Ask About Antiques: Antique Irons

Ask About Antiques
Antique Irons

American country irons flourished from 1850 to 1950. The most common early irons were cast in one piece and weighed from five to seven pounds. In the nineteenth century, they were found in every country home and were heated on cast iron stoves. They are commonly called "flat" or "sad" irons. "Sad" is an archaic word meaning "dense" or "heavy."
Primitive irons are in a class by themselves, exuding an air of innocence. Blacksmiths shaped them. They cost little when first made, but the best examples are marvelous finds for today's collector. An iron still revealing the mark of a hammer speaks the drama of its creation in every line. In country homes of the last century, people did their own work. Each person had a job. Ironing was part of the circle of life. Washing was on Monday. Tuesday was ironing day. While Mother did the family ironing, daughter was busy pressing dolls' clothes.
A collection of irons can be color-infused with ancillary washday items: soap packages, bluing bottles, starch boxes and various patent products. Clothes sprinkler bottles are another way to introduce a bright spot. The colorful bottles are found in a marvelous congregation of figural characters. They happily coexist with irons.
Antique irons of surprising beauty and diversity are still available at affordable prices. Places to look: flea markets, antique shows, dealers and garage sales. Wonderful finds are coming out of attics and basements. Sad irons may be the starting point of any collection, but learn the different types: charcoal, box, sleeve, polishers, fuel, fluters and others. After getting a core collection of common irons, acquire a hunger for rare and special irons.
As an example, fluter irons were patented in 1866. There are many types of fluters, rollers, rockers, and machine fluters. Collectors know the names of Knox, Osborne, American, Royal, Manville and Star.
The same in-depth spectrum can be realized with fuel irons, detachable handles, or any antique iron category. Some are rare, different, and the unusual. Even the basic sad iron has examples of fascinating attempts to keep the hand cool. Some handles were slotted for ventilation and airflow. Watch for spiral uprights, coiled handles, and folded uprights. These are rare and desirable. Combination irons, capable of doing more than one type of ironing job, reflect the nineteenth century's fascination with inventions and gadgets. They are found as sad / fluters and charcoal / fluters. Watch for these hybrids. Collectors love them.
Gasoline and kerosene irons arrived early in this century and were welcomed because they were a vast improvement over earlier irons. Some Coleman irons, in particular, have beautiful colored porcelain bodies and matching grips. Early electric irons didn't arrive in the country until rural electrification brought electric power outside the city. Sometimes salesmen would follow the newly-strung wires looking for customers. The oldest electric irons have porcelain connections and two-wire twisted cord.
Although lacking elegance and refinement, old-fashioned irons have a warmth of character, making them collectible and lovable.

Budd A. Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 150 years. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at