Family Right for the Sun-Light Oil.

A 19th century scam substitute for lamp fuel purportedly non-explosive

Partly printed certificate conveying the recipe and the right to manufacture “Sun-Light Oil,” a non-explosive kerosene substitute for lamp fuel. Or so was the claim.

The certificate was issued by Printice D. Kee, agent for M. Wagner & Co. of Michigan to Albert Webb of Greene Township, Trumbull County, Ohio. Webb’s non-transferable, lifetime right to manufacture Sun-Light Oil was limited to his own personal use:

The right to use it in his private dwelling house, his shop, store, office or other place or places of business, but it is excluded from using it in any other person or persons’ private dwelling house, shop, store, office or any place or places whatsoever not his own. The Purchaser agreeing not to sell the Oil, or cause the same to be sold, or communicate to others the Recipe, or art of making the Sun-Light Oil.

The recipe for Sun-Light Oil and instructions for its manufacture are printed right on the certificate. It was comprised of benzine, alum, salt, potatoes(!) and other ingredients.

By 1874, Sun-Light Oil came to the attention of the Secretary of the State Board of Health of the State of Michigan who published a report on the “Illuminating Oils in Use in Michigan.”¹ Sun-Light Oil was described by them as a “villainous fluid” and it was concluded that:

The sale and use of these dangerous oils is clearly forbidden by law, under penalties of heavy fine or imprisonment. The recklessness with which they have been used in this State is appalling. ...Naphtha, benzine and gasoline, under whatever names known, are not safe to use in any lamp. (p54)

Interesting certificate of manufacture for unsafe lamp fuel oil sold to unwitting consumers.

Description: Family Right for the Sun-Light Oil.

[Likely Michigan: M. Wagner & Co., c. 1871]. [1]p. Certificate. 5¼ x 10 inches. Cream colored wove paper. Illustrated. Partly printed; completed in manuscript. Folds; minor soiling; very good.


1. First Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health of the State of Michigan (Lansing, 1874), pp34–59.

Price: $35.00