Candle-making is one of the oldest vocations known to man and the industry has persisted for thousands of years. Back in ancient times, candles were one of the few light sources available to man and candle-makers were renowned for their skill and talent. A number of them even had their own mysteries and trade secrets. However, the invention of electricity in the mid 18th century changed the nature of demand for candles forever. Regardless, candles are still relevant today and one of the mysteries surrounding candle-making is the fact that candle-makers are called “chandlers”.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD “CHANDLER”
The origin of the word “chandler” can be traced back to the French language, from the word “chandelier” which is another form of the word “candela” which means candle. This actually becomes a lot clearer when the “ch-” part of “chandler” is replaced with a simple “c”. The term “chandler” is a very old word and its roots can also be traced to old Latin, from the word “candelarius” which literally translates into “candle-maker”. The earliest usage could be traced all the way back to the 13th century when the profession of candle-making was very popular. It was also during this time that the surname “Chandler” first began to be documented.
All things being considered, it makes perfect sense for a candle-maker to have a unique title such as “chandler”. After all, before the advent of electricity in the mid 18th century, candles were pretty much the only source of indoor light available (well, candles and lamps). And candle-making used to be a very popular vocation back in the day, with its own mysteries, trade secrets and standards for skills and talent. Candle-makers used to start out their trade as apprentices to other candle-makers who were usually their fathers. That’s right, candle-making used to be as big as carpentry, cabinet-making and masonry back in the day. And like all those other professions, candle-making was a vocation that fathers tended to pass on to their offspring, which also explains why chandler is a popular surname today.
Over time, the name “chandler” has evolved to mean more than “candle-maker”. It also applies to candle-sellers and the makers and sellers of soap and other items which may be made from tallow or animal fat. It could also mean “merchant” or dealer of provisions, which may sometimes include materials used for making ships.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHANDLER?
Candle-making was not just any run-of-the-mill profession in the old days. It was a profession of honor and much renown which required skill and talent. Chandlers used to spend years in apprenticeships, learning under masters and honing their crafts. And it was only when they had completed their training that they could be seen as full-fledged craftspeople themselves.
In the past, fully trained chandlers used to go from house to house seeking jobs. These jobs involved making candles for the household using the animal fat reserved in the kitchens – animal fat or tallow from cows or sheep, which had been set aside for this purpose – and thus securing commission from the head of the household. Chandlers also used to make their own candles from animal fat and other materials which they had sourced for themselves. They would then sell these candles in their own candle shops.
Candle-making was – and is still – a guild craft and several chandlers used to come together to form organizations or guilds which would oversee the activities of their members. And there was a lot to oversee too, since the materials used in candle making were constantly being improved upon by scientists and candle-makers alike. This constant effort to create and discover new and more efficient materials for candle-making is an intrinsic part of the global history of candle making which cannot be ignored. It is the reason for the invention of candlesticks made from beeswax, stearic wax and eventually, paraffin wax. It is also the reason for the invention and widespread manufacture of scented candles, long after it seemed like the world had outgrown the use of candles. And this same evolutionary spirit is why candle-making will never die out.
THE MODERN DAY CHANDLER
Candle-making in the present day and age appears to have taken a more industrial turn compared to the long-ago past, when chandlers went from door to door, seeking to offer their services. The current state of candle-making largely takes place in factories where paraffin wax candles and other types of candles such as soy wax or beeswax candles are being manufactured in their hundreds, daily. However, there are those who still make candles the old fashioned way.
Modern chandeliers who make candles for themselves or on a small scale often employ similar methods as their ancient counterparts, although some parts of their processes may not be the same due to the present state of technological advancement. It is not uncommon to find chandlers who still make candles one at a time, using jars and other household materials. Homemade candles are viewed as more intimate creations compared to their industrially produced counterparts, and it is also not uncommon to find chandlers who make use of candle-making materials which were used in the past such as tallow or animal fat from cows and sheep to make candle wax.
Candle-making today is quite different from what it used to be in the past, with the shift in the need for candles being what it is today. However, the art of candle-making is still very much relevant and very much lucrative with the right kind of publicity; especially in the area of scented candles which are largely used in aromatherapy. And while the modern day chandler may not be able to lay claim to the same kind of purpose which the ancient candle-makers boasted of in terms of providing one of the very few sources of indoor illumination, there is one advantage which they will always have over their ancient counterparts; and that is the availability of options when it come to their choices of materials.