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Iron Out Your Differences

Fluting Iron with heatable platen on footed base

The fact that I am both an antiques collector and seller is evident in the level of interest I have in a great variety of objects we discuss. The reality is when an antique sells, the temptation is always to find more pieces in the same category. Often this works, but on occasion the rush to buy leaves you with unsold stock. Many moons ago, I purchased a brass sad iron in England and have had the luck to find a few more over the years. Not as rare, but still quite collectible, are the antique cast iron sad irons from around the turn of the century. As with all antiques, the more unusual the better. Many bear the manufacturer’s name and city, and some have patent dates which helps to confirm age. I have had several from my collection purchased and sent back to their home city.

While the materials used were brass in England and cast iron in America and Germany, many functions, styles and methods of heating the irons add up to a great many variations for the collector to seek out.

Gas-heated sad iron

My most recent purchase was this Regal Gas Iron, made by Enterprise Tool and Metal Works of Chicago and having a patent date of October 27, 1914. This gas-heated unit contains a feed tube and shutoff valve at back and wood handle at top. The ironing bottom surface is highly polished. It is the first gas-heated unit I have had, and I presume it posed a danger of fire when used. The iron is also heavy and would have been a chore to use for any length of time.

Coal-heated sad iron

Another method of heating included the hot coals type. The top would open and hot coals were placed inside. Both U.S. and German versions have crossed my desk, and shipped to new owners. The German version had a figured latch to hold the top closed. I suggest a very close inspection of this style, as I believe a reproduction was made with a bird on the latch. Since selling ours, I have recently seen several in the same mall with different figures at the lock.

Antique English brass sad iron with slug

The third style has a trap door at back. It has a cast iron “slug” with a pointed front that fits inside the hollow body and heated on a stove or in the fireplace. This was the common method used on the brass irons from England. Because the brass could be polished to a high luster, collectors are very fond of adding this style to their collection. If it’s for your own collection, the cast iron slug might not be important, but it will add to the value on resale.

Some irons have removable bottoms that could be detached from the handle and heated on a range or stove. The handles were attached by several different methods. If you are antique shopping, you will see many of the base units and few with handles. Often signed with a manufacturer’s name, the bottoms are common but still collectible on their own.

One style of iron that has drawn my attention in recent years is the fluting iron used for pleating cloth items. I have sold several styles of pleating irons all with the same function, but with different methods of creating the pleat. Using a grooved platen, the hinged top section presses the cloth with its tooth pattern in the most common style. Others incorporate a roller and anvil that would allow long-length pressing.

Polishing iron

My last item to present is called a polishing iron. It’s bottom is radiused and polished and what it was used for is still in debate, but I’m siding with pressing leather. What is your thought?


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Ginger I have a Black Fluting Iron with three heatable Platens...I also have a pint bottle of whiskey that was boittled back in proibition with the metal cap band...looking for a buyer April 24th, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Keith Regarding your comment that a gas iron would pose a risk of fire...to our modern eyes such a device would be unthinkable. To people a century ago, people were used to having fire in the home in a way we are not. And they were far more aware of the dangers of an open flame than we are. As such, they treated any device with a flame carefully and respectfully. A gas fired iron would be much easier to use than an iron that had to be continually heated on a stove. And on a hot July Tuesday a gas iron would be much cooler than keeping the laundry stove fired! And one more thing...your collection is beautiful, thanks for the pictures and text. May 11th, 2013 at 7:29 AM

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