Nicole and I recently visited some friends. They live in a Victorian house outside Boston, and were firing up a small wood stove when we arrived.
"That's a really nice stove," we remarked.
And it was. I didn't take a picture, but the wood stove looks like the model shown in the inset photo. It was sturdy, did not take up much space, and had a removable pot holder for heating up food or water. The little stove proceeded to heat up the entire room with just a few small logs.
Our friends said the stove was in the home when moved there some 20 years before. "It was probably made in the 1970s," one of them speculated.
The glazed tile platform under the stove did look like it was made in the 1970s. But not the stove itself. It had a tiny door, not much bigger than a loaf of bread. The door was marked "1," in a serif font, not the groovy lettering or modern sans-serif styles that one might expect for something built in the 1970s. It had claw feet like an old-fashioned bathtub.
I could make out some faint raised lettering on the front of the stove. I crouched down to take a look. "Wood & Bishop, Bangor, Maine," it read.
We googled the name. Here's one of the results, from a no-longer-functioning local website in Bangor:
"Henry A. and Charles C. Wood, tinplate and sheet-iron workers, manufactured tin and iron ware and sold stoves in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1835. They moved to Bangor in 1839 under the name of Henry A. Wood & Co. until 1851 when the foreman of their work-shop, William H. Bishop, became associated with them; they then became Wood, Bishop & Co. ... They not only made stoves but also skillets, kettles, and tinware. They sold their products all over Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont...the camp cooking equipment was a favorite among lumbermen all over the country."
The company was known for its Clarion line of wood stoves, but the tiny #1 stove looked more like a parlor model built for the booming home construction industry in and around Boston. The late 1800s was when indoor heating systems using hot water were still relatively new. Indoor plumbing only started in the 1840s for the very rich, and a century later half of American homes did not have plumbing.
Our friends were delighted. The stove could have very well been installed when the house was built in 1890, keeping the many families that lived in the house toasty warm for more than 100 years! The stove was a part of the history of the home, and of the region itself.
There are lessons for all of us in this story. Well-made things can not only last a long time, they can inform us about the past ... and even remain relevant to our lives many years later. And, sometimes it's worth taking a closer look at the faint letters and words from long ago.