Sconce (light fixture)

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Porcelain and ormolu sconce for candles, Royal Porcelain Factory, Berlin, 1770
An electric sconce in the lobby of a luxury hotel
Sconce for holding a torch on the walls of the Medici palace, Florence, Italy.

A sconce (the word is derived from the late Latin via Old French) is a lamp-holder – either a candlestick or lantern with a handle, or a lamp fixed to a wall.[1] In the latter case the light is usually, but not always, directed upwards and outwards, rather than down. The sconce is a very old form of fixture, historically used with candles and oil lamps.

Such modern wall fittings are more often called wall lights or wall lamps. They can provide general room lighting, and are common in hallways and corridors, but they may be mostly decorative.[2] A sconce may be a traditional torch, candle or gaslight, or a modern electric light source affixed in the same way.

Usage and history[edit]

Sconces can be placed on both the interior and exterior walls of buildings. In pre-modern usage, these usually held candles and torches respectively. Historically, candle sconces were often made of silver or brass from the 17th century, with porcelain and ormolu coming into use during the 18th century. The light of the candle flame was often intensified by a reflecting backplate. Using brackets, the candle would be kept at safe distance from the wall.[3]

Modern electric light fixture sconces are often used in hallways or corridors to provide both lighting and a point of interest in a long passage. Sconce height in a passageway is generally 3/4 of the distance up the wall as measured from the floor to the ceiling, and the distance between sconces on the wall is generally equal to the distance of the sconces from the floor, often alternating sides of the passageway.

Sconces are typically installed in pairs or other multiple units to provide balance. They can be used to frame doorways or line a hallway. Swing-arm sconces are often placed next to a bed to provide task lighting for reading.

In some English universities, the slang word sconce was used to indicate some corrective action intended to enlighten the erring student. See Egil's Saga version translated by E. R. Eddison (1930) which suggests the punishment may have been "to take an alcoholic drink down in one".


  1. ^ Chambers Dictionary, Edinburgh, 1998 p. 1480.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "1430-Art Glass Wall Sconces". How It's Made. 2017.