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Monday, January 24, 2011

Hot Money (1880 & 1901) -- Problems of Using Stoves as Safes in Summer

"New-Jersey," New York Times, 20 Nov. 1880, p. 8.

"Mrs Saltig, a German woman, residing in ... Hoboken, put $50 in greenbacks, which represented her savings, into the parlor stove for safe keeping.  When the cold spell came Thursday night she lighted a fire in the stove, and did not think of her money until it was nearly burned to a crisp. She consulted Internal Revenue Commissioner Reid as to whether the Government would redeem it, and he took her to the office of Bank President Simms.  That gentleman remarked that she would have been better off if she had put her money in a savings bank. 'There isn't much difference, I guess,' dryly remarked Mrs. Saltig, as she walked off with her small parcel of burned notes."


"Ten Thousand Dollars Cremated," Atlanta Constitution 8 Nov. 1883, p. 4.

ERIE -- "Jacob Seib, a farmer, to foil burglars, made a deposit in his parlor stove of currency and securities amounting to $10,000.  Saturday his wife arranged to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage with a surprise party. Being unaware of her husband's cunning she lighted a fire in the stove and cremated the earnings of a lifetime."


"Uses a Stove as a Safe," Chicago Tribune, 3 Jan. 1900, p. 5.


[The bills were badly burned, and sent to the U.S. Treasury for redemption -- this was a sufficiently common occurrence that it kept a department to attempt to verify that the ashes and scraps people sent in after accidents with their folding money actually were ex-banknotes.]


"In a Minor Key," Chicago Daily Tribune, 28 Sept. 1901, p. 12.

TIMELY WARNING: "This is just to remind the fellow who placed his bank books and a few other things in his parlor stove last spring after fire time for safe keeping that with the approach of cool weather the parlor stove ceases to be a safe repository unless he has bank books, etc., to burn. -- Yonkers Statesman."


There's an original for this commonplace late C19th story (reported frequently enough not to have been entirely apocryphal) in England in 1825: 'John Bull' [Charles Lamb and Thomas Hood], The Laughing Philosopher (London: Sherwood, Jones & Co., 1825),  "Dr Monsey and His Bank-Notes," pp. 80-81,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Cook Stove (1913)

This is rather heavy-handed "humor," but it makes an interesting point about one of the drawbacks of the old iron cook-stove: it was uncontrollably too hot in summer -- a big selling-point for manufacturers or gas and kerosene stoves. In the 1830s and 1840s, some manufacturers had tried to get around the problem by providing insulating 'dress' for their stoves, so that they could be left in the kitchen and used in summer; or 'summer apparatus,' allowing the use of a much smaller fire for limited cooking needs.  But the more usual solution, especially with farm families, was just to take the stove outside into an open shed or 'summer kitchen'.

There's another side to this problem, of course: the gas or kerosene stove didn't make the kitchen warm enough in winter.  So in the late C19th through early C20th, many manufacturers sold "combination ranges" with a gas hob and a coal-fired oven for urban consumers, so that they could have the best of both worlds.

* * *

Fitch, George [Author of "At Good Old Siwash"], "The Cook Stove," Atlanta Constitution 19 Oct. 1913, p. B4.

"The cook stove is the boon companion of the housewife.

The cook stove sticketh closer to the housewife than a brother, and twice as close as a husband. The husband sits across the table from his wife and reads the paper, but the cookstove snuggles up close to her and glows in her face, and burns her apron and her forearm, and spatters hot lard in her eye.

The cook stove has a temperature of 145 in its oven and 212 in its immediate vicinity.  This is unfortunate, because if its oven were larger the housewife might sit therein and be more comfortable while the meat was roasting on a chair in the kitchen.


The cook stove consumes coal and wood with visible reluctance.  It is harder to start than an automobile. ...

The cook stove is mild and dejected in the winter, and often declines to start at all.  When the thermometer is 30 below nothing but kerosene will start a cook stove, and many a bereaved husband points with pride to the patch in the roof, which covers the hole made by his wife when she went aloft by the kerosene route. But in the good old summer time the cook stove does not hesitate to burn. It will start on anything, and wll acquire a healthy red color on two lumps of coal and a shingle.  When the weary husband comes home at 6 o'clock and throws himself into his arm chair, he has to shut the kitchen door to keep from being broiled alive by the faithful and energetic cook stove over which his wife is at that moment bending, trying to restrain it from burning $1.75 worth of beef-steak to a cinder.

Women may not be mentally capable of wiping their tired hands and hurrying down to the polls twice a year, but they can do wonderful things on the cook stove. The cook stove, under woman's guiding genius, has made millions of men contented and fat.  It has also made the women of the world the principal supporters of religion.  Somehow after a woman has come to know a cook stove inside and out, and summer and winter, she has a fear of the extreme sultriness of future punishment, which cannot be obtained by a mere man."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

But in 1867 Frances Dana Gage Doesn't Salute HER Stove

Frances Dana Gage, like William Ray, is also a lesser-known C19th American whose acquaintance it's worth making.  She was a great reformer -- abolitionist, equal rights campaigner, temperance advocate -- and also somebody with quite a public life, as a lecturer, journalist, author of children's books, etc.  (See or search for her in Google Books.)

I came across her 1867 poem "The Fire On the Hearth" in The New England Farmer 1:11 [new series] (No. 1867): 521, but you can also get it in her collected Poems (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1867),, pp. 45-47.  It strikes me as a classic of mid-Victorian nostalgia.  The interesting thing is that this kind of nostalgia for the dear departed open fire first appears in print years -- decades! -- before stove ownership and use became general, though by the time of Gage's poem these things had already happened, in the Northern states at least, and were advancing fast even in the back country of the ex-Confederate South.

[p. 45] There is a luxury rare in the carpet of Brussels, /
And splendor in pictures that hang on the wall, /
And grace in the curtain, with rainbow-hued tassels, /
And brilliance in gas-light, that flashes o'er all; /
But give me the glow of the bright-blazing fire, /
That sparkles and snaps as it echoes your mirth, /
And leaps, in its joy, up the chimney still higher, /
When the cold winds without make us draw near the hearth; /
The old-fashioned fire, the cheerful wood fire, /
The maple-wood fire, that burns on the hearth.

As I feel its warm glow, I remember my childhood, /
And the circle of loved ones that drew round our board; /
The winter eve sports, with the nuts from the wild /
The apples and cider from cellars well stored; /
I hear in its roar the wild shout of my brothers, /
And the laugh of my sisters, in innocent mirth, /
And the voice of my sire, as he reads to my mother, /
Who knits by the firelight that glows from the hearth; /
[p. 46] The old open fire, the health-giving fire, /
The home-cheering fire that glows on the hearth.

Like the strong and true-hearted, it warms its surroundings, /
The jamb and the mantle, the hearth-stone and wall, /
And over the household gives out its aboundings, /
Till a rose-tinted radiance is spread over all. /
If you lay on the fuel, it never burns brightly, /
Till the day's work is done, and we lay by our mirth; /
Then we gather the embers and bury them lightly, /
At morn to renew the fresh fire on the hearth -- /
The old fashioned fire, the life-giving fire, /
The broad-glowing fire that burns on the hearth.

It reminds us of friends that we draw to the nearer, /
When winds of misfortune blow heavy and chill, /
And feel with each blast, they are warmer and dearer, /
And ready to help us and comfort us still! -- /
Friends that never grow cold till the long day is ended, /
And the ashes are laid to their rest in the earth, /
And the spirit, still glowing, to God hath ascended, /
To rekindle new fires, like the coal on the hearth; /
Then give me the fire, the fresh-glowing fire. /
The bright open fire, that burns on the hearth.

[p. 47]

You will tell me a stove heats a room in a minute, /
Expels the cold air, and I know it is so; /
But open a door, is there anything in it? -- /
Your warmth is all gone -- there's not even a glow; /
Just like modern friends, one is every day meeting, /
All professions and smiles, as the impulse gives birth, /
But as black and as cold, at the next hour of greeting, /
As your stove that has banished the fire from the hearth; /
Then give me the fire, the old-fashioned fire, /
The bright-glowing fire, that burns on the hearth.

190 Years Ago -- William Ray Salutes the New Year Around His Stove

William Ray (1771-1827) of Onondaga County, NY (i.e. he lived, farmed, served as a magistrate, was a shopkeeper on a number of occasions, went bankrupt, edited local papers, etc., etc., in the small towns like Geneva and Auburn along what's now Highway 20 but used to be the Cherry Valley Turnpike, the main road west from Albany, on the northern edge of the Finger Lakes) was, according to the Albany Register, “a self-taught genius.”  Even if that's a bit of a steep compliment, he certainly rates as an interesting man -- author, poet, Jeffersonian Democrat, freethinker, somebody who lived a hard and varied life even including a spell of naval service where he had the misfortune to be captured by Barbary pirates (about which he wrote a wonderful account -- see and for a couple of editions; much of the text is also included with his Poems).

Anyway, he rates an entry here because, 190 years ago, he also wrote the first poem that I have found that makes it clear that stoves had begun to enter the lives of ordinary Americans, even those living in communities just a generation beyond the frontier in what Whitney Cross would remind us all to call The Burned-Over District.  [SubtitleThe Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1950; a great book.]  

In 1816,  he had celebrated the role of the open fireplace at the heart of the American home in entirely conventional terms.  What he wanted was “Domestic peace, a mansion tight, / Health, competence, and Fire”; and by fire he meant, unambiguously, the blazing open hearth:

When from the chilling toils of day,
The lumb'ring sled, or pleasure sleigh,
We to our homes retire;
To warm our limbs, prepare our food,
How welcome is a stick of wood,
How charming is a Fire!
Men have ador'd thee, well they might,
Great source of heat! great source of light!

But five years later, stoves must have become more familiar to Ray and the readers for his occasional verse, and he had no difficulty fitting the new technology alongside the old iconic fireside in his celebrations of rural contentment and New Year's Eve hospitality, perhaps not least because of the easy sight-rhyme it offered with “love”:

Roast the spare-rib, spread the board,
Well can you the feast afford:
Call your neighb'ring plough boys in,
Wives and daughters, all akin;
Seated round the parlor stove,
Warmer than the heart of love...

Thus while round the hearth or stove
Doubly warm'd by fire and love,
While the luscious banquet flows,
Till the midnight watch-cock crows,
Think how wretched millions are,
While such blessings freemen share;

So there it is -- 190 years ago, the pleasures of sitting around the stove in the dead of winter had been added to William Ray's notion of the blessings of being an American.

If you (if there ever is a "you"...) should wish to read more about Ray, or read more of his poems, including the full texts of those excerpted above, go to his Poems, on Various Subjects: Religious, Moral, Sentimental and Humorous (Auburn, NY: U.F. Doubleday, 1821), for "Fire" (1816), p. 160 for "The Carrier of the Plough Boy [his newspaper] to His Patrons," and p. 169 for "A New-Year's Address for January 1, 1821."