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Friday, August 14, 2015

James Wager, Troy Stove Maker

Sorry, stove blog, I have neglected you for months on end.  I haven't entirely given up on my interest in stoves (etc.) -- instead, I've been cultivating it in a small way and in a different place, through comments on three Facebook groups, two of which (The Iron Works! Collectors of Early Iron and Antique Stove Collectors) I was invited to join by collectors/enthusiasts who had come across my stuff, here and on the website, while the third (Bottom Gate Marked Cast Iron Cookware) overlaps with the first.  Somebody will come up with an item by an identifiable C19th maker, and then I often try to fill in a few details.  These posts are an opportunity for me to dig into and share what I've accumulated over the years -- notably my patent database -- and also for me to find out new things, such as, for example, how thin early C19th hollow ware castings were or at least could be (answer: 1/10th of an inch -- half the thickness of good stove plate).  But the trouble with Facebook as a medium is that posts like this soon get buried by an accumulation of more recent ones, and they aren't visible to any except members of closed groups either.  So the (small) effort I make in digging up material rapidly becomes invisible, even to me.  This is a bit of a waste, so I am going to try to reduce it by archiving any slightly more substantial posts here.

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This one was prompted by Antique Stoves.Com advertising a very fine mid-century wood-fired parlor stove, the "Ilion No. 3" (the number indicates its size -- 42" high, 19" deep, 23" wide, i.e. quite small) of 1853, for sale on Antique Stove Collectors -- much more of a selling site than the other two.  It was immediately obvious to me that this was a nice example of a stove type I had written about on this blog last year, and the pictures provided were excellent.  The name made it absolutely clear, if the design itself hadn't already, that this was a Capital District and in fact a Troy stove.  So I asked who made it, and the answer was Wager, Richmond, & Smith.  This is what I was able to come up with about it (and them):

James Wager, of Troy, was the sole or lead designer on twenty-one patents, 1844-1871.  This is D613,, 20 Dec. 1853. The other guys were Volney Richmond (1802-1864), trained as a carriage and wagon maker, and entering the stove foundry business in 1848, and Harvey Smith (1796-?), formerly a grocer. Wager and Richmond started designing together in 1850, and were joined by Smith in 1852. The design partnership lasted until 1855, when Richmond returned to his home town of Hoosick Falls and took up farming, and Smith entered a new firm, Smith & Sheldon, with his son-in-law Frederick A. Sheldon.  He retired from the partnership in 1860-1861, but the firm continued, as Sheldon & (Chauncey O.) Greene, until 1873.

Wager probably entered the stove business in 1838-39 (Geer, Wager & Co. are in the Troy directory for those years; Gilbert Geer had been in the stove business since 1834 with the usual changing cast of partners, and continued in the same way after Wager moved on, until 1862), and from 1840-1844 he was a sole trader.  In 1844-48 he was in partnership with a man called Dater, probably a member of a prominent family of local merchants, and from 1847-1852 with David Pratt, with whom he also took out joint patents.  1852-53 saw him in partnership with Harvey Smith, and in 1853-54 they were joined by Richmond.  In 1855 he became a sole trader again, then in 1856 gained a new partner, Albert Fox, who lasted until 1859.  From 1860-71 he was in partnership with Andrew Fales, then returned to sole trading again.  The Wager Stove Co. lasted until 1902, but after 1886 it was just listed as a stove dealer, no longer a maker.  This was a long career both for the man himself, and for the firm he founded, which survived him.  There's an 1874 catalogue of his stoves and hollow ware in the Rensselaer Historical Society library.

Here's a contemporary biography of him (from A.P., "Our State Institutions. -- XV. The Troy Stove Foundries," New York Times 12 Feb. 1872, p. 5): in 1840 he took over the oldest stove founder in Troy, established in 1814 by a guy called Stratton, whose molders were British deserters inspired to quit the army by the recent defeat at Plattsburgh.  He was "generally regarded as the oldest stove manufacturer in the United States -- not in point of years [age], but from the time he has been engaged in the business." In the late 1840s he began to develop "marked and valuable improvements in cooking and heating stoves, bestowing great pains on the production of smoother and better quality of castings" -- the results of which the pictures of the Ilion show so well. His stoves soon became popular and thousands were shipped to California and Oregon; a steady sale for them was found in Australia, and Canada became an extensive buyer in the Troy stove market."  According to the stove dealer Samuel B. Spaulding, of Brandon, Vermont, by 1846 Wager and his partner Dater's air-tight heating stove [Design Patent 97] was "perhaps the best finished article of the kind that can be found in the United States. It recently took the Premium at the Fair of the American Institute in New York, and needs only to be seen to be admired.  WILLIAM M. FIELD, at first sight, bought twenty of the above stoves, for his new Hotel now building in this village.  It is strictly AIR-TIGHT, and is a fuel saving Stove." [Advertisement, "Stoves, Stovepipe, Pumps, Lead Pipe, and Sheet Zinc," The Voice of Freedom 5 Nov. 1846, p. 3 -- illustrated with an engraving of D97.]   

I snipped this pen-portrait of his character and achievements:

So that was the designer and maker of the "Ilion" and of many other stoves.  Drawing this information together -- from my patents database, my listing of people and firms active in the Albany and Troy stove trade, and from my notes -- didn't take much time, but it was interesting for me to spend a little time thinking about one of the Troy stove business's mid-century leading lights.

A follow-up: here's Wager's stove patenting history --


1844 0003655   126/13  Stove, Cooking --a strange, impractical design with the firebox at the back.  Did not catch on!  Understandably, Wager refocused his attention on the new class of design patents rather than attempting further "improvements."

1846 D000097   D23/346 Stove -- an elegant Gothic parlor stove (see above).

1847 D000129   D5/39   Stove -- an ordinary square cooking stove, though with one interesting feature, not remarked on by Wager in his description of it -- a single large cooking hole in the front, as well as the four of standard size.

1848 D000176   D23/346 Stove -- the "Cottage Parlour," an unsual and eclectic design with elements Grecian, Roman, arabesque, and Gothic.

1849 D000232   D7/342  Stove -- a standard large-oven square cooking stove, with two additional cooking holes in the hearth plate.
1849 D000233   D23/346 Stove -- finely drawn plates for "the ordinary six-plate stove," i.e. the basic room-heating box stove.

1849 D000242   D23/346 Stove -- another fine, very eclectic set of parlor stove plates.

1850 D000277   D23/346 Stove -- decorative front and side plates for a box stove, very patriotic in a common post-Mexican War way -- "a spread eagle standing upon a shield with a cornucopia of fruit and flowers on each side and over which is a scroll with the stars and the motto 'Ne plus ultra'" for the sides, and the Goddess of Liberty for the front."

1850 D000293   D7/345  Stove -- plates for a standard square cooking stove with a simple but elegant (Masonic?) pattern, a star with rays projecting in all directions. Wager, Pratt, & Richmond.

1851 D000373   D23/346 Stove -- a Gothic, columnar coal-fired parlor stove.  Wager, Pratt, & Richmond.

1852 D000437   D23/346 Stove -- a very fine open front, Franklin parlor stove, with Gothic and Turkish elements. 
Wager, Pratt, & Richmond.
1852 D000515   D7/344  Stove, Cooking -- muddy drawing, but it's a standard square stove with mostly geometric decoration (hexagons) on the plates. 
Wager, Richmond, & Smith.

1852 D000532   D23/346 Stove, Box -- similar patterns to those in D515.  Wager, Richmond, & Smith.

1852 D000537   D7/405  Hearth Plate -- for a cooking stove.  No functional difference from the norm, just style. 
Wager, Richmond, & Smith. 
1853 D000613   D23/346 Stove, Parlor -- the Ilion.

1853 D000614   D23/346 Stove, Cylinder coal -- the "Orient."  Very elaborate. 
Wager, Richmond, & Smith.

1855 D000683   D23/346 Stove, Parlor -- the "Triumph," with two cooking holes in the top plate.  Wager, Richmond, & Smith.
1855 D000735   D7/342  Stove, Cooking -- the "Merit," a standard large-oven square stove with elaborately decotrated plates.  Wager alone.

1855 D000736   D7/342  Stove, Cooking -- the "Victor," ditto.

1855 D000737   D23/346 Stove plate, Parlor -- the "Prize," Gothic.

1871 0122293   126/218 Stove, Heating -- actually a minor improvement to one part, the top, of one small class of parlor stoves, those designed for doing some cooking on top and also being refueled from the same direction.  Unlike his 1844 "improvement," this looked practicable.

There may also be some post-1873 patents, but I'll have to search for them on Google, so this text can be ended in the usual optimistic way -- "T.B.A."  

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