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English and American Trivets and Sadiron Holders

TRIVET IS ONE of those words that brings up a picture-a romantic picture of a fireside, burning logs, shining brass firedogs, and a brass trivet on the hearth with perhaps a pot of tea, two armchairs at the hearthside, snow outside the windows. The reader may finish the story to his own liking, and if he is a collector of trivets, I wager he has spun many such tales about these fascinating pieces of iron, brass, or copper. Yet for the uninitiated I will attempt to define or describe a trivet.

A trivet is a metal stand which stood in the fireplace or on the hearth on which a pot or kettle was put to keep hot when off the fire. The usual type of trivet is of wrought iron and is composed of three legs attached to a circular plate or ring with a strengthening stretcher between the legs. Often the trivet has a brass top with a perforated design, which in the earlv examples may include a date or the owner's initials. "Spider" is another name for trivet. Spiders or frying pans originally had three legs, and when the pan was removed the name "spider" was retained. The "cat" was still another form of 18th-century trivet. It was made up of six spokes and a central body and could be used either side up.

Trivets came into use in the 17th century. A trivet of pierced and engraved brass with a design composed of a baluster device, scrolls, and Atlas holding the globe of the world is dated 1668 and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Similar trivets with perforated brass tops, turned wooden handles, and legs of cabriole shape became the typical English trivet of the 18th century. The turnings of the handles are varied and interesting, and the legs and stretchers also differ in construction. Some are of wrought iron and some trivets have brass front legs. These trivets all have three legs with connecting stretchers which vary from simple supports to stretchers which follow the contours of the top plate. However, the most interesting feature of these 18th-century trivets is the pierced or cast-brass top plate. Its design includes human and animal figures, conventional floral and foliated designs, interlaced circles, compass designs, and Chippendale fretwork.

Large tablelike four-legged trivets, with a lifting hole in their brass top, were made to hold the dripping pan under the spit or for parlor use to hold the hot-water kettle. They are called "footmen." They were used in English drawing rooms in the 18th century and also in America. A fine footman of this type is made of copper and brass and has a design of pierced hearts, moon and cross, and the initials "J.S.L." The brass legs are cabriole-shaped and the trivet is probably of Pennsylvania Dutch origin made in the 18th century.

In the second half of the 18th century trivets which hung on fire bars, to hold the teapot or kettle, were a part of the living-room fireplace equipment. These were made of wrought iron and had brass perforated tops with geometrical, guilloche, Greek key, or Chinese designs, and wooden handles. These trivets of brass or steel made to hook on the bars, often had the same perforated designs as the fenders. They not only were used in cottages but also were fashionable in large houses to the end of the century. Some fire-bar trivets also had legs and were made to stand as well as fasten to the fire bar.

In the 19th century, trivets were made of cast brass and they took the form of an oblong table with four legs similar in design to the various furniture styles. Some have turned baluster legs, others legs of Chippendale type with animal feet and lion-mask knees, while others have two baluster supports and resemble a sofa table in contour. These trivets have cast-brass tops with perforated designs of circles, fretwork, or foliation.

Trivets were in use in America as well as in England as early as the 17th century, although according to inventories of the time they were not plentiful. They were of simple wrought-iron construction and probably made by the man of the house or the local blacksmith. I have never been able to find a trivet mentioned in the list of articles made by any of the early iron foundries. I finally turned to a search of old inventories, where I found the few following notices after reading over five hundred inventories of 17th- and 18th-century New York and Salem, Massachusetts. In the inventory of William Paine of Boston made in 1660 a simple iron trivet is listed: "In cellar under ye Hall-Iron Trivett and Trampell." Also, in the inventory of Capt. George Corwin of Salem, Massachusetts, are listed "3 grid irons, 1 pr. pot hooks and Trevet." And again in the inventory of Dr. Thomas Braine in 1739 we find 1 iron to set plates on, i spit."

In 1753 "i Triplit" is listed, and in the inventory of D. W. Ditmars, Jamaica, 1755, we find listed "1 Trivet, assorted Pewter plate." In 1767 Mary Hoome owned "2 Hatchets & 1 Trivett" and in the inventory of the estate of James Forbes, a New York merchant, in 1781 we find "1 Trivet." In 1760 Samuel Lawrence owned "4 Trammels, a grid Iron & 1 Trivott." The fact that these early trivets were recorded along with sundry small articles of iron probably accounts for their scarcity today, since most of them probably were put on the junk heap and sold for old iron. These early American trivets were of the spider type with long legs set to a circular band, or with short legs with teeth like projections within the circle. These were made with and without long iron handles. When there is a handle the third leg is placed as a support to the handle. Often a design of circles, crossbars, or honeycomb is found within the iron circle, and often instead of a circle the base that holds the pot is rectangular, triangular, or even semielliptical in shape. A rare iron trivet has a long arm or handle turned upward to hold spoons.

Wrought-iron trivets of these general types were made in New England, Pennsylvania, and other early American states in the 17th and 18th centuries. Those made in Pennsylvania often were heart-shaped or had hearts, swastikas, or barn symbols incorporated in their design. Trivets with cast-iron and cast-brass tops were used in America in the late c 8th century. They were made in both England and America. The English-type trivet with a perforated brass top and legs and a wooden handle was imported from Bristol and Birmingham, England, and from Holland. Some had an eagle design. Brass trivets were made in Waterbury, Connecticut, by Benedict and Burnham; the Waterbury Brass Company; Brown and Bros., and Holmes, Booth, & Haydens in the 19th century. They usually copied the English designs.

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