two onion-style porch lanterns mounted on green siding
Photo: Wendell T. Webber

Historied Globes

Warm, glowing onion lanterns have been welcoming Americans home for nearly a century. But these wall-mount porch fixtures began life in the early 1800s as work lights on fishing vessels. They are named for their bulbous, onion-shaped globes, which shielded a whale-oil flame from wind, rain, and sea spray. A cage—added later as improved glass-blowing techniques yielded thinner, lighter orbs—protected the globe from breakage. Fitted with a loop handle on top, onion lanterns were a portable light source that could be hung on the wall with a wood peg or a metal bracket.

These days, onion lanterns are electric, and that old peg is now a mounting plate, often decorated with a faux hook. And instead of the original tin, they now come in sturdy brass or copper, as well as aluminum and steel with a painted or plated-metal finish. You can also choose from caged or uncaged globes made of clear, air-bubble-filled seeded, or rippled optic glass. Here, 12 of our favorites.

Tip: To get your proportions right when selecting and installing your onion lantern, follow the rule of fifths: The fixture's height and width should be about one-fifth that of your door, and it should be placed one-fifth of the way down from the top of the door casing.
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