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Friday, December 29, 2017

The 1845 Calvin Fulton Parlor Stove, Made and Sold by J.M. French & Co. of Rochester, NY.

On Christmas Day I came across a wonderful early parlor stove on the Antique Stove Collectors' Facebook page.  

The finial is a later addition, and does not go with the original stove.

Even in the above fairly low-resolution version, the boldness of the design and the sharpness of the casting show through quite clearly.  The text on the front of the hearth plate reads "Design Patented 1845"; the name of the maker was already known to me.  So I did what I normally do, and went hunting the Design Patent.  There were only 13 stove design patents in 1845, the third year since they were introduced in the Design Patents Act of 1842.  In 1843 there were 3 stove design patents, and in 1844 just 4 -- small numbers, but there were very few design patents altogether: 14 in 1843, 11 in 1844, 17 in 1845; i.e. stoves represented a rising proportion of a small total, 21>36>76 percent.  This was the start of a golden period when most stove patents were for designs, not inventions or improvements, and most design patents were for stoves.  [See my “'The Stove Trade Needs Change Continually': Designing the First Mass-Market Consumer Durable, c. 1810-1930,” Winterthur Portfolio 43:4 (Winter 2009): 365-406, free version, for more detail on all of this.]

This stove was Design Patent #42, the work of Calvin Fulton, one of Rochester, New York's four stove pattern makers recorded in the 1847-8 city directory.  It was assigned to, i.e. bought and probably commissioned by, a local stove maker and dealer, John M. French, who had been in business in the city since the late 1830s after moving from Albany 230 miles to the east along the Erie Canal.  Rochester at this time had about 30,000 people, its population approximately doubling in the 1830s and again in the 1840s.  In 1834 it had had just one stove finisher, and no makers or dealers; by 1847 there was still just one finisher, but also one pedler, one patentee (of the "Climax" cooking stove, 1844, and of the nice Gothic plates for its successor, the "Universe," 1847), the four pattern makers, and thirteen dealers, at least two of them running their own foundries, i.e. the city's stove industry had grown and matured fast, and was now capable of evolving its own designs and manufacturing its own products.

The drawing, at 1/6 scale, was by Henry Searl, a local architect, and it only showed the main front plate of the stove, together with three cross-sectional profiles allowing us to see quite how boldly modeled the pattern was, and how thin and light the plate was intended to be.  This is a bit unusual -- the sides and back were just versions of the front plate, but the hearth plate, top, and legs extended the unique design and would usually have been represented and thereby included within the material that the patentee wished to protect from copying for the patent's full seven-year term.  The patent was witnessed by one of French's partners, Elijah Bottum, and A. McDonald (not 100% identifiable -- Rochester had three Angus McDonalds, one of them a laborer living on the same street as French's foundry, so probably the best bet).     

The lack of a name on the bar in the middle of the upper section of the pattern suggests either that Fulton designed it speculatively and then sold it to French (i.e. it was not commissioned), or that the name was not made part of the patented design so that French could sell on the right to use it to other makers, whose name would be added to the pattern in the foundry.

The stove was of a kind then becoming very popular, the air-tight parlor -- a successor to the columnar heating stove which had its day in the late 1830s and early 1840s (see this post).  Both of them were descendants of the common six-plate or box stove (see this post).  Unlike a box stove, which projected out into the room, they were designed to sit crosswise on a hearth in a fireplace, with the stove pipe going into an existing chimney, or simply on a fireproof stove board, with the stove pipe exiting through a thimble in any convenient wall or ceiling.  Both were supposed to be more efficient and to have a larger heating capacity than a common box stove, as well as to be more decorative and suitable for the middle-class parlor or (in smaller sizes) bedroom.  They had a greater radiating surface, a somewhat lower temperature for the exit flue (i.e. more heat was transferred into the room rather than lost up the chimney), and more controllability.  The air-tight's USP was that its simpler design -- one big firebox with well-fitting joints, rather than the columnar stove's leak-prone joints between the smaller firebox and the columns, the separate parts of which the columns were usually constructed, and the top box -- meant that it ought to be less leaky, so would burn cleaner and more slowly, with its speed of burning, heat output, and fuel economy regulated by a single air valve in the stove and perhaps a damper in the stovepipe.  Nine of the thirteen stove design patents in 1845 were for parlor stoves of one shape or another, all of them air-tights, none columnar.  As a relatively new but also simple stove type, where one was only distinguished from another by appearance, they were evidently much more suitable for makers to protect against imitation by taking out a design patent rather than by attempting to claim some sort of functional improvement, which was still common among cook stoves but not with these glorified boxes.  (Other parlor stove DPs in 1845: D27, D29, D32, D35, D39, D40, D41, D43, all of them viewable online.  One of them, John S. and Merritt Peckham or perhaps Erastus Dow Palmer's extraordinary D39, is the subject of this blog post.)

DP#42 was not Fulton's first patent, nor was it the only Rochester parlor stove design patented in 1845.  He had also registered a version of a common stove type, the "flat cook," in 1844 (#3626) -- Fulton's patentable improvements were in the plates at the back of the firebox, which experienced the heaviest wear.  He used experienced patent agents to help him secure this one, which emphasizes how different -- easier and cheaper to get -- design patents were. 

The only other Rochester parlor stove design patented before Fulton's was D35, the work of another of the four local stove pattern makers, Elijah P. Penniman.  The drawing is poorly reproduced on the Patent Office website, and the design looks lumpish and conventional.  Nor is there any mention of an assignment on the patent itself, often a feature of the more interesting and marketable designs.  

Fulton's next design patent came in 1846, and was for the decorated plates of a stove very much like the one whose workings he had improved in 1844.  D80 was very similar in pattern (e.g. the way in which the side plates bulged out at the top and bottom; see Fig. 2 below) to D42.  It was also assigned to John M. French, and witnessed by his partner Bottum and the County Judge.

The cook stove was the most important thing in most stove makers' product line -- it was their biggest seller -- so they usually chose it to illustrate their advertisements.  French certainly did so the following year, and the quality of the engraving in the city directory was much better reproduced than in the Patent Office version of Henry Searl's original 1/8 or 1/4 scale drawings.  An interesting feature of both images is that, like the one for D42, they leave the spaces for the maker's and stove's name on the firebox and oven doors blank, suggesting that the right to use this design was intended to be sold on by French to other makers, who would attach their own names to the stoves they made but could still use the same engraving block for their own advertisements.  

Turning to the stove itself, notice that the removable covers for the cooking holes in the top plate each have their own attached handle.  This way of making them was rapidly becoming old-fashioned, with newer stove lids having a cast-in socket taking a separate "lifter" and leaving the top of the stove much less obstructed than on stoves with this sort of lid.  Lids like these are often identified and sold nowadays as "light griddles."  The advertisement from one of French's competitors shows new-style stove lids on an otherwise very similar stove, though these seem to be even more sophisticated in that they consist of concentric rings fitting one inside another, and enabling the cook to vary the size of the opening to suit the pot s/he was using in or on the hole.

This stove's plates show Roswell Bush's 1847 Design Patent 147 in production.  I have not identified the accompanying invention patent yet.

Fulton's design-patenting career continued in 1849, with another cook stove for John M. French, D234.  The key difference between this and Fulton's earlier stoves was that this was for a large-oven stove, the type rapidly displacing the older, smaller, and less convenient flat cooks from the market.  Fulton's design is characteristically bold, and Searl's expert drawing of it enables us to appreciate the thinness of the castings and their elaborate decorative surfaces. 

Fulton's next design patent came in 1851, D406, and was once again for a large-oven cook stove.  The partnership between Fulton and Searl as his draughtsman and, by now, witness continued, but in this case the design had not been sold (assigned) before its patenting.  The decorative style -- basically floral -- was similar to the earlier design, but the stove body itself was simpler, the front projecting less and sides not bulging out at all.  Fulton called his design the "Davy Crocket," in tune with the growing tendency to give stove models names, sometimes reflected in the design and decoration, other times (as here) merely distinguishing labels.  In the early 1850s, with growing concern about the future of the Union, patriotic stove names were quite the fashion. 

Fulton's final patented stove design was in 1855.  This was for the side plate of what appears to have been a very fancy box stove, the "Pearl of Rochester," assigned to another local maker, Samuel McClure.  From 1845 until 1855, the whole duration of the Fulton-Searl partnership, they had produced a series of very distinctive, strongly modelled designs, imagined and carved by Fulton so that their origins in the woodworker's shop are never in any doubt, and drawn by Searl with great clarity and precision.

* * * 

Fulton never patented another design -- though how many less original and marketable ones he also produced through these years that he did not think worth attempting to protect in this way we will of course never know -- but his career of stove invention was not over.  Its final act came in 1869, with a patent for a grate for the sort of round-bodied anthracite heating stove (the "base burner") that was by then all the rage.  The purpose of Fulton's patent 89304 was to assist mechanically with the chores of cleaning out and maintaining a coal fire, by shaking and vibrating the grate and providing easy entry for a poker.  He "obviate[d] in great degree the clogging of the stove by clinkers," and also prevented the loss of unburnt coal into the ash pan, "even of the smaller sizes."  

Fulton's last patent was originally assigned to Norman H. Galusha, a Rochester stove maker (by this time French had gone bankrupt, and his old foundry had turned into a molder-owned producers' cooperative), and it must have proved to be both practical and valuable, because it was reissued by new owners John S. Perry and Grange Sard, Jr, proprietors of two of the largest stove foundries not just in Albany but the whole United States, in 1880, long after Fulton's death.  Reissuing was a process whereby the patent's duration could be extended and the claims it made could also be both clarified and stretched.  Perry and Sard spelled out the great advantage of Fulton's mechanical grate: "the fire-bed can be kept free of dead matter, and thus the fire be perpetuated indefinitely, without the necessity of dumping the grate.  The grate need be dumped only when, through carelessness or accident, the fire has gone out, or when, for other reasons, it becomes necessary to remove the contents of the fire-pot or fuel holder."  

Further research would be necessary to be 100% certain on this point, but it seems likely that Fulton's grate became one of the key patentable features of the base-burning heating stove, turning it into something that could be kept alight for days, weeks, or even months on end, with considerable savings of labor and fuel as well as increased comfort for the household.  Base burners were costly and profitable appliances, produced by many different makers, and set about with patents whose owners attempted to defend them in numerous exhausting and expensive patent suits.  A controlling patent like Fulton's was a useful weapon in these competitive wars -- a means of giving one's own stoves an advantage over rivals, but also something to trade with competitors, acquiring the right to use their inventions and patented features in return for making a similar concession to them.  It also had a value in limiting the ability of subsequent inventors to enter into the field it already occupied.  But the answers about whether or how Fulton's grate patent was actually employed in the battles of trade during the 1870s and 1880s could only be found by archival research in the Patent & Trademark Office's records, court records, and perhaps the trade press, if anywhere.  I am happy to leave them to another day, and even another researcher.

[Daniel G. Littlefield, inventor of the base-burning stove, or at least the man who made it practicable and profitable, narrated his career, explained the workings of his stoves and the improvements he made, and fulminated against some of his many infringers, in a number of self-published pamphlets which give a good flavour of the time: The Morning Glory: Origin of the Base-Burning Stove, and Its Mode of Operation Clearly Defined, by One Who Has Made them a Study for Fifteen Years (Albany, 1868);  1869 ed., where he said he had made them a study for "Many Years"; and Theory of the Base-Burning Stove and the Origin of the "Morning Glory" (Albany, 1870).  John S. Perry, originally Littlefield's collaborator and the assignee of his patents, was by 1870 his bitterest enemy, aiming to monopolize the business with, in his eyes, stolen intellectual property.  Their battles are recounted in Littlefield's publications and also in federal suits -- a battle royal in the Supreme Court, Littlefield v. Perry, 88 U.S. 205 (1874); and a subsequent round in the U.S. Circuit Court for the Northern District of New York, Perry v. Littlefield et al., Federal Case No. 11,008 (1879).]


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