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Jean McClelland: Plenty of coal heat antiques still around to enjoy

Oct. 06, 2013 @ 06:18 AM

As long as there was an excess of forested land in America, we primarily heated our homes with wood. As the country became deforested many citizens turned to the use of coal as their primary source of heat. This was particularly true in Appalachia where coal was plentiful and the transportation costs of the resource were minimal.

The heyday of home coal heat was the late 1800s and early 1900s but began to decline with the advent of other friendlier fuels. The instruments that generated home coal heat are now antiques and many folks not only collect them but also make use of them. Even though coal heat is not part of the mainstream there are still people using the very stoves their grandparents used a hundred years ago.

One of the more popular versions of the coal-burning stove is the potbelly and many make use of them in cabins and family rooms. There is also the porcelain-coated kitchen stove of the 1920s and 1930s some like to still use in their kitchens. Not only are these stoves conversations pieces but they can keep you warm and cook as well. Cost of these old time heaters usually runs in the hundreds of dollars.

Besides the stove there was the coal skuttle or hod as it is known in England. In its simplest forms it was a bucket of coal that was usually located near the stove for convenience sake. Often the buckets were shaped like a huge gravy boat and could be made of tin, copper or brass.

Then there were the tools that could mirror the designs of the skuttle. Short shovels, tongs and pokers that worked well with the stoves can be found in matching sets. They resemble fireplace tools only with shorter handles and range in appearance from sleek brass to heavy tin.

Coal stoves are not usually portable and not every room in a home was equipped with one so the solution was a portable coal carrier. These warmers would be filled with hot coal and taken to different rooms to hang on a ready made hook. Again these could be a simple coal bucket or an elaborate brass carrier.

Prices of all of this equipment can vary with condition and availability. There are newer versions of all this equipment being produced today if a person wants to explore heating with coal.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.

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