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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Where Ancient Back-Logs Glowed
(Part 2 Of 2)



Some of these andirons have straight shanks, but many have curves or jogs, setting the shank slightly toward the middle of the fireplace, and were therefore made in pairs of rights and lefts. Many had a knob or vertical jog a few inches back from the front to hold back the forestick and protect the polished brass.

Toward the latter part of the eighteenth century iron andirons were made in the form of figures, more or less conventionalized. These included busts and heads of women, grotesque figures, negroes, and marching Hessians. These last were very popular after 1776. Pierced patterns were also much in vogue.

Collectors of eighteenth-century andirons should always look for tongs and shovels to complete the set. Sometimes brass hooks or rests were used to hold the tongs and shovel beside the fireplace. Pokers were seldom employed before the advent of coal into common use, and fire-sets which include a poker may generally be dated later than yso. Fenders also came into more general use after 1750, when the fireplaces were made smaller.

Coal began to be brought over from England as early as 1700, and crude stoves came into use. A few of the old houses of the early eighteenth century had small winter living-rooms called stove-rooms. A few stoves of Dutch type were made in New York during the period, but they were little used, being expensive. Some of them cost 10.

By 1740 coal began to be a more economical fuel than wood for heating purposes, and in 1745 Benjamin Franklin invented the famous Franklin stove or grate, to burn either coal or wood. This was a cast-iron structure that could be fitted into a fireplace or connected with a flue by means of a stovepipe, and projected into the room. Though this stove was an open grate, the draft was so arranged as to prevent a good deal of the waste of an ordinary fireplace. The original Franklin stove also provided for a cold-air inlet beneath, in the interest of ventilation, and was therefore the forerunner of the modern hot-air furnace.Some of these Franklin stoves were ornamented with brass fittings. The stove stood on short feet on an iron hearth, and though not beautiful was a great boon to economical householders. Those which burned wood were often supplied with andirons, the grates being used for coal.

About 1750 hob grates and other coal-burning grates were built into the new houses. They cost 5 or 6. In the older houses the big fireplaces were often bricked in, leaving only a narrow space for a grate. These grates were supplied with pokers, hearth-brooms and pans, and fenders, and were used in the South rather more than in the North. During the latter part of the century closed stoves were invented. China stoves made their appearance about 1764. During this period, also, improvements were made in the structure of chimneys, which had often been abominably smoky before.

In the seventeenth century there was little attempt in this country to make the mantels and chimneypieces ornamental, though beautiful chimneypieces in Europe date back much earlier. A useful shelf over the fireplace was about all the old New England farmhouse could boast. In the eighteenth century, with smaller chimneys came more elaborate chimney- and mantelpieces, and decorative overmantel effects. Dutch tiles of various sorts were used about the fireplaces and later about the coal grates. Above the mantel was a favorite place for the Chippendale or Sheraton looking-glass, and during the Georgian period greater attention was given to the woodwork: In some of the houses of this period in the North are to be found mantel and chimneypieces that are triumphs of the cabinet-maker's art. The finest of these are pure Adam in design. In the South artistic interior woodwork of this type was less common.

I suppose there is no kind of commonly used article of the Colonial period that has become so hard to find as have brass andirons. People who have no desire to collect antiques are willing to pay a good sum for genuine old andirons. The country seems to have been scoured for them. Consequently it would be hardly wise for a beginner in these days to start in to collect andirons exclusively unless he has inexhaustible patience. On the other hand, no collection of Colonial furnishings is quite complete without one or two fire-sets. Old andirons are rare enough to bring a good price, and to find a genuine pair at a reasonable figure is a triumph.

I would caution the novice against looking for them in any but the most reliable antique shops. Spurious brass andirons are everywhere, and one dealer frankly told me he had nothing but reproductions in his shop. He more than intimated that his rivals' claims should be taken with several grains of salt. Still, I know of a few trustworthy places where they may be purchased. I mention this chiefly to emphasize their rarity and consequent value.

One dealer, into whose shop I dropped casually one day, showed me goods at the following prices: a small pair of brass andirons, $7; a large pair, baluster pattern, $12; a pair two feet high, $25; shovel, poker, and tongs, $8 to $18 the set; bellows, $5 to $14; iron andirons, $4 to $40; the finest brass andirons in the place, $50; iron fire-sets, $4.50 to $16. Another dealer who did not know me showed me brass andirons ranging from $5 to $50 a pair.

While I have no word to say against the integrity of these dealers, I would not have purchased any of the things they showed me even if I had gone for that purpose. More reliable testimony showed me that genuine antiques bring at least 50 per cent. more than the above prices. Brass andirons, of proved authenticity, are worth from $12 to $100 a pair, according to size and pattern. Late Colonial andirons of brass, ball or baluster patterns, a foot high, can be had for $15 or $16. The earlier types bring more. I found a splendid pair with steeple tops and claw-and-ball feet in a reliable shop; the price was $60 with guaranty, and that's not excessive as the market runs.

My unknown dealer offered me a pair of Hessians for $8. (I had but to say "Hessians" and they ap peared.) If I had a pair of genuine old Hessians I would hesitate before taking $20 for them.

To furnish heat was only half the mission of the old New England kitchen fireplace; it must do the cooking as well. In the earlier days a lug-pole or back-bar rested upon ledges in the chimney, and from this hung the pots and kettles upon pot-hooks, trammels, and other simple devices for holding them at various heights above the fire. Though made of green wood, the lug-pole used to char through eventually and break, to the detriment of pots and kettles and their contents, until Yankee ingenuity provided greater safety, convenience, and beauty in the iron crane.

At one side of the fireplace a brick oven was usually built into the wall. On baking days a wood fire was built in the oven and the bricks thoroughly heated. Then the coals were drawn out and the bread and pies put in and left until brown. A few housewives preferred a "tin kitchen" or Dutch oven, which was placed before the open fire and baked by reflection.


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