Courting candle holders were “timers” used before the advent of alarm clocks or buzzers. There is no hard evidence of when or where a family first used a courting candle, but some historians suggest colonial times; others trace it back to the first half of the 19th century.
The typical candle holder consisted of a wrought iron coil, large enough to hold a candle. Inside the coil was a moveable wooden plug on which rested a taper. When a suitor came to call on a lady to “court” her, the young lady’s father would light the candle in the holder. When the flame reached the top of the coil, the gentlemen caller’s visit was over.
If the father approved of the gentleman, he would raise the candle to allow it to burn longer before the flame reached the top of the coil. If he disapproved of the suitor calling on his daughter, he would lower the candle, meaning the gentleman’s time with his daughter was shorter since the flame would reach the top of the coil sooner.
Regardless of when some protective dad dreamed up this ingenious idea, the courting candle seems quaint today. Going on a date now often means “hanging out” while texting friends—and each other!—on mobile devices.
Modern reproductions of the courting candle holder add a piece of Americana to any home decor, recalling the inventive nature that defines our heritage. Having one in your home may also be a practical way to remind your kids how lucky they are to be growing up in the 21st century.