My house was built in the 1920’s. My living room only has two wall sconces until I found two additional hookups within the plaster walls. I have tested them with an old light fixture and they turn on with the same living room switch. Why would they store them in the wall like this?

It looks like they used cloth tape and then hooked them together with lower gauge wire below.

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  • 1
    If your house was built in the 1920s, one of the first things you need to do, ideally before even buying, is to have the electrical thoroughly inspected - the number of ghastly old things you can find in a house like this is beyond measure. From the look of the conductors, you probably have knob and tube all through the house, and a century of sketchy DIY hacks from top to bottom. A problem like this is just a red flag - there will be more hiding in the walls.
    – J...
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 14:59

3 Answers 3


It's certainly not appropriate nor legal to bury a junction box inside a wall. That should never have been done.

I agree with JACK that this looks like pretty normal chain wiring: one of the larger wires comes from supply and the other one goes onward to other lamps. The smaller wires were pigtails to a former lamp which is now gone.

I don't know what the story is with the two splices in the foreground. I assume those were once possibly soldered? But otherwise, competently executed friction-tape splices. If they still look in good condition, you could continue them in service. Otherwise you may need to remove all the friction tape and vinyl whatever-that-is, and put wire nuts there. If it's soldered you are probably better off just re-wrapping it.

If you want to put a lamp there, you can add the lamp's wires to the bundles if you wire-nutted it, otherwise pigtail the lamp's wires to the existing pigtails.

Otherwise put the wires back into the junction box and cover it with a blank cover plate.

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    To me it doesn't look like it was originally a junction box, and it doesn't look to be buried - the lid is flush with the surface, and presumably it was originally an outlet, so would have been massively obvious.
    – MikeB
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 9:43
  • @MikeBrockington It definitely looks like it was buried. Look at the picture again, you can see spots where OP overshot the edges of the box with a knife while digging it out.
    – Z4-tier
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 13:56

The two larger black wires and two larger white wires are feeds to other locations. The smaller black wire and smaller white wire are pigtailed off the feed and were probably hooked up to a fixture at one time. When the fixture was removed, it was easier to just cut the smaller black wire and white wire and tape them. I'm betting they're not connected electrically. the tape used looks like friction tape which was commonly used back then with some vinyl tape wrapped on the outside. You should cover the box with an appropriate cover

  • I tested both of these and they work with the living room light switch. Do you think it’s safe to hook up a new wall sconce?
    – Sam R
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 2:26
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    Yes, but I'd redo the connections with the appropriate connectors, wire nuts if in the USA.
    – JACK
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 2:45
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    @JACK, when working with very old electrical I try to touch as little as possible because it's bound to crack or break. I would only touch the pigtails in this case.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 17:07
  • @JPhi1618 I would normally agree with you but I would want to know that those connections were good, and you still have to route them back into the box. Some of that old stuff is still in amazingly good shape.
    – JACK
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 17:54

I think the "why" here is that they were cutting corners when removing whatever was there before. But just taping the wires and leaving them in an open box like this is a fire waiting to happen.

No, this is not acceptable. As a minimum you'll want to cover the opening of the box with a proper cover but I suspect if you look deeper you'll see that there are more corners cut that need to be addressed.

  • perhaps add to at a minimum to also use wire nuts?
    – Ack
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 1:50

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