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Fireplace Equipment

A History of Fireplace Accessories - Antiques

antique fireplace tools at auction.

Antique andirons and fireplace tools survive in some quantity, but hard use has often taken its toll and they may be more decorative than useful today.

Click here to see current antique fireplace tool set pricing on Ebay >>

As late as 1833 an English writer noted that "as an article of manufacture, andirons are little known in England [but are] made at Birmingham for exportation; in the United States they constitute a considerable item in traffic with the various parts of America, where wood is the only fuel of the inhabitants."

In more urban locales coal began to emerge as a fuel by the end of the eighteenth century In 1790 Alexander Hamilton observed that "fossil an article of household an interesting production; the utility of which must increase in proportion to the decrease of wood."

And in 1845 Thomas Webster's Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy confirmed that "the grate has become an essential part of our chimney fireplaces, since coal has been the general fuel."

Brass Fireplace Tools
As Donald L. Fennimore relates in Metalwork in Early America: Copper and Its Allays from the Winterthur Collection (Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, 1996), when the American colonies were first settled, Bristol and London were the centers of brass manufacturing, where the work was done by Dutch craftsmen who were brought over from the Continent By the mideighteenth century, the inland city of Birmingham had established a reputation for high-quality brass foundries. Thanks to its excellent canal system, the finished products could be shipped inexpensively Americans were ready consumers: in 1700 about 28 tons of brass manufactured goods were shipped here from England. By 1760 the total had grown to 227 tons, and by 1795 to 312 tons. Raw materials were also exported so that in the eighteenth century American metalsmiths were able to produce brass products locally although not always at a cost that could compete with the English manufactures.

The American craftsmen, located in coast al cities and inland, fashioned utensils that, unless marked, are virtually indistinguishable from their counterparts in England. The advertisements of American brass workers frequently boast that their goods are the equal of or superior to British goods.

Reproductions, Adaptations and Commemorative Fireplace Equipment

Virginia Metalcrafters in Waynesboro, Virginia, was founded in 1890 and as early as 1951 established its first liaison with a museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, to make reproductions of objects in its collections. Today the firm (which has gone through a number of incarnations and ownerships) has established relationships with ten other institutions as well: the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia; Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts; Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut; Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Virginia; Old Salem and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Historic Charleston Foundation in Charleston, South Carolina; Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library in Winterthur, Delaware; and the Newport Preservation Society in Newport, Rhode Island.

Virginia Metalcrafters has three categories of products produced by agreement with these institutions: reproductions, which are entirely faithful to the originals; adaptations, which are inspired by originals; and commemorative pieces, which make no attempt to duplicate antique examples. Part of the proceeds from each sale is returned to the museum that owns the original. The company's fireplace accessories are hand cast and finished, and therefore traditional methods are used to manufacture them. Among the offerings are andirons, damper hooks, fenders, firebacks, fire-tool sets, and screens. The firm, which issues catalogues and maintains a Web site (, may be contacted at 800-368-1002.

By Allison Ledes
COPYRIGHT 2000 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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