HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT ANTIQUES OR COLLECTIBLES?

Send me an E-mail
(Please, no questions
 about value.)

Instructions for sending photographs of your pieces with your question.

How many years did Queen Victoria rule England?

75
60
64
                     To see the answer

Hints on
Household Taste

by Charles Eastlake

Primary authority on what was proper, beautiful, efficient in all aspects of mid-19th-century interior design. Originally published in 1868. Over 100 illustrations.
                                   
More Books

Have Bob speak
 on antiques to your group or organization.

More Information

Can't find what
 you're looking for?

Go to my Sitemap

Share pages of this ezine with your friends using the buttons provided with each article.

Find out what's coming in the
2018 Spring Edition

of the
THE ANTIQUES ALMANAC

COMING IN
May
 


Download our
Decorative Periods and Styles Chart
 


Have a comment about

The Antiques Almanac
?

Fill in our form.

Gathering Around the Parlor Stove
by Bob Brooke


 

The parlor stove not only brought warmth to the Victorian parlor but also to country stores, shops, churches, schools and other public buildings. Social life for Victorians often centered around these iron monstrosities before the modern age of televisions, smartphones, and laptop computers. Like the wireless radio that came after them, parlor stoves provided families with a warm place to gather, tell stories, and socialize.

It all started with Ben Franklin. He envisioned an improvement on heating devices first brought to America by the Swedes, Norwegians, and the Dutch. The Dutch "jamb" stove was nothing more than a box full of hot coals projecting from the rear of the fireplace in-to the room behind. Five iron plates made up the sides, top, bottom and one end, with the other open to receive the coals shoveled in from the fireplace. A more truly stove-like self-contained heating unit made up of six plates was also introduced, and by 1730 a thriving industry had grown up in Pennsylvania casting highly decorative iron plates for both types.

But Franklin wanted more. Though an improvement over the fireplace, these early stoves left Franklin cold. He disliked their inefficiency and deplored the fact that they allowed no view of the fire. In 1742, therefore, he presented to the world his version of "an open stove for the better warming of rooms" It saved fuel, circulated heat and provided visible flames to warm the soul as well as the body. By 1774, he had perfected what he called an “iron fireplace” which could be moved from room to room and required only a pipe connecting it to the main fireplace flue for ventilation. It kept a small room twice as warm using a quarter of the wood.

Franklin gave the rights to his stove to a friend, but a London iron-monger stole his design and named it the “Pennsylvania Stove,” becoming rich as a result. But Franklin continued to tinker and came up with a design for a stove that burned bituminous coal. A man named Rumford , who eventually produced cooking stoves lined with firebrick and soapstone between 1785 and 1795, liked the idea and began making it. But people were slow to buy them.

Most people turned up their noses at these stoves. They were suspicious of the fumes they might give off, and fastidious housewives despised the ugly and awkward pipes that ran through rooms to reach the fireplace chimney. Plus they worried about how quickly the stoves got red hot. So for a time, these stoves found homes mostly in public places—courtrooms, shops, school rooms, etc. Women wanted to be unchained from the big fireplaces that served as heat sources for both warmth and cooking.

But that didn’t stop the stove makers. They thrust upon the public all sorts of heating variations with glowing descriptions and high claims. Makers set up displays and demonstrations at county and state fairs. And manufacturers were constantly reminded of an important lesson from the past—an item for the home should look like it belongs there. While early stoves had appealed to the spirit of the time with Biblical scenes and slogans of liberty and equality, makers in the early 19th century produced Victorian stoves that blended with people’s parlor furniture.

Victorian Americans fell in love with the parlor stove and no other country produced such a wide variety of designs. The results provid an overview of American decorative and architectural history with an occasional absurdity thrown in for variety. The Wilson Foolscap Franklin Stove of 1816, for example, was fairly self-descriptive with its big steeple top resembling a dunce cap.

The classical Greek urn in sizes from small to overpowering was always a favorite stove finial. The 1840 Twin Oaks, however, was topped not only by a huge iron urn, but by two iron trees that arched over it with touching branches. J.B. Clute's stove of 1846 was itself a huge iron urn on a boxlike base, modeled on one of Franklin's designs. Moving in a different direction J.S. & M. Peckham made a beautifully artistic shield-shaped model about 1845 that was ornamented over every inch of its surface with naturalistic embellishments of roses, morning glories and leaves around two children holding a logo medallion suspended from a chain. Naturalism and classicism competed with patriotism on the side-fueled two column stoves of Low and Leake. One particularly eclectic model featured S-shaped columns, allover surface decoration and an oversized spread-winged eagle on top.

Vose and Company made a stove in the shape of an over-trimmed Gothic cottage, which definitely contributed to the gingerbreading of America in the second half of the 19th century. The kitchen must have been the target for the 1840 "folding top mahogany cabinet stove" that looked like a dry sink when not in use, but the ultimate in stoves made to resemble furniture must have been the bombe'-style "dresser" complete with a mirror supported by scrolled columns. The late Victorian parlor stove was a miracle of shining nickel-plated ostentation, boasting mica and isinglass windows and sometimes even set-in panels of glass or art pottery tiles for a final touch of grace and elegance.

With the growing acceptance of first gas, then electric heating, the magnificent old monstrosities of the Victorian imagination finally fell out of favor and went the way of all anachronisms, selling to junkmen at 60 cents per hundred pound in the early 1900s.

A splendid example of the real thing is, of course, the goal for modern collectors, though what to call the "real thing" can be a problem. There are at least eight recognizable types of parlor stoves. What most people imagine is the iron and nickel extravaganza that now sells for $500 to over $1,000 or more. Cook stoves are even hotter, especially the colored enamel models and those with ornate nickel trim.

People stored parlor stoves, no matter how ornamental, away for the summer along with their pipes, leaving an ugly hole in the fire-place chimney. To remedy this the flue cover was born. Attractive prints, generally under round or oval glass and hung by chains, are what collectors want. Common scenes market for $30 to $65, but the unusual and desirable can bring up to $300. Manufacturers produced some in a matched set of three—one functional and two for show. The rarest were reverse painted on glass.

Today, the center of our social system is the smartphone with television or possibly the laptop computer a close second. Instead of sitting together around the old parlor stove with its radiant windows in a pleasant end-of-day indoor twilight, filling the silence with spoken thoughts, shared ideas and stories, individuals are drawn into the screens of their smartphones or are surrendering to the watching endless reality shows or streaming movies in their our own island of solitude. Wouldn't it be great if just once in a while people would take the advice of a subscriber who wrote to Scribner's in 1878. "Put in one of these stoves, with its glowing fire," he urged, "and see how bright and cheery everyone around will feel." That sure beats Facebook.

Back to More Antique Spotlights                                     Next Article >

FOLLOW MY WEEKLY BLOG
Antiques Q&A


JOIN MY COLLECTION
Antiques and More on Google+

LIKE MY FACEBOOK PAGE
The Antiques Almanac on Facebook

No antiques or collectibles
are sold on this site.

How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

Read an Excerpt

Auction News
Get up to the minute news of antiques auctions around the country and the world.

Also see
The Auction Directory

Antiques News
Read breaking news stories from the world of antiques and collectibles.

Art Exhibitions
Search for art exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world.