Flat irons may look very ordinary but some collectors have hundreds of them
Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at a heavy metal item that a real draw for collectors...
With parents gearing up for the start of the new term, it reminds me of my wife’s complaints about the fiddly task of sewing in name-tags, which magically reduced after the invention of iron-in tags.
Today’s clean, steam-issuing electric powerhouses are light years from the heavy, burning, soot-stained chunks of metal used for centuries.
However, understandably, collectors tend to go for these rather attractive and iconic historic pieces, rather than the latest Morphy Richards!
People have probably been pressing cloth smooth for millennia.
While the Europeans favoured smoothing stones, glass and wood, the Chinese developed the method of pressing metal pans filled with hot coals over stretched cloth at least a thousand years ago.
The earliest metal flat irons were forged by blacksmiths in the Middle Ages. Heated on an open fire or a stove, their burning metal handles had to be grasped with a thick potholder, rag, or glove, and it was very easy to track soot or ash onto the clothing.
Hard to date, pre-industrial flat irons weren’t stamped with a maker’s mark, didn’t change much in design over several centuries, and there was no point trying to refine or decorate them.
On the other hand, they are unlikely to break!
Not many people specialise in collecting irons, and you probably won’t make your fortune trading them, however there is a British Iron Collectors’ Club, and a few years ago I was contacted by a gentleman from Lincolnshire, who had a collection of over 800 irons!
There are plentiful flat irons you can pick up for a few pounds.
This nice pair are refreshingly clean, and in the centre priced £12 each. Most customers are after one as a curio - they make very attractive doorstops, for example.
Unusual examples include the ‘tailor’s goose’, an extremely heavy sad iron, weighing 16 to 18 pounds, used by master tailors to press thick wool coat and suit fabric.
This iron got its name from the goose-neck-shaped handle, and some were made to look like geese.
To protect fabric and surfaces from singeing, these irons often came with metal trivets to rest on, and these are often beautiful, intricate, and collectible examples of metalwork that were made in a myriad of designs.
Ironing was such an important skill, girls would be given miniature flat irons as gifts- I wouldn’t recommend that now!