Copper onion globe lantern is aged to a subtle patina
There are several architectural and design elements that define understated Cape Cod elegance; the shingles, the gold-rimmed house signs called "quarterboards", and the interesting exterior lights seen on homes both old and new.
They are "onion globes", bulbous glass orbs housed in a wire cage and hung from a hook mounted on the house.
The origin of the onion globe lantern is traced to the whaling industry of the early 19th century when mariners burned whale oil to illuminate the night.
Eventually metalsmiths designed thin wire cages to protect the glass from impact, which allowed for thinner, lighter glass-- an important consideration on wooden ships in turbulent seas.
Onion globes are at home on colonial architecture up and down the New England shoreline, but in recent years visitors have exported this taste of the coast to their own homes in the Midwest and beyond. The simple straight-forward design works equally well on both antique and modern structures.
Ordinary light bulbs are acceptable in onion globes however because the bulb is on full display, many homeowners avoid compact fluorescents and continue to use the clear round or flame-shaped incandescent bulbs.
Originally made from tin, metalsmiths turned to copper and brass in the 19th century to increase the lamp's durability in harsh New England weather conditions. Today copper and brass remain the most popular materials for the lamps which most homeowners allow to age into a green-tinged patina. Less well-known is pewter which adds approximately $75 to the cost of the lamp.
There are several companies that manufacture onion globe lanterns. They range in price from $160 for an extra-small onion globe, to $560 for large. A sampling of Cape Cod manufacturers is listed below. I included only those companies which listed a physical address on their website.