Heated irons first used in 16th century


Permanent-press fabrics have relieved most households of the need to iron clothing. In past centuries, ironing was an almost daily duty of a woman in the home.

Before about the 10th century, cloth was ironed with smooth wooden or glass pieces and a pounding stick. Heat was not used until the 16th century in Europe. By then, pressing irons were metal pans with long handles. A piece of charcoal was put in the pan to heat the bottom, and the heated pan was rubbed over the cloth.

This crude iron was gradually improved. Charcoal was replaced by a heated iron rod to avoid the charcoal ashes that sometimes fell on the cloth.

Next came special box irons with handles and pointed fronts. They were shaped like the electric and steam irons used today. Soon a solid piece of iron, also in today's familiar shape, was made to put on the stove to heat, then quickly used to heat and smooth cloth. By the turn of the 20th century, irons were heated by liquid gas, alcohol, gasoline or electricity. Unfortunately, some of the liquid-fueled irons blew up.

The electric iron was patented in 1882, but few homes had electricity back then. So the electric iron was not in general use until about 1915. Since then, irons have been improved with the addition of thermostats that control heat and steam. Some even became cordless and could fold up to go with travelers.

All types of old ironing sticks, mangling boards and irons are collected today. Nineteenth- and unusual 20th-century examples sell for hundreds of dollars. In the 1950s, an early Chinese iron that looks like a small, ornate cooking pot with a handle was copied and used as a portable ashtray. These mid-20th-century copies sell for about $30 today. A genuine antique Chinese iron is worth hundreds of dollars.

Q: Recently I purchased five matching maple side chairs with "Mottville, N.Y." stamped on the back of the top slat of each chair. Two of the chairs are stamped "F. Sinclair" under "Mottville," while the other three are stamped "Union Chair Works." I've cleaned up the chairs and given them new woven seats. Please tell me the approximate age and value of the chairs, and explain the different marks.

A: The Union Chair Works factory was built in Mottville, near Skaneateles, N.Y., in 1866, although some records say the founding of the company dates back to 1859. The company's owners, Joseph Hubbard and Francis A. Sinclair, advertised their furniture under the brand name "Common Sense" and eventually made chairs, rockers, tables and settees. The company operated at least into the 1880s, and perhaps into the early 1900s.

If all you had to do to get the chairs into tiptop shape was clean them and replace the woven seats, the set could sell for more than $500.

Terry Kovel's column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

 

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