Antique stoves and their artwork appeal to Hamilton woman

Jan Holtman stands next to a 1888 Jewett’s Stove, a favorite of hers from the days she spent buying, selling and restoring antique stoves. Holtman proudly displays the old stove in her Hamilton home. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Mar. 18, 2013 4:32 pm Updated: Apr. 2, 2013 12:15 pm
Holtman drew from her expansive knowledge of old stoves to compile a book, “Stoves and Stories to Warm the Heart and Home,” in collaboration with the Hancock County Historical Society. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)

HUSAR Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HAMILTON, Ill. -- Redecorating her Hamilton home spurred an antiques interest in Jan Holtman.

"My husband, now deceased, and I got interested in stoves by being interested in antiques in general," Holtman said. "Our things needed to be replaced, our kids were about grown, and we started decorating our home with antiques."

Holtman decorated with blue-and-white splatterware, then kept an eye out for complementary kitchen pieces.

"I had seen a blue woodburning enameled-over-cast-iron cookstove," she said. "I thought I would really like one of those stoves."

That desire launched a business of buying, selling and restoring antique stoves.

"At any one time, we had 25 to 75 stoves in the warehouse in various stages of restoration," Holtman said. "Back in about 1984, a dealer from California purchased one of our stoves and in turn sold it to Alan Funt Productions of ‘Candid Camera.' Another stove went to Al Unser, the race car driver, for his cabin. One thing leads to another. You meet a lot of neat people."

Randy Hall, Holtman's son, stayed involved in the stove business.

"He specializes more in the gas stoves that people want to use," Holtman said. "A lot of people used the woodburning stoves, in cabins especially, but people became interested in using gas stoves in restored homes. He's dealing with not so much buying and selling as restoring."

The stoves carry plenty of appeal.

"The antique value, the nostalgia value. For me it was both of those, plus the art," she said.

"You could tell the period of the stove, the age of the stove, by the way the art changes. Older ones are really ornate, detailed, with little flowers cast into the body of the stove. The Victorian period had animation, gargoyles, fancy cutout work. Then as it became more expensive, they became plainer and will have just a hint of a little design."

Holtman points out the rich detail on the hard coal-burning stove on display in her home.

The stove, made by the New York-based Sherman Jewett Co., has designs in the cast iron, chrome nickel plating, and "a cameo embedded into the nickel on each side of it on the front," Holtman said.

Now worth thousands, the stove sold for $86 when new and was featured on a 1888 trade card. The small advertising cards, similar to postcards, allowed dealers to tout their wares and highlight unique features.

"It's a real find when you have a card with the history of a stove," Holtman said.

The trade cards have turned into collectibles along with stove finials, or toppers, in such shapes as the standing Indian used on Round Oak model stoves.

"Some were plain. Some were fancier, depending on the model and what they sold for," Holtman said.

Holtman focuses less today on the business of stoves and more on the history, even writing a book, "Stoves and Stories to Warm the Heart and Home," in collaboration with the Hancock County Historical Society. She also speaks about the enduring appeal of the common household items.

"Every home had one stove -- a heating stove, a cooking stove. If it was a large enough home, it had more than one heating stove," she said. "It was a more efficient way to heat a home than fireplaces."

Stoves burned soft coal, wood or hard coal. The more ornate, cast-iron baseburner models were bigger with isinglass on the sides and front. Soft coal burners generally were smaller but upright. Barrel-shaped parlor stoves were known by their number, such as 9 or 12, which indicated the size of log it would burn.

Given their popularity, nearly every community had a dealer and in some cases a foundry to make stoves.

In Hancock County in 1913, "there were dealers in Carthage, Ferris, Elvaston, Bentley, Joetta, Denver, Adrian, McCall, Burnside, LaCrosse, Chili, Disco, Webster and Colusa," Holtman said. "They might have been combined with another business. I found undertakers also selling furniture and selling stoves."

Vintage newspaper advertising yield plenty of information about dealers and their stoves.

"Over the years, Quincy became a primary location for construction of stoves," Holtman said. Spurred in part by readily available river transportation to move the finished product and the cold winter climate, "Quincy at one time boasted an annual output of stoves at more than 120,000."