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The History of the Candle Snuffer

Posted by Hampshire Pewter on 10/31/2014

Did you know that the bell-shaped cone at the end of a long handle that you use to put out your candles isn’t really a snuffer? Colloquially, we refer to anything that puts out candles now as a snuffer, but in fact the tool we know as a snuffer is actually an “extinguisher” or candle “douter.” Even these tools nearly went out of existence when the self-extinguishing candle wick was developed. It allows the charred wick to curl away from the flame and drop away.

The snuffer was developed by Christopher Pinchbeck the Younger, and patented by him in 1776 in England. His device actually looks like a pair of stunted scissors with a raised round bowl atop them. The idea was to snip the wick, which was caught in the bowl and extinguish the candle safely with no soot or wax on the walls from blowing, or hot wicks catching anything afire. According to some reports, it was a sign of candle skill to be able to use the snuffer to trim a wick without extinguishing the flame.

The Pinchbeck snuffer was so popular that it spawned an epic poem “Ode to Mr. Pinchbeck, upon his newly invented Candle Snuffers” by Malcom MacGreggor in 1777, and the device was still being produced in Birmingham, England until the 1970s.  Christopher Pinchbeck was a prolific and gifted inventor, also developing a spring-loaded improved candle and an automatic clock. He became a favorite of King George III.

Traditionally, all snuffers, douters, and extinguishers were made of brass, copper, or pewter and many were elaborately engraved. That tradition, of creating a functional work of pewter art, continues in modern candle snuffers today; delicately twisted handles, basket woven cones, or beautifully etched patterns make a modern snuffer a beautiful addition to any home, business, or church.