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
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