German kitchens used to have a decorative shelf with a set of pots, neat and tidy, filled with three essentials for a clean home: soap, sand, and soda. Although English-speaking countries never had a special storage unit like this, and didn’t think of the “three esses” as a trio, they also made much use of sand and soda as well as soap.
Antique wall-hung shelves with their three containers appeal to collectors in the USA, not just parts of Europe. The most attractive to me are the ones ornamented in folk art style with full-petalled pink roses and curving outlines. Traditional German lettering adds character too.
They all seem to be made of enamelled sheet metal and belong to the first half of the 20th century, or possibly the late 19th too – the heyday of enamelware. If you know when these first came into use please do add a comment. The early 20th/late 19th century dates would match with cleaning and washing methods in that period.
Washing soda in the late 19th century was factory-made and quite affordable. Among other things, it helps with laundry and with taking out stains from wood, and is simple enough to be seen today as a “green” product. Soap, like soda, was quite plentiful by 1900, not too expensive, and was available in powder or flakes suitable for filling a nice enamel pot.
Sand had been a basic cleaning agent for centuries: for scrubbing floors, scouring iron cooking pots, and much more. This is easier to remember in German-speaking countries where the word Scheuersand, meaning scouring sand, is still recognised. Fine sand for cleaning gradually morphed into white abrasive cleaning powders with hygienic-smelling chemicals. There was an intermediate stage with sand and soda scouring mixes. One brand of “sand”, ATA, was remembered with nostalgia by some older people from former East Germany, after it vanished around 1989.
Household advice books from 100 years ago tell us about using the three esses. There’s one in German that recommends mixing soda and sand for cleaning wood – no soap as that makes wood look grey. Use all three for metal utensils but be sparing with the sand or you will damage tinned surfaces. Enamel is best cleaned with a soap and soda mixture, after soaking.
Or you can buy some detergent at the supermarket…..
Hand-operated rotary egg beaters were invented just before 1860, but at that time it wasn’t yet clear what the best design for the job would be. Different inventors had different ideas for labour-saving ways of whisking eggs. The first beaters with rotating parts were probably an American design patented in 1856 (below right) and, in England, Griffiths’ Whisk patented 1857 (below left). A very different “egg-beater” invented in 1849 is illustrated near the bottom of the page.
Rotating beaters with a handle were always going to work best, but they came in different forms. Some early ones were fixed inside a pot, and couldn’t be used with the cook’s own choice of mixing bowl. Some were developed by the same inventors who designed small hand-cranked butter churns.
By the 1880s, mechanical egg beaters were usually the shape we know now. In the US they were called Dover egg beaters after being popularised by the Dover Stamping Company. The company acquired patents from a series of inventors, starting with the Monroe egg beater (below right), patented in the US in 1859. This design got a UK patent soon after and was manufactured in London by George Kent who also marketed the Griffiths model.
Some inventors focused on whipping egg whites and emphasised how much air they could get into the mix. Others wrote about batter and other mixtures as well as eggs.
Eggs prepared by beating are thoroughly charged with atmospheric air… (Collier patent, 1856)
Who used the new egg beaters?
The 1856 patent, like others after it, said how useful the new invention would be for hotels and restaurants as well as for ordinary households hoping to speed up a “laborious and fatiguing operation”. But some people may have been influenced against the new egg beaters by cookery experts who didn’t think highly of new-fangled devices.
…beat…with the proper stroke, and with wooden rods, and in a shallow, flat-bottomed earthen[ware] pan. The coldness of a tin pan retards the lightness of the eggs. For the same reason do not use a metal egg-beater…..put…the egg-beater always down to the bottom of the pan…Continue till the surface is smooth as a mirror, and the beaten egg as thick as a rich boiled custard… (Eliza Leslie, The Lady’s Receipt-Book, 1847)*
However, by the 1890s The “Dover” egg beater was well-established in the US and was often mentioned in recipes and ads. In the 20 years between 1870 and 1890 Dover made 4 million egg beaters. Almost all were “family size” but they also sold 1000 “hotel size” and 10,000 “extra family size”.**
There’s less evidence of rotary beaters getting a firm grip in Victorian Britain, although some people certainly used them. With no well-known brand like Dover, they were advertised as “one-minute” or “ten-second” beaters, or with fanciful names like Biatrope or Archimedian. Advice on cooking and equipping kitchens mostly assumed an ordinary wire whisk would be just fine. Rotary hand mixers seem to have been even less popular in continental Europe.
To clamp or not to clamp?
Holding the beater by screwing it onto something fixed seems like a good idea, rather like an electric mixer set firm on a stand. The Monroes’ clamp was part of the original design, but you do wonder how it would work in an ordinary kitchen. Was the bowl held below a table? In 1859 a UK business demonstrated an “egg whisk, fitted with arrangement for screwing to table”.
The later 1800s saw numerous US patents for original clamping devices, presumably trying to improve on what we may call a “normal” clamp. But how many people really used egg beaters like this? Not many have survived. Most antique egg beaters are clamp-free.
Perhaps a hand egg beater is more versatile without a screw fitting? Perhaps the clamp has to be solid and strong to be effective? But then it would be more nuisance for washing and storing. The advertising I’ve seen doesn’t mention clamps.
EGG-BEATER: We have tried five different kinds in Boston, before a large audience and on the demand of an inventor of one, but none could beat eggs as well as a common hand-beater. The whites of the eggs could not be raised with any of the others much more than half as much as with the common one; and besides, could not be beaten stiff……Any tinsmith can make an egg-beater. It is generally made with tin-wire, but may be made with brass-wire.
1867, Handbook of Practical Cookery, Pierre Blot
Cradle designs have changed, but are parents’ concerns any different? 200 years ago people were writing about the well-known dilemma: how much can I let my baby sleep in the day without stopping it from sleeping well at night?
It only remains…to say something of the cradle…I believe there is no doubt but the custom of laying children down awake, and rocking them in a cradle in the day time, or…in the evening when they are to go into their night’s sleep, as it is called, may [make] them sometimes more wakeful in the night… From: A Treatise on the … Management of Infants, 1784*
Two of the cradles pictured on this page are 300-400 years old, but they look much the same as cradles from only 100 years ago. For centuries, babies in Western Europe and North America were put into small baskets or boxes raised slightly off the floor, on rockers, with or without a hood. Rocking cradles like these have gone out of fashion, and we have different customs now.
Rockers, hoods, drapes, handles, straps
Babies could be strapped in, either with strips of cloth tied right round the whole thing, threaded through holes, or attached to wooden knobs or basketry handles. The child was protected from draughts and damp floors, especially in a hooded cradle. Wicker cradles often had fabric drapes over the hood for extra warmth and daytime darkness.
A small cradle can be rocked by an older sibling or a busy adult with a foot to spare for rocking while her hands are busy with other tasks. It can be lifted to another place using handles or convenient bits of wood-carving. Overall, the baby was fairly safe but questions remain. Was it left alone? What about mice in a world without chemical pest control? Would a busy carer tie the baby in and neglect it?
I had made it an invariable rule always to dress and undress my infant, never suffered it to be placed in a cradle, nor to be fed out of my presence. A basket of an oblong shape with four handles (with a pillow and a small bolster) was her bed by day: at night she slept with me. I had too often heard of the neglect which servants show to young children, and I resolved never to expose an infant of mine either to their ignorance or inattention. From: Mrs. Robinson’s Memoirs, looking back at the 1770s*
Materials and styles varied regionally, though the basics stayed the same. Planks of wood from big trees were available inmuch of Britain and Scandinavia. Numerous paintings of Dutch domestic life confirm that wicker cradles were common in the Netherlands. Cradles were ornamented with colourful folk art in areas with strong traditions of painting on wooden furniture.
The last word goes to the 18th century “expert” quoted earlier:
I cannot help thinking, there is something so truly natural, as well as pleasant, in the wavy motion of a cradle, and so like what children have been used to before they are born, ….that, always wishing to follow nature as I do, I cannot, on the whole, but give an opinion rather in favour of the cradle. From: …Management of Infants, 1784*
* Michael Underwood, A treatise on the diseases of children, with directions for the management of infants from the birth; especially such as are brought up by hand, London 1784 * Memoirs of the late Mrs. Robinson, written by herself. With some posthumous pieces. Edited by her daughter, M. E. Robinson, London 1801
* More about the American wicker cradle picture here.
Food served with a cold spoon may cool down too quickly for some tastes. Even worse, a dish with rich, fatty gravy may congeal unappealingly on its way to your plate. A decorative container filled with hot water to keep serving spoons and sauce ladles warm seemed like the perfect solution in Victorian England. The earliest spoon warmers date from the 1860s.
This makes more sense when we remember how cold British houses could be for much of the year. Until the later 20th century rooms were often poorly heated, even in wealthy homes. Households with servants urged their staff to hurry from kitchen to dining room so food could be served hot, or at least warm, on heated plates. (Keeping the plates hot was a big deal, but that’s another story.) Hot food was appetising and proof of a well-run home too. Spoon warmers played their part in the effort to serve food at the right temperature – and fitted in with all the other paraphernalia in a fashionable late 19th century dining room.
Shapes and materials
A silver nautilus shell, open end upward, was a popular shape for a spoon warmer. Antique shell types are not hard to find today. Presumably they’re appreciated as decorative items and not used much.
Silver and silver plate warmers were common, but spoon warmers were also made from majolica, bone china and other pottery, and sometimes from brass or copper. As well as the favourite shell style, often on a seashore-themed base, there were frogs and fish with open mouths, helmets, or hunting horns on their side.
Designs ranged from elegant pieces of silversmithing and ceramics to absurd novelties. You could buy a neatly lidded spoon warmer to match your Royal Worcester dinner service, or a boat-shaped warmer or bright blue toad made by Minton. The best warmers kept the hot water mostly covered, with an opening just big enough for convenience.
Some were designed to double up as something else, like this one which could also be an egg coddler.
Not everyone was whole-heartedly enthusiastic about spoon warmers and other fancy dining accessories:
His table was a torment by reason of its patented aids to enjoyment. What with his radial carver, iris spoon-warmer, and folding cruets; his self-acting gravy-helper, excelsior asparagus-tongs, and duplex plate-warmer; his royal potato-parer, imperial cucumber-slicer, and oriental digester, to say nothing of patent wine-lifts, corkscrews, oxygen-generators, appetite-stimulators, and the rest of it, dining became a burden, and dessert a weariness of spirit.
M.E. Braddon, A Victim of Patents, July 1869 Belgravia
They went out of fashion early in the 20th century. It wasn’t long before magazines were suggesting you could use them as “novel” flower holders.
Tea first arrived in Europe in 1610, when Dutch traders brought some back from Asia to the Netherlands. It reached England in the 1640s and soon became a fashionable drink in London, but it was not something you made at home. If you wanted to drink it in private you had to order a cup from one of the smart coffee-houses where all the new beverages – coffee, chocolate, and tea – were served.
To begin with tea was kept in porcelain jars that had travelled with it from China. Storage for tea became more and more varied once people were able to buy the leaves to brew at home. They had to be wealthy. Tea was so expensive that it was protected from pilfering. One pound (450g) could cost more than a skilled workman’s weekly wage. By 1700 well-to-do households had lockable wooden tea chests holding canisters full of the precious leaves. The lady of the house kept the key, and servants had no access.
A few tea canisters – not yet called caddies – travelled across the Atlantic with early Dutch and British migrants to North America. Matching pairs of canisters were popular for keeping a choice of teas to hand – usually green tea and black tea. Later tea chests sometimes had a third canister and/or a mixing bowl for creating your own blend.
Silver, fruitwood, and other caddies
English silversmiths soon started to make very fine caddies along with beautiful teapots, trays, caddy spoons, and other silver teaware reflecting the owners’ wealth and status. Antique silver and silver-gilt tea caddies attract high bids at auction today, with prices in tens of thousands of dollars for the best of them.
The earliest silver caddies in America were made in the first part of the 18th century – not long before a historic interruption to the growth of tea-drinking in that part of the world. Tea taxes imposed by the British government led to the Boston Tea Party, and, not surprisingly, all this discouraged American craftsmen from making caddies and other tea paraphernalia.
Today’s tea caddies belong in the kitchen, but earlier ones were for public display. A tea table was brought to the drawing room and set beside the lady of the house. A fine tea service with caddy was laid out for her, and she would take charge of preparing the luxurious beverage. In the 19th century she might have a special three-legged teapoy table or pedestal chest with her caddies stored under a flip-up lid.
Caddy designs proliferated, and most had a well-crafted lock and key. Some were chinoiserie influenced by Asian decorative arts. Furniture designers like Chippendale contributed chests and caddies in Georgian cabinet-maker style. As well as ceramic and silver caddies there were containers made from tortoiseshell, copper, painted papier-maché, glass, and exotic woods lined with foil. Ornamentation might include ivory, mother-of-pearl, enamel, or Regency penwork. Caddies covered in rolled paper filigree work were popular from about 1770 to 1815, some of them professionally finished and some bought ready for ladies to decorate at home.
One enduringly popular type of wooden caddy is carved in the shape of a fruit – often an apple or pear – and these are very sought-after today, fetching high prices, especially the earlier ones. They may be made of the fruitwood appropriate for their shape – like a pear caddy made of pearwood. They were inspired by Chinese containers in the shape of an egg plant or aubergine: a good luck fruit.
The tea caddy got its current name around 1800, from a Chinese and Malay measure of weight (cati) that was slightly more than a pound.
Parents planning for a new baby in the 19th century felt some of the same pressures as parents today. From one direction came the voices of “experts” offering advice on safety, health, and hygiene. At the same time magazine writers and furniture salesmen talked up the fun of choosing pretty, fashionable furnishings for a baby’s bedroom, or nursery.
For a young baby’s bed nothing is prettier than the wicker bassinet, trimmed with muslin and lace and with a canopy to match. However, the muslin adornments soon lose their crispness and it is better to purchase a rattan or iron crib…with a frame or rod from which to suspend curtains of China silk or some pretty washing material, held in place with bows of ribbon…Iron cribs painted in white and gold with brass knobs and finishing are very effective.
The Ladies’ Home Journal, Philadelphia, 1893
British magazines as well as American ones described pretty ways of decorating a baby’s room, for families who could give their children a nice space of their own. (The nearest some poorer households got to special sleeping arrangements for children was a trundle bed.)
A furniture store in Bristol, England suggested a “complete furnishing estimate” for a room, or two rooms, where a small child and its nursemaid would sleep and spend much of the day. The total cost was nearly as much as a labourer’s annual wage, but affordable for many successful professional or business families.
The horsehair mattress would have been approved by the American doctor quoted lower down the page. He was one of many 19th century writers criticising featherbeds (feather mattresses) as too warm, too soft, or too unhygienic. This was one topic where health and sales advice generally agreed. The mattresses in that same catalogue for cribs, children’s bedsteads, swing cots, or rocking cradles were offered with these fillings, from cheapest to most expensive:
Best flock [fabric and fibre scraps]
Superior coloured wool
Best white wool, or French
This selection was typical of England. In the USA cotton was a common mattress stuffing. While feather and down were disapproved of for children’s mattresses, down pillows were used for small babies. Doesn’t this seem dangerous and unsuitable by today’s standards?
A fender guard and fire irons were more or less essential. In many houses an open fire would be be the only way of keeping a child’s room warm, but of course this gave rise to lots of warnings and advice on how to manage the fireplace as safely as possible.
The washstands recommended remind us how much nuisance there would be carrying hot water jugs and basins around. Even with indoor plumbing in wealthy homes, a washstand was standard in middle- and upper-class bedrooms.
The furniture of a nursery should be as little in quantity as convenience will permit…It should therefore consist of the beds for the children and nurse, or I would rather say mattresses, as I am of the opinion feather beds are improper, for the following reasons:—firstly, they are too warm for the purposes of health, …thus giving rise to unnecessary, nay, injurious perspiration; secondly, the effluvium from feathers is extremely oppressive, particularly in warm weather…thirdly, they discharge a prodigious quantity of dust, …occasioning cough and other inconveniences.
Dr Dewees of Philadelphia writing in the Monthly Gazette of Health or Medical, Dietetic, Antiempirical and General Philosophical Journal, 1829
When a reader told me she’d seen a “Manual Washing Machine” on sale looking just like a traditional posser, but with the advantages of plastic, I was intrigued and read every word of the customer reviews, wanting to know who liked it.
I already knew that many visitors to our sister site at Old and Interesting are interested in self-sufficiency. Some are in search of green or thrifty ways of living. Some want to be prepared for power outages or other emergencies. (And, by the way, there are lots of readers with completely different interests – historical ones especially.)
But it was news to me that a posser would be useful on a camping trip, or for soldiers washing their clothes in Afghanistan. This modern blue one has attracted some enthusiastic feedback, though reviewers are always quick to point out any disadvantages too. One person who had not been reading up on vintage laundry methods was misled by the name and tried to stuff their sweatpants inside the cone.
Traditional posser is what I called it at the start, but this kind of thing only goes back so far. The metal cone plunger type belongs to the later 1800s and early 1900s. Older laundry punches and dollies could press and stir a tubful of clothing and household linen, but they didn’t have “suction” to encourage water and suds to circulate through the fabric. Washing dollies may go back to before 1700, but simple wooden sticks (or human feet) are the truly traditional, centuries-old ancestors of this “manual washing machine”.
You may like to see a video by the manufacturer, explaining the best features of his product.
It’s this “possing” action – plunging, pressing, and stirring – that inspired the very earliest washing machines. The machines that move clothes round and round in a revolving tub came later, using the same kind of mechanism as barrel butter churns that turn the cream over and over.
I like the way the 21st century hand tool is called a machine. There’s some historical truth there, since that’s the way the word was used in the early days of modern-ish laundry inventions, when 18th century technology was getting going. All sorts of newly-invented gadgets that were a bit more ingenious than a stick or plank might be called “machines”.
While searching for alternatives to this blue plastic posser, I came across a print of a 1940s style kitchen with a woman using an old metal cone in what looks like a tub-type washing machine, not just a simple washtub. Is this an authentic “re-enactment” of life 60 years ago?
These are available from Amazon.com. (Click picture for more info.)
The history of Delft tiles goes back to the early 1600s when blue and white porcelain from China first arrived in the Netherlands. It was much admired and Dutch potters wanted to imitate the look, even though they couldn’t recreate true Chinese porcelain.
Potteries in Delft had some success with good quality blue and white glazed earthenware. Craftsmen in the city who were already making multi-coloured tiles soon started to work with the new colour scheme.
The tile-makers began by rolling out a clay mixture and cutting squares from it by pressing a wooden frame into the clay. Typically these were 1 cm deep with 13 cm edges. They were dried before firing in a kiln heated to around 1000°C. Next liquid white tin glaze was spread on the upper surface and left to dry naturally.
Decorating the surface
Decorative scenes were sketched on paper. Pricking through the outlines with a pin created a stencil, or pricked transfer, called a spons. Then a bag of charcoal dust was rubbed through the pinholes onto the glaze. Painters followed the charcoal tracing and sometimes added freehand shading to the design. The characteristic cobalt blue decoration fused into the opaque white surface during a second firing. Manganese-based purple, introduced in the later 17th century, was sometimes chosen as an alternative to blue.
Dutch homes used tiles generously round chimneypieces and stoves, in kitchens, and decorating hallways or stairs. Scenes from everyday life were popular: children playing, animals, workers, soldiers, or ships and harbours.
“Delft” tiles were made in other parts of the Netherlands too, for export as well as for local buyers. Social and economic trends meant that ceramic production was centred on Delft by about 1700, but was greatly reduced in that city by 1800.*
Antique hand-made tiles don’t look as smooth as reproductions made in modern factories. The glaze is more crackled, with colour variations in the white, and there may be indentations where the tiles were held in place by nails in the early stages before firing.
The Delft style and technique was used for a range of household and ornamental ceramics – often called Delftware or Delft Blue – not just for tiles. By the later 19th century Dutch tile manufacturers were losing out to industrial competitors elsewhere in Europe, but the Delft tile name lives on and is still popular today, whether new or antique.
Before the 18th century ladies used to keep their needlework projects in a work-basket or bag. Then furniture designers started to create elegant little tables for the drawing room with a silk work-bag or box-holder hanging beneath. You have only to look at one to understand why Sheraton, the famous cabinet-maker, called his designs pouch tables.
As well as slide-out pouches to hold sewing materials, these small tables had drawers and compartments under a flip-up top. The owner wouldn’t always be sewing alone, though. Many kinds of fancy craftwork were done while families, or groups of friends, sat together. The novelist Jane Austen mentions a “work-table” used for “making a filigree basket” decorated with rolled paper quills.* Later in the 19th century a “Complete Guide to the Work-Table” offers instructions for “Berlin work, crochet, drawn-thread work, embroidery, knitting, knotting or macramé, lace, netting, Poonah painting & tatting”.
Various extras like a pull-out reading & writing slope and a chess board were common, and you could have an ink-stand, a backgammon board, and fold-down extensions. By 1800 many prosperous households had a lady’s work station that doubled as a play station. One 1815 table auctioned in 2001 (for over £4000) even had a zograscope built in; a high-tech optical toy by the standards of its time. More ordinary furniture of this type included many nicely-made needlework tables with a couple of drawers, a compartment under a hinged lid, but no silk bag. Some fine pieces defy categorisation, like this French porcelain-topped tulipwood veneer table from the 1770s.
American Federal or Empire work tables sell at auction for thousands of dollars; one made from mahogany and bird’s-eye maple in Boston around 1800 fetched nearly $20,000 in 2007. UK prices for Georgian and Regency tables vary a great deal according to quality: from hundreds to thousands of pounds. If you are buying, check any restoration work; newly-replaced silk pouches should be in an appropriate style.
Some rare European Biedermeier pieces are hardly tables at all, but globes opening to reveal perfectly crafted compartments for needlework tools and games pieces. Most of these elaborate neoclassical pieces were made, with great skill and fine veneer work, in Vienna or Berlin. Some drum-shaped work tables were made in this style, too.
A magazine in late Georgian London published a picture and description of a “fashionable” ladies’ work table in 1823. This suggests the idea was spreading out from the really wealthy and stylish upper class to more middle-class homes whose owners were interested in the furnishings of the upper social echelons. The writer of the piece quoted next probably thought readers would aspire to have a table like the one illustrated, instead of keeping their needlework in bags and boxes.
FASHIONABLE FURNITURE. Ladies’ Work-table –
This elegant table forms a pleasing and commodious appendage to the sitting-room of mansions fitted up in a style of superior elegance. It is equally adapted to the boudoir and drawing-room, and answers the purpose of a drawing-table as well as a work-table, and a desk for writing and reading. The silk bag suspended from the desk is, in the engraving, of azure blue, with silk fringe of the same colour, but should be made to correspond with the colour of the apartment for which the table is designed.
In order that it may harmonize with the rest of the furniture, the frame-work should be formed of rose-wood of a rich dark colour, and varied in its grain. The ornaments are wholly of burnished and matt gold. The top of the table should be adorned with some rich design in water-colours, highly varnished, for the purpose of preserving it: this will be at all times a pleasing object to the eye. Fruit or flowers, well grouped, are particularly to be recommended. The interior may exhibit some pleasing landscape, or any other similar embellishment, according to the taste or fancy of the fair proprietor.
From: Repository of arts, literature, fashions &c, Ackermann & Shoberl, 1823
The Asbestos Sad Iron design really did use asbestos. It was under the handle, inside a “hood” or cover that fitted over a heated “core”. It “bottled up” the heat, said an ad, so it was all channeled through the hot solid steel surface that pressed the clothes smooth. No heat rose upward to bother the woman ironing. The handle stayed 15 degrees cooler than blood temperature, claimed the Dover Manufacturing Company in early 1900s USA, and the cores needed reheating less often than other flat irons. This brand flourished just before electric irons helped bring cooler, less fatiguing ironing days.
Hot iron, cold handle
The main selling point was the cool handle on a hot iron. A 1906 ad explains this, and more:
The Asbestos Sad Iron handle…is attached to a steel shield, separated by an air space from the hood, thus preventing any conduction of heat to the hand. The asbestos lined cover, when placed over the throroughly heated iron, shuts in the heat. … An air chamber between the core and hood serves as a non-conductor of heat and also as a heat reservoir…
Is your comfort a consideration? If it is, this feature alone is sufficient to induce you to purchase an Asbestos Sad Iron Equipment…The elegant polish…is not intended for the sake of appearance only – but for the sake of making possible handsome work… All metal parts are substantially coated in nickel that won’t peel off … smoothness and polish of a mirror… glide over the most delicate fabrics…
No more handsome and useful wedding or anniversary gift can be found than the “Asbestos French Cabinet”. [boxed set]
Sets and specialist irons
The most-advertised Asbestos Sad Iron product was a “Laundry set” with 3 cores, hood, and stand, usually retailing at $2. In fact there were three types of Laundry set, one with extended pressing surfaces on the bottom of the cores. You could also choose from these:
Household set – 5 irons
Family cabinet – most expensive
And for travellers:
Tourist iron, small, only 35¢
Tourist flounce iron
You could also buy extra cores or hoods individually.
Manufacturers, patents, inventors and businessmen: Tverdahl, Johnson-Vea, Clark, Chalfant
In 1893 two men of Norwegian ancestry went into the sad iron manufacturing business in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Charles T. Johnson-Vea, who was not quite 30, had an entrepreneurial spirit, and Ole Tverdahl, in his early 40s, was an inventor. The Tverdahl-Johnson Company’s first patent was based on an idea of Ole’s wife Mathilde, but it had no sign of the asbestos iron that would be well-known in a few years.
Then another Stoughton resident, Dr Lorenzo.D. Clark, gave Johnson-Vea (aka Johnson) his idea for an iron with an asbestos layer and air pocket between the handle and the hot part, along with a crude model he had made. An improved version was produced and marketed. By 1898 Tverdahl-Johnson had more than 40 employees. Charlie Johnson wanted to expand further. He especially wanted better access to markets in the eastern US. In 1900 he moved the company 500 miles east to Canal Dover, Ohio, found extra capital investment, and became director of the Dover Manufacturing Company.
This was the only “exclusive sadiron concern” in the world, in touch with “the housewife’s ironing problems”, according to Johnson. Within a few years it employed more than 200 men and sold 300,000 to 500,000 items annually. Johnson was learning a lot about pricing, retailers, advertising and so on. Newspaper ads were everywhere. Stores hosted demonstrations. The Asbestos Sad Iron was produced in different sizes, and packaged in different sets. Profit for the manufacturer was 5-8 cents per set.
Patenting was difficult and expensive. Johnson spent two to three thousand dollars on lawyers and travel over several years before he was confident that Dover’s manufacturing rights were protected. The important Clark-Johnson patent came through in 1900, Tverdahl got a patent for a locking mechanism in 1903, and other patents followed. I don’t know if their problems had any connection with an earlier patent granted to Isaac P. Chalfant of the Chalfant Manufacturing Co. He seems to have been the first person in the US to patent an iron with asbestos lining under the handle, back in 1878.
New irons of this kind were fading in the USA by about 1920, though they were still being exported to New Zealand in that year.
A sad iron (or sadiron) is an alternative name for a flat iron. Here the word “sad” means “solid” and it may suggest a weighty iron with a thick base. Read more about the history of irons and ironing here.