This is what’s called a presentation lantern, a customized lantern specifically for a person. People who received presentation lanterns were often people of prominence and often they were given as retirement gifts to railroad conductors and other employees. This lantern has the initials “J McC” inside a wreath, what’s more unique is the harp on the other side of the lantern. These presentation lanterns are especially incredible when you realize that all the etching was hand-done by an artisan with a wheel cutter. This lantern was likely made in the 1850-60 range, however I’m unsure of the maker.
Who was J McC?
Well, simply put, I have no idea. I do have a theory though. However it is just that, a theory, until I have definite proof, I cannot say for sure this is true.
My theory is the Irish-American actor John McCullough. John was born 1832 in Colraine, Ireland. In 1847 John moved to Philadelphia, USA along with his sister. He got into acting and got his first acting job as Thomas in the play “The Belle’s Stratagem” in 1857. He continued to work as an actor and become more famous throughout the 1860s. It was said about him that gifts from friends and colleagues after a play were frequent for John, which is where the possibility of him getting this lantern comes from.
John also loved harps, he wrote a story about a woman who played a harp. At his funeral a friend read a poem he wrote for John. The first verse of the poem said “Long hushed is the harp that his glory had spoken, Long stilled is the heart that could summon its strain; now its chords are all silent, or tuneless, or broken, What touch can awaken its music again!”. Also at his funeral four harps were donated to various institutions in his name.
John passed away 1885. One year earlier in 1884, while performing, John had a breakdown so badly he could not recite his lines. The audience, thinking he was drunk jeered and hissed at him. Sadly John was actually suffering from early stages of general paresis. He was committed to an insane asylum and continued his downward spiral until he passed.
So that is my theory. Sadly I can’t find proof, J McC is a common initial after all. While I have circumstantial evidence, it could be a lot of other people too. If you have any information, let me know!