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Dashing Away with the smoothing iron

10th May 2021 @ 9:09am – by Margaret Dixon
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Whilst doing the ironing recently using my streamlined purple and black steam iron with cosy grip handle I was reminded of my old iron collection. I have always been interested in historic household artefacts and have had collections of sewing machines, whisks, thimbles and possers. I always fancied a mangle in the back garden but never achieved that wish.

A holiday in France in 1976 was the start of the iron collection. A closed and rather posh shop in Rouen had a lovely box iron that I admired. Later in the holiday whilst visiting a brocante fair in Sommiers an iron like it was seen and bought. It was probably Spanish and had attractive proportions. That was the start. Every holiday, weekend away and day out resulted in looking in junk shops, antique fairs and markets. They came from far and wide, England, Scotland and Wales as well as France, Spain Ibiza and Cyprus. Many, especially gas ones came from Paddy's market in Liverpool. They mounted up to almost 60 in number and were displayed all around the house on window sills, stair treads (health and safety!!) and under stairs. Some were used as door stops.

In August 1994 as part of a People's Show festival the Grosvenor Museum in Chester had a collector's exhibition and some were taken there for display.

As well as coming in all shapes and sizes from delicate lace irons and travelling irons to Tailor's irons and ones used for the baize on billiard tables they use different fuels for heating. Flat irons need a heat source like a fire, gas ring or oven. In large houses with a laundry there would be an ornate cast iron gas fed stand which held lots of flat irons in different weights and shapes. Box irons needed embers or charcoal in the space provided. The travelling one that I still have has a metal slug inside to heat up. There were also alcohol, petrol or spirit irons with a bulbous area at the back for the fuel. Some travelling irons were heated by small blocks of solid methylated spirit, called Meta fuel. Gas irons became popular in the growing cities and electric became the norm from around 1920.

It has always been difficult to date irons as they changed little over the decades. Here in Cheshire they were equipping the Domestic Science rooms in new schools with flat irons as late as 1957 -1960. I don't think many were used and they remained in storage in corrugated card.

By about 2006 the irons were becoming a storage problem and they were awful dust collectors. I had also acquired several trivets so space was becoming short. They were boxed and stored in the garage. Some favourites and smaller examples remained on display. In 2012 I tried to find good homes for them but neither the museums I approached nor The National Trust properties were interested so after friends and family took some the 26 remaining irons and 5 trivets were given to the antique centre in Tarporley.

Ed: Does anyone else have an interesting collection they would like to share?

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