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Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Ubiquitous Stove: Stoves in Public Places [upd. 15 June 2014]

This is another response to illustrations found at the Library of Congress (and elsewhere, since I wrote version #1).  What makes them interesting is that the stoves in them are just taken-for-granted objects, which is not the way they are usually represented in manufacturers' or dealers' advertising copy (the commonest source of -- much more detailed -- pictures of stoves), where the stove is always the focus of attention, and sometimes the only object in view.

An American Inn, 1814

John Lewis Krimmel, "The Village Tavern/In an American Inn" (1814), Toledo Museum of Art
Krimmel's picture of a Pennsylvania inn (and informal post office) is also a rare illustration of (part of) a nine-plate stove (a modified ten-plate wood-fired cooking stove, easier and cheaper to make than a ten-plate, and distinguishable by the location of the stovepipe, at the front of the stove.  There seems to be a shelf above the top of the stove (possibly of soapstone?), on which a mug of drink can be kept warm.  The hearth plate is allowing a young man to dry or thaw out his feet.  Other people, of course, can read this image's significance differently -- e.g. Richard R. John and Thomas C. Leonard, "The Illusion of the Ordinary: John Lewis Krimmel's Village Tavern and the Democratization of Public Life in the Early Republic," Pennsylvania History 65:1 (Winter 1998): 87-96.

A Country Tavern on Long Island, 1837

William Sidney Mount, "The Tough Story: Scene in a Country Tavern" (1837), Corcoran Gallery.
Mount shows a very simple box stove of "Shaker" style, but not exclusive to that community.  What is distinctive about it is that it consists of just two castings, one for the top and sides (made in a deep mould) and one for the base, with a wrought-iron door on the front, whereas similar (and rather more expensive and less purely functional) box stoves were made of six separate plates, bolted together -- as in Woodville's picture, below.  

"Loco Foco persecution, or custom house, versus caricatures" (New York, 1838)
This 1838 political cartoon shows a plain, conical space-heating stove, probably anthracite-burning.  Stoves are usually thought of (and certainly written about) in their domestic settings, which were certainly the most numerous, but of course all kinds of public (churches, schools, theaters) and semi-public, non-domestic spaces (stores, offices, banks) also required space heating.

Everyday Scenes (probably in Maryland), 1840s

Richard Caton Woodville, "The Card Players" (1847), Detroit Institute of Arts
Woodville was one of C19th America's finest genre painters.  This picture seems to be set in a tavern or waiting room (the broadsides on the wall publicize stage services), heated by a plain box stove of the kind that became common in the middle colonies from the 1730s or 1740s onwards, when they were known as "six-plate" stoves.  Something (the players' drinks?) is being warmed in the copper pan on the top of the stove, and a higher-resolution (but more faded) version also seems to show a plate of food being cooked on the hearth plate in front of the fire-box; or maybe it's just embers raked out for lighting clay pipes like the one underneath.

Richard Caton Woodville, "Waiting for the Stage" (1851), Corcoran Gallery
In this (sadly low-resolution) picture, the waiting-room (in a bar?) has what looks like a Franklin stove (that is, the type of stove Americans had come to call a "Franklin," though it had little in common with the stoves Franklin actually designed) to heat it, with a tea-pot keeping warm on the top.  Woodville even shows the chimney-damper, with its brass knob.  A slightly higher-resolution version doesn't show much more:

George Caleb Bingham, "Country Politician," Missouri, 1849:

An even better (higher resolution) version of this is available via the Google Art Project -- see

In the corridor of James A. Garfield's home, at Mentor, Ohio (1880)

James A. Garfield's consultation office in his home, at Mentor, Ohio (1880)

Garfield's visitors sit around a classic base-burning stove; when they get into his office, the intimacy (and higher prestige) of the space is reflected in the drapes, carpet, rocking-chair, and open-fronted parlor stove, allowing Garfield and his guests to take pleasure in the luxury of a roaring fire, heating the space reasonably efficiently via convection from the cast-iron case as well as by radiation from the fire itself and its hot metal container.

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