collection of the lamps that were worn on the front of these caps, from oil burners to later battery operated versions. After studying several examples of caps online, it seems that a generic style with a cloth covered peak, might have been most common.

My Version of a Miner's Cap and Lamp
Ready for Work
Photo by author

    Most of the original caps seem to be made of canvas or some stout cotton, in colors ranging from tan to grey or grey/green. For my version, I chose blue denim. The fixture that affixed the lamp safely to the cap's front, seems to vary more in materials than in shape.  Some examples are leather only, others are metal and some appear to be metal and composition (?). I decided to laminate several layers of leather for stiffness in making my lamp mount and riveted it to the cap's peak and body with copper harness rivets.

Original 1885 Bill of Sale
Showing Classic Miner's Cap-Lamp
Image source unknown

    Now came the fun part, the minature oil lamp, apparently (by one period account) called a "pet" lamp. These little lamps are highly collectable and well documented as untold variations exist in form and materials. To see an amazing collection, go visit miningartifacts.homestead.com . For the most part, these lamps have the appearance of tiny teapots with there spouts functioning as wick guides. They also universally have a hook device on the rear, to engage the mount on the cap.

Another View of My Cap and Lamp

      For my close copy, I went with a basic style lamp in tinplate, with a moderately long spout. The important thing to me was to create a functioning authentic version of the miner's cap, rather than an exact replica of a known example.

Photo by Lindy Miller 2013

   Speaking of function, as you can see, I couldn't resist trying the darn thing out. Contrary to my wife's opinion, having a flame coming out of your head was the least risky part of a hard-rock miner's life.

This is my 50th post and with that in mind, I would like to thank all of the viewers who have found my ramblings of some interest. I appreciate your curiosity and positive comments too.


  1. I love the lamp! I wouldn't be brave enough to wear it on my head, but then I wouldn't have been brave enough to work in a mine.

    What do you burn in?

    1. Hey Ron,
      Thanks. I used plain old lamp oil but I might have had the wick a little high. Good for the drama though.

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  3. I enjoy your posts, Jim. Congratulations on your 50th post!

  4. Hi Jim, I am part of Bavarian folk dancing group and we do a dance to honor miners. Is there any chance we could commission four of these for our dance group? You can email me at sean.schmidt@gmail.com Thanks!

  5. Hi Jim, I am part of Bavarian folk dancing group and we do a dance to honor miners. Is there any chance we could commission four of these for our dance group? You can email me at sean.schmidt@gmail.com Thanks!