Light on the Farm with Coleman Lanterns

Coleman lanterns played a vital role before rural electrification.

| October 2012

Before the advent of electricity, lanterns powered by oil or white gas were the most common source of artificial light. As electrical distribution systems were improved and expanded, lanterns were quickly discarded for a more convenient and brighter source of light. The Amish, however, continue to use lanterns.

Ed Erb of Holmes County, Ohio, maintains his Amish lifestyle with lanterns throughout his home and outbuildings. But his lanterns are a notch above the utilitarian. Ed has amassed a remarkable collection of old Coleman lanterns and anything manufactured or marketed with the iconic Coleman Co. name.

“We remain steadfast to our Amish way of life,” he says. “We have great respect for our lifestyle. We hold true to the biblical commandment to be in the world, but not of the world. Living a plain life provides humility. So living by gas-lighted lanterns in our home is very adequate.”

Evolution of a Coleman lantern collection

Ed’s Coleman Co. collection evolved by chance. “Malinda and I were married a short time when we needed a gas range,” he recalls. “With help from my uncle’s plumbing business, we converted a natural gas range to one using white gas (a flammable substance) and I found working on appliances to be of my liking.” In 1982, Ed bought an appliance sales and service business. “Working in this business got me interested in collecting old relics,” he says, “especially Coleman lanterns.”

Coleman’s reputation as a source of sturdy, long-lasting gas equipment is well founded. Many items in Ed’s collection are more than 100 years old. “Those old Coleman lanterns, irons and stoves were built tough, but they could be cleaned up and ready for use in no time,” he says. “And parts were simple and easy to find, so it made collecting them enjoyable.”

Ed’s reputation as a collector of old Coleman lanterns and equipment reaches across the country. Each September, an Airstream travel-trailer caravan makes camp in Holmes County. While there, the visitors are invited to view Ed and Malinda’s display area. It’s a marriage made in heaven: The visiting campers swarm over the exhibit of 2,500 pieces of collectible camping gear.