Judging by this light’s striking resemblance to another popular product of the early 1900s, it just might be one of the first “store brands.”

IN THE OLD DAYS, dentists had to be persuaded to use special lighting for procedures. Some relied on daylight, while others favored crude illuminators placed inconveniently near the patient’s mouth. Then came the cluster light, designed to throw a brilliant, diffuse brightness that illuminated the oral cavity and surrounding area more evenly. Cluster lights quickly became ubiquitous, manufactured by everyone from Ritter to S.S. White.

Which brings us to the Electro Dental Manufacturing Co. of Philadelphia. Its clever version of a cluster light, pictured here, was dubbed the Rhein Light. It used prismatic shades, together with four individual light sources, to eliminate shadows and bathe much of the treatment room in light. It was further distinguished by a unique pulley system that made positioning the heavy yet delicate globes much more manageable.

However, this one isn’t technically a Rhein Light. Its name badge identifies it as a product of Patterson Dental Supply—yes, the same Patterson that’s still around today. Given that it looks virtually identical to the Rhein Light of the same era (the one shown here is from 1911), it’s probably a safe bet to assume that it might have been made by Electro Dental especially for Patterson and then simply relabeled.

While there are still some intact Rhein Lights around, this is one of just two Patterson-branded examples in existence today that we’re aware of. It’s from the collection of my friend Dr. Ross Epstein. I’ve always wanted one, but the irreplaceable glass globes always seem to be broken. Since these lights certainly aren’t getting any easier to find, this might be as close as I ever come to having one of my own.

LARRY COHEN, Benco Dental’s chairman and chief customer advocate, has over the past half-century collected hundreds of unique dental artifacts,which reside at Benco’s home office in Pittston, Pennsylvania.