Since the time I was a boy during my first trip to Yosemite Nat’l Park, helping to set up camp and watching my friend’s dad lighting the family’s Coleman Model 220E, I’ve been fascinated by Coleman lanterns. I also remember my first bacon-and-eggs breakfast cooked on a Coleman stove, consumed in crisp Sierra Nevada mountain air.
When I began camping as an adult with my own son I knew I wanted at least three lanterns to add to my gear, so straight away I became more or less a collector of the mid-century vintage Coleman lanterns I remembered. But what began as a sidebar to this greater campaign has taken on a life of it’s own, because of my affection for well-designed and well-made objects. Once I began having a better look at which Coleman products I wanted to use, I discovered more and more of the fantastic Coleman product line… so, naturally it was necessary to acquire two or three examples more, and so on.
As my interest in Coleman grew, looking deeper into the history of Coleman products revealed stories of life as it was lived at that time, in regions of the country where there was no electrical service and of the constraints brought about by living and working according to the daily rise and fall of the sun. Even in periods of foul weather, the work had to continue, and continue it did with greater productivity. Coleman’s ever-reliable products changed the way rural Americans worked, and this created an almost-universal appreciation of founder W.C. Coleman’s ethic: “Coleman Products: The Best Of Their Kind”.
My current interests of Coleman products represent only a very small part of the truly remarkable range of Coleman Company offerings of the last 100-plus years. I am also somewhat of a newcomer to the world of Coleman collecting; there are those here who have been at it most of their adult lives and whom possess the most remarkable and far-reaching collections of Coleman “water-white gasoline”-fueled tools and appliances: table lamps from the turn of the 20th century, kitchen ranges, refrigerators and other household products including irons for the family clothing.
I am proud to be associated with the other collectors of these fine products and I am proud of my own, however my collection is very small. Today I enjoy owning over 30 Coleman lanterns, the bulk of which were manufactured during the 1950s. I have a few stoves, too; some of which date to the ’40s.
I live and work in southern California and as such I am fortunate to be able to come home in the evenings in mostly-favorable weather to light a Coleman lantern or three… I find it soothing and a great way to relax. When attempting to explain recently to someone what it was about these lanterns that I found so fascinating, I had to remember Deems Burton’s elegant way of putting it:
“Fire and controlling it are as old as mankind, and predate the wheel. Before the dog and wheel, and after woman, fire was man’s first best friend…”
Not only have I discovered that Coleman products have always been designed with safety a foremost priority and that they hold a century-old reputation for being the finest quality, I find them to be truly beautiful examples of industrial design. These are some of the nicest-looking tools and appliances created in the 20th century.
The benefits of collecting for me have been not only the acquisition of well-made tools for camping or off-the-grid living, but emergency preparedness as well. It has also been an outlet for my mechanical predilections and the association with other collectors via the internet has yielded new friendships. Traveling now for work or for play is another thing to be looked forward to because there is always another, forgotten, lantern or stove waiting to be discovered and given a new home!