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Lantern Collection Lights Up The Night
As impressive as it is during the day, the LaFollette lantern collection is breathtaking at night. At last year’s National Threshers Reunion in Wauseon, Ohio, Mark LaFollette and his son, Kyle, lit 215 lanterns set up among other collectables in their 80-ft. long vendor space.
    “Our show starts at dark,” Mark says. “With white canopies behind the lanterns, people are attracted from far away.”
    Setting up the lantern show is no small feat - each lantern is carefully wrapped and placed in totes in an enclosed trailer for transport. It takes a couple of days to unpack 215 lanterns and test and fuel them up with about ten gal. of tiki torch fuel that will burn over three nights. After the event, it takes seven people all day to repack the lanterns and displays for the trip to their home in Michigan.
    “We’re a rarity in the collector world,” Kyle adds. “Few collectors take lanterns to shows, and even fewer light them.”
    Kyle started the collection more than 18 years ago when he purchased a Massey Ferguson tractor to restore and the seller sweetened the deal with a couple of lanterns. That quickly led to more, providing an excuse to shop at antique stores, flea markets, etc.
    The collection includes construction/utility lanterns, lanterns used for truck taillights, railroad lanterns, and even a lantern used specifically for voting booths. Most are barn-style lanterns commonly used on homesteads.
    Many manufacturers made them and came up with different ways of raising the globe and lighting the lanterns, in order to change the style enough not to infringe on patents by Dietz, the prominent lantern company.
    Though they can find lanterns in their state, Michigan, New England offers the most variety; and Kyle is online everyday checking to see what is on eBay. He often buys groups of lanterns and hopes to get lucky.
    A Dietz D-Lite lantern in one group is only worth about $30, but it’s Mark’s favorite.
    “I just like the look of it with 40 years of kerosene on it, a crusty patina, and it burns nice. I imagine the farmer milking cows with it every night - his friend in the barn,” Mark says.
    The LaFollettes believe in using the lanterns in their collections. In order to do that, they often need to repair the leaky or thin fuel tanks, using solder, resin, coffee can bottoms - whatever it takes.
    Beyond that they do as little restoration as possible. Cleaning off the rust, oiling and buffing them usually results in an appealing patina.
    Their collection includes some rare pieces - like the set of buggy lamps made as a prototype for Dietz. About 10 years ago, Kyle purchased the left side lamp for $125 at an antique shop in northern Michigan. Five years ago he found the matching right-side lantern close to home on eBay. It was in bad shape and after finding another lantern for parts, the LaFollettes repaired it last winter.
    Another Dietz lantern from 1900, was mounted on a horse-drawn fire rig and is valued at about $750.
    “We are always on the hunt for period glass to put with our lanterns, so that both pieces represent the period of time of manufacture,” Kyle says. 
    He explains that old glass is thicker, has seams and is imperfect, unlike modern glass replicas. Barn lanterns usually have clear glass or occasionally red glass. Colored globes don’t provide as much light and were used for beacon and other types of lanterns.
    Sharing the history of lanterns and lighting them is important to the LaFollettes, who have inspired new collectors - including many women - over the last decade that they have set up at events. For people interested in lanterns, they suggest that $35 to $40 is a reasonable price range for lanterns with globes. When sellers ask more than that, buyers should do some research. Go to www.lanternnet.com and contact lantern collector groups on Facebook for more information.
    “When we get one and light it, we know it’s the first time it’s been lit in 60 years,” Kyle says. “We wonder about the person who owned it before.”
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Mark and Kyle LaFollette, Onsted, Mich. (kyle007@frontiernet.net).

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2020 - Volume #44, Issue #4