When you went to check out a weird noise you heard in your house as a kid, chances are your eyes lingered on the long metal poker standing beside the fireplace as you passed the living room. While you can definitely wield antique fireplace tools for protection, they do a much better job of keeping fireplaces in working order, and they've been great at their job for the past few hundred years.
Antique Fireplace Tools to Frame Your Fireplace
If you grew up with a rack of long tools beside your fireplace, you might be surprised to learn that they're not for fighting off burglars but for managing the fire. Although they look like they're meant for decoration, each of the tools has a practical purpose for stoking fires and cleaning up after them. They were more common when central heating wasn't around and people used fireplaces to heat different areas of the house. So, they were tools born of necessity but became this interesting motif for a well-to-do life. Every house customized their fireplace sets with all the tools they needed most.
Broom and Dustpan
Fires create a lot of ash, and you can't let a buildup of ash sit in your fireplace, so having a broom and dustpan nearby is a must. Typically, these brooms are short-bristled with long handles, and the dustpans come in a variety of shapes. There was your standard square shape, but Victorians experimented with more decorative designs. These tools were made out of metal (except for the brush bristles), and they usually came in a trio alongside a matching poker and tongs.
A favorite tool in murder whodunits is the iron poker. These tools are long, thin metal rods with a slight hook at the end that resembles the wrought-iron gates around old Victorian houses. Pokers were used to help keep the fire going by moving the coals and wood towards the embers. Typically, the only decorative part of these tools was their handles, which were made in elegant swirling shapes.
Fireplace tongs were used to add wood to the fireplace as well to as break down the crackling wood to add more oxygen to growing flames. Of the four tools that were usually found in an upright fireplace set, tongs had the biggest design variation. Some tongs looked like medical calipers that were rounded at the bottom, while others were almost like metronomes with their rectangular shapes.
Andirons were also known as fire dogs and came in sets of two. They were used to bracket a piece of wood in a fireplace. These tools are where designers got really creative. They came in all kinds of different motifs and designs, from geometrical shapes to bulbous towers. Some were even sculpted to look like animals. Since these were directly in the fire, they had to be made of iron or brass so that they wouldn't deteriorate.
Bellows used to be featured in old cartoon gags all the time. Quite literally, they're big accordion bags that shoot out air. Their purpose is to add oxygen to a fire and get it roaring again, and this was particularly helpful when people weren't just setting fires up for recreation but to warm their houses. They all have the same planchet shape, but their fabrics varied. Though, they typically used sturdy brocades or embroidered linens and cottons, as was fashionable during the 19th century.
People today lambaste coal use across the world, but back in the day, it was a necessary evil as it burned for much longer than wood. When fires were literally the only things keeping houses warm, you used what worked best. These shuttles are about the size of your palm to the size of a small shoe. They have a spout on the end to funnel the coal out of the pan and into the fire.
How Valuable Are Antique Fireplace Tools?
Because of how sturdy they are, antique fireplace tool sets run in a price range of about $200-$1,000. Entire sets are going to be worth more than single pieces. Aside from the sets, you have things like andirons and coal shuttles that are worth a fair bit more because they took more time to design and are heavier/larger. For example, this worn but well-kept pair of Victorian iron andirons is listed for about $420.
For these tools, the more valuable the materials used to make them, the more they're going to be worth. Similarly, the more decorated they are, the higher their prices will be. Take this 19th century French fireplace set made of wrought iron and bronze that's in great condition. It's currently listed on 1st Dibs for $1,300.
Given that central heating is all the rage, there's less of a demand for these antique fireplace tool sets, so you can find good quality ones for great prices right now. Just keep in mind that some of these tools can be heavy since they're made entirely out of metal, and shipping costs can add up.
Are Antique Fireplace Tools Safe to Use?
The best thing about metal antiques is that, unless they're rusted, they're durable enough to continue being used today. That means you can use the old wrought iron fireplace tools that sat beside your grandmother's fireplace without worrying about them breaking. You'll want to clean them off every once in a while, though, especially if you're using them a lot.
We recommended you use a wire brush and either a little water or vegetable oil to rub off the soot and possible rust stains. Rinse it off and thoroughly wipe it dry before applying a metal polish to give it back some shine.
Happy Hearth, Happy Home
Fireplaces are at the center of our homes for a reason. Not only are they practical, but the flames create an inviting space that anyone would want to be a part of. And the best way to create a happy hearth and a happy home is by giving your fireplace a little TLC - with the proper tools, of course.