HVVA NEWSLETTER, May 2004, Part Two
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HVVA Newsletters

From the Editor Continued:

It is my thought that the jamb stove was introduced to the Mid Hudson region by the French Huguenot families who came to the Esopus in the 1670's.

They had fled France for the Palatine area of Germany, where they stayed many years. They could have afforded stoves and the early houses in their settlement at New Paltz contain a number of jamb stove plates reused as firebacks, There is also evidence of the use of 5-plate stoves in some of the fireplaces and stone work.

The jamb stove works in conjunction with an open hearth or fireplace. The stove is built into the stone wall of the room (the stube) that is situated behind or adjoining the kitchen fireplace. The interior of the stove is only accessible through an opening in the back wall, or side jamb, of the fireplace, The stove has neither independent flue nor pipe, It has no door or oven. It is a closed metal box that heats the room with hot coals that are taken from the hearth and placed in the stove through the small opening in thc stone wall.

Since the 16th century the plates of German jamb stoves have been elaborately decorated, usually with biblical scenes. They were the work of the mold carver who cut the wood patterns from which the sand molds were made and into which the molten metal was pored to cast the plates. This form of mass produced art, like the publishing of books and prints at that time, saw its full flowering during the mid 16th century with masterpieces of composition and allegory like "The Rich Man and Lazarus" plate in Belgium, works that rivaled the engravings of Durer but are less well known today.

By the 17th century the subjects and compositions on stove plates had become more established. "The Miracle at Cana" and "The Miracle of the Oil" became popular subjects for the mold carvers. The Old Testament miracle was normally placed on the side plates and the New Testament miracle on the end plate.

By the 18th century some German plates begin to show a folk or naive depiction of the figures and the illusion of space. This development can be followed further in the American plates of the 1720's to the 1750's that abandon relief for silhouette and finally, by the 1760's, abandon images for geometric patterns and symbols. Many of the stove plates were dated by the mold carvers which is helpful in tracing the development of the form. The Yates plate has no date but stylistically it fits with the German plates of the late 17th and early 18th century.

At some time in the early 18th century there was a design change made in the construction of the 5-plate stove. The original European model used separate rims with bolts. The new design used an attached rim. This may have involved a new casting technique as the back of the plate was no longer flat. The improved design used fewer parts and only one bolt and one wing nut. The old style plates, like the one from the Van Leuren stove (Illustration 3), can be identified by the two notches on the edges where the front and side plates meet. It had been thought for some time that the new style stove was an American development and distinguishes German from American. It would be a good example of how traditional design changes when it is relocated but there is some doubt about the origins of the new style jamb stove.

One interesting stove that might help answer the question of where and when the new style jamb stove developed is the Thayer stove in Sheffield, Massachusetts, owned by Robert Thayer, an antique dealer (Illustrations 4, 5, and 7). This stove is a unique reconfiguration of three cast iron plates from two Jamb stoves that have been riveted together with sheet metal to form an iron box 31"x31" by 29" high. One side had full double doors, now missing. The box has no other opening than the double doors and its use remains a mystery.

The stove was recovered from a lake in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and was said to have been used in the upper floor of a carding mill before the building collapsed into the water. There is evidence in the repair of one plate that they were used in stoves before being reconfigured but their undamaged surfaces are extraordinary. Most stove plates that have survived recycling were used face down as steps or most commonly as firebacks to protect the masonry of the fireplace and so most are eroded and broken.

Two of the three figured plates of the Thayer stove seem to be the side and front plate of a 5-plate stove dated 1694. They have the typical Old and New Testament subjects done in a very sophisticated style. Many of the decorative features of the Thayer plates match the Yates plate. Thc two stoves were different in proportion which may account for the Yates Cana being on the side whereas Thayer and Van Leuren plates have it on the end.

On first seeing the Yates plate (Illustration 1. and 2.) I guessed it was German by its style but it bothered me that, despite the missing section on the upper right, it did not seem to have had notches like the Van Leuren plate (Illustration 3). I assumed the two 1694 Thayer plates (Illustrations 4 and 5) must also have these notches but they were hidden under the sheet metal in the reconfiguration.

Judging by style, the second end plate of the Thayer stove (illustration 7) with the single female figure is German, but it is a. new style end plate with attached gutters, a style thought to be American. Was this plate cast in Germany or was the mold board brought to America and cast here? There appears to be a connection in subject between the Thayer end plate and two end plates (Mercer Numbers 59 and 60, Illustration 8) in Henry Mercer's Bible in Iron, that he titled "The Wheel of Fortune." They are dated 1726. Mercer thought these were the earliest examples of plates cast in America, at the Colebrookdale Furnace in Pennsylvania that was founded in 1720.

More might be learned about these stoves by examining the Thayer example more closely. One feature I find interesting is its cast corner rim (illustration 11.). It has no holes for bolts, as Mercer illustrates on German stoves in his Bible. Does it represent another method of holding the corners?

It would be helpful to compare notes with other students and collections of early cast iron stoves here and in Europe. One question that lacks an answer is why the Dutch did not bring their stoves to New Netherland. The "Dutch stove" is a 6-plate stove, a design we are familiar with today. It stands free from the wall with an independent flue. It has a hinged door to load fuel. Mercer called it a "ventilating stove." The artist Rembrandt used a 6-plate stove in his studio in Amsterdam in the 17th century, so why didn't they use them in New Amsterdam and Beverwyck?

Peter Sinclair, Editor West Hurley, NY

(1.) Any writing on the 5-plate stove must begin with the work of Dr. Henry C. Mercer (1856-1930) of Bucks County Pennsylvania, and his lifelong study and documentation of the subject that took him from Pennsylvania to Europe and to many areas of the northeast, including the Hudson Valley. Mercer published his first papers concerning the jamb stove in 1897 and his first edition of The Bible in Iron in 1914.

The final edition, edited by Joseph E. Sandford, was published in 1961 by the Bucks County Historical Society. Henry Mercer was among the first to recognize the value in documenting and studying the material culture. His home, museum and tile works are located in Doylestown, PA.

(2.) An Album of New Netherland, by Maud Esther Dillard, Bramhall House, 1963

(3.) Chimneys, Stoves and Slaves: a preliminary report on the 5-plate stove in the Mid Hudson Valley, by Peter Sinclair, Spillway Farm Press, 1998
See also HVV A Newsletters Vol 1, No 5; Vol 2, No 2; and Vol 5. No 6.

Part Three

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