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Friday, June 13, 2014

Shaker Stoves on US Auction Sites (upd. 23 June 2014)

When I began the work that led, first of all to my blog post on "Shaker Stoves" last October, and then to the online essay of the same name that it grew into between mid-January and March, I explored auction sites as well as museums' online holdings, because antique dealers often have museum-quality objects passing through their hands, and sometimes they also illustrate and describe them more fully than museums do. I was not disappointed: it turned out that the range of Shaker and "Shaker" stoves recorded in online auction catalogues was actually wider than most museums hold.

What I will do with the following items is to organize them by stove type -- both those commonly attributed to the Shakers (I would argue, incorrectly), and those where the attribution is much safer.  At the moment, this is just a pile of references, more or less as found.


Box Stoves

There are two kinds of box stove commonly described as "Shaker," but for what seem to me to be no very good reasons.  They are: 

(a) Stoves with rounded sides to the box.

(b) Stoves with straight-sided boxes, but the joint between the sides and the top is decorated with a fluted or reeded pattern typical of Federal Era design.

Type A:

19th c. Shaker cast iron stove. 34" x 12' x 22". Copake Auctions Inc., sold for $275 1 Jan. 2014. 

This is a good example of the most primitive kind of New England box stove.  It has most of the features of a classic Shaker stove -- it is made of just two main castings, the box and the base; the stove door has a small draft-control hatch in it; the base has a raised rim, to help locate the box securely on it, and to keep ashes, glowing coals, etc. from falling off the front apron; and it sits on plain, simple wrought-iron legs with penny feet.  Its distinctive feature is its shape -- which suggests that the box was cast without a complete pattern, relying instead on the molder's skill with shovel and trowel in cutting the mold out of the sand or dirt floor of his small country furnace.  One board, whose imprint can just be seen, would have formed the bottom of the mold, i.e. the top of the stove (because the box would have been cast upside down).

This picture shows the mark (and thickness) of the plank used to make the bottom of the mold, and also the thickness of the metal, at least where one can see it in the pipe collar. One can also see the roughness of surface finish, from bits of dirt washed into the casting with the molten iron, or gas explosions when white-hot metal met damp sand.  The arc of a molder's final trowel mark is also quite clear.

This rear view shows the stove's profile -- probably established with the aid of a template this shape, run along the surface of the plank at the bottom of the mold to help the molder know when he had cut, rammed, and troweled his sand just enough.

This front view shows the door to be a rough piece of cast iron, with wrought-iron hinges and draught hatch.  On later stoves there would also be an extension of the rim from each side as far as the door, to hold the box more securely and improve the air-tightness of the gap between box and base.

 The handle to the door latch is the only decorative feature of this very utilitarian object.

The feet, too, are quite elegant as well as functional, wrought iron, riveted to the base, and show how much easier it was to get good quality blacksmiths' work than castings in the New England back country, probably some time in the very late C18th.

The roughness of the underside of the base results from its method of molding -- "puddle casting," using a single-sided wooden pattern pressed into the sand or dirt floor of the furnace or foundry.  The result was a shallow depression which the molder then filled with liquid iron.  The underside of the base was the top of the puddle.

The top side of the base is somewhat smoother and cleaner, because the molten iron would have been solidifying against a surface of hard-rammed sand.  After a couple of centuries it's understandable that the base has cracked, but it's possible that the defect has been there all or most of that time.

This is the best example of a "Type A" box stove that I have found, with helpful, high-quality images.  Another, from Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, Delaware, OH, also has multiple images, but they are not worth reproducing here -- the resolution is not good enough, and they seem to add little to the above; but one of them is included in the final section of this post, and the last link takes you to all of them.

Type B:

Here, too, the best example is from Copake Auctions, Inc.

19th c. Shaker cast iron stove. Missing door. 24" x 12" x 20". $80, 1 Jan. 2014.  

The principal obvious differences between this and the Type A box stove are that:

  • The box is straight-sided -- a trapezoid, surmounted by a shallow truncated pyramidal top with rounded sides and a reeded or fluted decoration typical of Federa Period design and taste, c. 1790-1820.
  • The legs are cast iron, not wrought, and are the cabriole shape most common in 18th and early-19th century American wooden furniture.
The less obvious differences are that:
  • The rim on the base has short return sections at the front, to locate the box more securely and improve air-tightness.
  • The shape of the box, and the detailing on the underside of the base (see below), make it clear that the stove was molded using complete wooden patterns forming the inside and outside of the box, and the upper and lower surfaces of the base.  The former was probably still cast in the furnace or foundry floor (using the technique later known as "bedding in"); the latter in a two-part box (a "flask") sitting on the foundry floor.

This fine image shows: 

  • the box's truncated-pyramid-on-trapezoid profile;
  • the elegant reeded or fluted design to soften the sides of the truncated pyramid (cf. some later Shaker stoves, where this is plain and flat);
  • the way that the door, too, is a trapezoid rather than (as in the earlier stove) a rectangle, its sides parallel with the sides of the box, its top corners rounded to echo the top of the stove and, perhaps not incidentally, to make them easier to cast;
  • the skill with which the hinge-pins and latch-plate are cast into the box (i.e. cut out of the sand of the mold);
  • the short returns on the rim of the base plate to hold the box in place.

What we can see here is the thickness of the metal, at least at the pipe collar -- less than in the earlier stove, i.e. a lighter and, at least in material costs, probably cheaper, product.  

The underside of the base shows the cleats into which the cast-iron feet are fixed.  These would have to have been cast into the base when it was made, which is what tells me that this was flask-cast, with a two-sided pattern.

The final image in this excellent set reinforces the above point, showing the cleats as integral with the base. 

The best example in a museum collection seems to be one at Old Sturbridge Village I have only found one other Type B box stove in antique dealers' online inventories, and it is quite bizarre:

Shaker Wood and Coal Box Stove - BX1059, Good Time Stove Co., Goshen, MA

The image is not very good, but one can see:

  • the fluting at the junction between the top and sides of the stove is chunkier, less fine, than on the Copake box, or OSV's for that matter;
  • the door appears to be either a casting, with some (floral?) surface decoration, or perhaps a wrought-iron panel; 
  • there is a shallow recess in the front hearth.  This may have been an early version of the "box hearth," c. 1820-, which provided a convenient place into which to rake ashes for cleaning, or it may have been for a sliding-plate draught control (there is no small draught hatch in the door);
  • the lion feet have almost certainly been added later, probably to replace a breakage -- chosen not because they look right, but because they fitted the cleats in the base.
This stove has some features (the door, the recess in the hearth plate) similar to one in the collections of the Litchfield County Historical Society, in Connecticut.  That stove is said to have been designed by the Reverend Dr Eliphalet Nott, President of Union College, Schenectady, and one of the most important, as well as prolific, stove inventors of the 1820s and 1830s.  See Josephine H. Peirce, Fire on the Hearth: The Evolution and Romance of the Heating Stove (Springfield, MA: Pond-Ekberg Co., 1951), p. 99.

Postscript: I had doubted whether these were properly "Shaker" stoves, partly following Old Sturbridge Village's expert reservations, but mostly because (a) stoves like this do not seem to turn up in Shaker villages and museum collections, and (b) their decorative style is not Shaker.  But there is at least one exception: the old Trustees' Building from the Groveland community in western New York State, built in 1837 and moved to the Genesee Country Village and Museum near Rochester.  This contains a reconstructed or perhaps reimagined Shaker "store," "based on illustrations accompanying 19th-century magazine articles about the Shakers."  One of its central features is a fine Type B box, while a work room in the same building has a good classic trapezoid.  I doubt that these can have survived at Groveland in the ninety years between its closure and the relocation of this building to the Genesee Country Village, so I assume that the museum curators will have had to fit it out from antique stores.  But I will ask.


There are so many of these, and most of them are so similar, that it's really only worth including the better or more interesting pictures, particularly of what are probably early stoves.  As with the above non-Shaker box stoves, "earliness" has to be inferred -- from comparative crudity of design or manufacture, or in Shaker stoves' case from their apparent distance from the canonical type -- because it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to be certain when or where any particular stove was made.

Near Pair of Shaker Cast Iron Wood Stoves with Footed Bases, approx. body ht. 20 1/2, wd. 20 3/4, dp. 13 1/2 in., Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers, Massachusetts, Sold 22 July 2010, $300 --

What makes these stoves "early"?
  • They are iron fireplaces, not stoves -- broader than they are deep, taking a log sideways rather than front-to-back.
  • They do not have side-hung doors, but instead top-hung, wrought-iron "blowers." These were designed to be propped open, allowing a sight of the fire most of the time, and only closed to encourage a fire to kindle or burn hotter.
  • They have the truncated-pyramid-on-trapezoid design that makes them look transitional between the Type A and Type B box.
They are, in effect, New England country versions of Franklin stoves.  They are probably from Hancock, Massachusetts, because (a) there is a very similar surviving example in the Ministry Wash House at Hancock, and (b) the five-sided front hearth is a distinctive Hancock feature, seen in other early stoves.  Another early Hancock stove shows the same shape:

Shaker Cast Iron Wood Burning Stove, Hancock, Massachusetts, c.1800, raised on wrought iron legs with penny feet, with angled sheet iron flue pipe and five sided hearth extension, (rusty surface, some pitting), ht. to top of stove 24 3/4, wd. 12 3/4, 30 1/2 in., flue pipe ht. 18 3/4 in. Sold for: $470, 31 Oct. 2003. 

This is similar, except for the front hearth, to another recently sold.

Hap Moore Antiques Auctions, P.O. Box 16, 611 U.S. Route One - York, Maine 03909, Auction of Estate Antiques, Saturday June 22, 2013 -- catalogue,, image

What makes me think of these two examples as "early"?  They have all of the features of the classic Shaker stove -- a pure trapezoid box, a draught hatch in the door -- and also the elegant wrought iron legs with penny feet that Shaker blacksmiths produced before their molders (either working in the few Shaker furnaces and foundries, or making stoves to Shakers' designs in nearby commercial foundries) developed the art of jointing cast-iron legs to the base of the stoves.  But their proportions are unusual -- much higher than later Shaker boxes, and probably top-heavy and therefore less safe against accident, suggesting that these survivors are from a period when Shaker designers were still reaching toward the designs with which they would stick.

Interestingly there are (or at least in the mid-1930s there still were) two stoves like these, with the "Hancock" front hearth, in an old meeting house in the North-East.  Probably to secure them against the risk of being knocked over, they were by then supported with a later steel prop, tray, and jacket:

Stove, Society of Friends Meetinghouse, Northern Boulevard, Flushing, Queens County, NY. Historic American Buildings Survey Reproduction Number HABS NY,41-FLUSH,1--20, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The curious thing about these stoves, which look like classic early Shaker stoves of the Hancock style, is that were found in a Quaker meeting house in Flushing, Long Island, 150 miles south.  Why, and how and when did they get there?  At the moment, that is a mystery to me, but I hope that some member of New York Yearly Meeting may be able to help solve it.

Group of Shaker Cast Iron Wood Stove Parts, including three small box tops and bases, a box stove with base, and a box top, etc.. Skinner. Sold 22 July 2010, $225.

The old stove in the bottom right has a truncated-pyramid-on-trapezoid shape, like the early Hancock iron fireplaces, and Type B non-Shaker box stoves; while the classic Shaker stove in the top left has the same kind of cast cabriole legs as in the Copake Type B, which might of course be no more original than the lion feet on the Good Time Stove Co.'s Type B box. 

The stove in the bottom right looks almost identical to one in the New Hampshire Historical Society Museum, which came from the Enfield community in the north of the state.  Enfield never had its own furnace or foundry, and sourced its stoves from firms in the Vermont iron district instead.  This may explain why it retained the older shape while Hancock and other communities to the south were simplifying it by eliminating the truncated pyramidal top.

After these examples, all that we have left are different versions of classic trapezoid Shaker stoves.  It is probably best to start with the finest, or at least most expensive, examples:

Fine Shaker Stove.  A superior example with hand wrought features. Having a cast fire box, plate, door and legs (the legs attach to the plate by means of sliding tapered dovetails and the corresponding cast attachment points on the underside of the plate), which are fitted with wrought latch, keeper, tool hanger and handled draft plate. In excellent structural (usable), condition. Knob is either original or an early replacement. Probably Hancock Bishopric. Circa 1830. H. 19 1/4", l. 33", w. 13 1/2". Price: $4,800.  John Keith Russell Antiques, South Salem, NY.

This really is an almost perfect example, with interesting features, notably the draft plate, of a simple but elegant design I have never seen elsewhere, and the way that the cast-iron peg legs are attached to the quite smooth, only slightly pitted, base, which is similar to the dovetail joints on the Copake Type B stove.  The dealers included one further detail in the names of the online images though not in the printed description: Tyringham, the smallest of the four communities in the Hancock bishopric in Massachusetts, which certainly did have a furnace in the 1810s but not by the 1830s.  The simple draft plate in any case argues for an early date, before a hinged and even sprung draft hatch became standard.

$4,800 was the asking price for that stove when I first looked at it in April, but now that it has sold the dealer does not advertise how much it actually realized.  However, the following stove realized $4,130 last September, against a pre-sale estimate of $2,000–$3,000, at the annual Willis Henry Auctions Shaker sale, the greatest event in the year for dealers in and collectors of Shaker artefacts.  The sale took place at Hancock Shaker Village, and the stove had perfect provenance -- it was bought for $35 from the Hancock Shakers in 1948 by Gerald McCue, one of the leading collectors of his generation.  It was chosen by Edward D. and Faith Andrews, the go-to experts on things Shaker from the 1920s until at least the 1970s, as one of the illustrations in their Religion in Wood (1971), p. 73; and it was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1964.  A stove with a better pedigree could scarcely be imagined.

Wood Stove. Cast iron, rectangular fire box, 23 1/4″ to 24 1/4″ width tapers to 9 1/2″ to 11″ at base, hinged door, cast iron latch with turned wood handle, four penny foot legged base with semicircular lipped front, on a rectangular sheet metal and wood base board, 26″ x 13 1/2."

A close-up of the front shows the quality and finish of this classic stove -- note the bevelled edges of the tight-fitting door and the chamfered ends of the short returns on the rim around the base plate, and the neat hinged draft plate, with a small eye enabling it to be opened and closed with a hook on the end of the poker.

Of the many other Shaker heating stoves in antique dealers' online inventories, the best and most important are two versions of the "super-heater" or "double-decker," a standard stove with an additional (removable) heating chamber above the main body.  These were a distinctive Shaker type, but no different in principle from many other stoves made at the time, which also had chambers in which the products of combustion were supposed to circulate on their way to the flue in order to transfer more of their heat (then thought of as a substance, "caloric") into the room.

SHAKER AUCTION 2003 / Online Catalog / Page 10: Lot 180: Stove, very rare cast iron super heater, with attached iron tool holder at top rear, original turned knob on door, four iron peg legs, originally purchased from Mt. Lebanon in the 1930's by the Duncan Family of Oneonta, New York, 27" h, 33 1/2" l, 14 1/4" d. $2,587.50

The Good Time Stove Co. has also sold a super-heater without its heating chamber (the image of stove parts sold by Skinner, above, includes three boxes and bases for heating chambers, enabling us to see their construction, and also the main box of a stove like the following).  There is a great deal of variation among Shaker stoves, because they were made in small batches for eighteen communities spread across a thousand miles of the American back country between the 1790s and the mid-19th century.  But the Skinner, Willis Henry, and Good Time Stove Co. super-heaters demonstrate that, by the time these were made, Shaker molders (or molders at foundries producing stoves to Shaker-made patterns) had standardized the design and perfected the art of repetition production.

Shaker Wood and Coal Antique Box Stove - BX1526A.  Dimensions -- Overall: 14"W x 34"D / Footprint: 10.5"W x 21"D / Height to Cook Top: 18"H / Height to Top of stove: 18"H / Stick of Wood 21".  This box stove is classic Shaker craftsmanship. It is very simple in its design and unadorned in its style. Four slender legs hold up the good-szed body. A large front loading door provides ample space for loading wood and cleaning out ashes. The curved smooth hearth compliments the smooth, plain cast iron body. This antique stove is a wonderful piece of early American history.

This stove still has its wrought iron spring, to keep the draught hatch closed.

The side view shows (a) the smoothness of the casting, except for some pitting, and (b) the sheet-iron "funnel" connecting the rectangular opening at the top of the stove to a round chimney pipe when the top box was not in place.  The old stove in the Hancock Ministers Wash House, and the two sold by Skinner, have the same kind of funnel -- there was not room on the top of those stoves for the usual circular smoke-pipe collar. 


Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers

Near Pair of Shaker Cast Iron Box Wood Stoves, (one with top crack), approx. lg. 29 in. Skinner. Sold 22 July 2010, $300.

Small Shaker Black Painted Cast Iron Wood Stove. Skinner. 29 Oct. 2004 $100.

Shaker Cast and Wrought Iron Wood Stove, made by blacksmith William Senseny, Hancock, Massachusetts, rectangular form with canted sides, hinged door with wrought iron latch, raised on tapered legs with penny feet, (replaced leg, one leg loose), 19 7/8 x 13 1/4 x 32 7/8 in. Sold for: $441, 31 Oct. 2003. 

Shaker Cast Iron Stove, approx. ht. 19 1/4, lg. 33, wd. 13 1/2 in. Sold for $770, 11 Aug. 2012.

Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, Delaware, OH. 

CAST IRON STOVE. Shaker. Tapered rounded sides. Hinged door with wrought iron latch and damper. Four tapered legs with larger penny feet. Expected pitting. Surface rust and small crack in galley base. 34"w. 12"d. 20"h. Ex. Clark Garrett. Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, Delaware, OH. 22 April 2006, $325. Multiple images.

SMALL THREE-PIECE IRON STOVE. Attributed to the Shakers. High cast iron tapered legs. Top is formed with tapered sides and the base is sheet steel with an applied gallery. Cast iron door with a wrought latch and damper. 28"l. 13"d. 17 1/4"h. Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, Delaware, OH. 4 Jan. 2003.

Pook & Pook, Inc., Downingtown, PA

Shaker cast iron stove, 19th c., 19'' h., 36'' w., Pook & Pook, Inc., Downingtown, PA, Sold 9 Sept. 2010 $275 --

Rich Penn Auctions, Waterloo, IA

Shaker heating stove from Mt. Lebanon, O., cast iron w/tapered legs, c.1870's, a great old Shaker stove of nice size in VG original condition, 25"H x 35"L x 15"D. Rich Penn Auctions, Waterloo, IA, 4 Nov. 2006, $250.


Shaker Auction 29 May 2011, Concord, NH

Lot 25. WOOD BOX. Pine, original ochre stained finish, single board beveled lid, two tiger maple chamfered battens under lid, (originally had tool bracket hangers on the sides), two-section interior for kindling and logs, finely dovetailed case, bevel molded bottom, (Note: newspaper lined bottom "Christian Endeavor World, May 22, 1930"), 25" h, 26" l, 16" d, (ex. J.J. Gerald McCue collection). Est. $1,500-$2,500, realized $3,861.

Lot 141. KINDLING BOX. Poplar, oak with maple handle, original varnish finish, rectangular form, secured with "L" shaped steel brackets, signed in pencil script next to the handle "Brethren Lewis...2 N House", New Lebanon, NY, c. 1840, pictured inInspired Innovation, Steve Miller, p. 179, 17 1/2" h to top of handle, 18" l, 11 1/2" w, (sold WHA, Kingston, MA, 1983). $700-$900.

Lot 185. STOVE. Cast iron, removable peg legs, circular front ash shelf, hinged door with curled pigtail latch, small damper missing, Harvard, MA, c.1830, (Note: stove pipe included, 46" l), 18" h, 36" l, 12" w. $300-$500. 

Lot 250. WOOD BOX. Pine, original putty gray painted finish, two-section interior for kindling and logs for a stove, raised rounded backboard, dovetailed construction, turned feet, Enfield, NH, c. 1840, 26" h, 32" w, 19" d, (Bucklin collection). $400-$600.

Shaker Auction 3 Oct. 2009, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA,

Lot 98. WOOD STOVE. Cast iron, finely cast door with original turned maple handle, small ash door with hand-forged latch, penny feet, c. 1830-1840, 17" h, 36" l, 12" w, (includes Shaker cast iron damper, 4 1/2" dia). $800-$1200

Lot 62. STOVE TOOLS. Hand-forged steel shovel and tongs, and the forged steel tool holder for hanging the tools from a wood box, mid 19th c., purchased from the Shakers, 20" l. $400-$800.

Lot 100. WOOD BOX. Pine, original mustard yellow painted finish, (an outer coat of white was removed), breadboard hinged lid, dovetailed case, all on turned maple legs, Sabbathday Lake, ME, c. 1840, shows a shadow for a cast iron tool holder on right side, used for storing wood for cast iron Shaker stoves, 31" h, 26" w, 20" d. $3000-$5000

Summer Shaker Auction 30 July 2006, Pittsfield, MA 

109. STOVE Cast iron, super heater, lipped front and canted sides, forged iron curlicue door latch, four peg feet, excellent condition, Watervliet, NY, c. 1830, 23" h, 30" l, 12" w; and a small Shaker flat iron, (Rev. Thomas Phelan collection). $900. and 

145. STOVE Cast iron, canted sides, lipped base, on four peg legs, original door with turned round cherry handle, Watervliet, NY, c. 1830-1840, 20" h, 29" l, 12 1/2" w, (Ed Clerk collection). $1,200

146. KINDLING BOX Pine, original dark cranberry red painted finish, cast iron and turned birch handle attached with iron diamond-shaped bail plates, c. 1840-1850, 20" h to top of handle, 20" l, 14" w. $1,000

155. STOVE Cast iron, turned wood knob on door, lipped front, stepped down back, four dovetailed legs, numbered, excellent condition, New Lebanon, NY, c. 1830-1840, 17" h, 29 1/2" l, 13 1/2" w (at lip). $1,600. ttp://

224. STOVE Cast iron, rectangular form, straight sides, removable peg legs, large extended circular front with lip, from a Shaker home in Harvard, MA, 18 1/2" h, 36" l, 16 1/4" w. N.S. 


  1. I discovered your blog only yesterday while trying to learn something, anything, about ELY & RAMSAY.
    You have a terrific writing style, in content and manner. Please keep it up!!

  2. Love this blog.
    Do you have a person/resource to help date a stove I bought?
    Can send a pic.

  3. oops, forgot my email and cel:


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