Morris man’s iron collection has grown over 3,000

    Flat, sad, box, slug, bone, whale oil, sleeve, fluter and goffering are just some of the styles of antique irons collected by Arnie Stein, of Morris, for over 20 years. Near the beginning, around 1994, when he had acquired 25, Stein thought he must have every kind of antique iron. Now he has over 3,000 antique irons plus many related items.

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Arnie Stein, of Morris, looks over his collection of irons, which started over 20 years ago. He started with 25 irons and that has grown to over 3,000. Photo by Bud Prescott

     How did the collection grow so large?

     “Some people have all their hobby money in fishing or hunting equipment,” said Stein, “I don’t do any of that. I like to collect antique irons.”

     During the ‘90s, before retirement, he bought irons at good prices online.

     “I would come home from work, grab a Coke and check eBay for irons,” Stein said.

     Eventually he had contacts from all over the world.

     Stein’s first wife, Corrine, who shared the love of antique iron collecting, found out about enthusiast Carol Walker, from Texas, probably through a magazine. Walker wrote many articles about irons. When Walker was selling her irons, Stein ended up going through lists of her inventory and bought many pieces at auction.

     Stein became a member of the Pressing Iron and Trivet Collectors of America (PITCA). The PITCA newsletter is a great source of information for him and a way keep in touch with other collectors.

     Another PITCA club member, Bud Wolters, helped Stein increase the size of his collection and became a close friend.

     California antique dealer Carole Meeker, also led to many irons. A lady in Washington sold off her collection, and Stein bought 50 irons at a time, from lists she provided. Many European pieces came from a man living in Holland.

     Stein has been to large specialty auctions, including a three day auction of irons in Lexington, Ky. He feels that some of the bigger auctions move too quickly, and with phone or Internet buyers, the fun is taken out of the process.

     The Steins planned to open an iron museum. Sadly, Corrine passed away before this could happen. Unsure of what to do with the collection, Stein decided to continue, as that is what his wife would have wanted.

     Inventors were always trying to find new ways to make irons safer and easier to use.

     Stein has examples of soapstone irons from around the civil war. Did the soapstone keep the heat from getting to the handle?

     “That’s the idea,” remarked Stein.

     Apparently it wasn’t the best solution.

     Not much later, in 1870, a better and one of the most popular designs came from a woman named Mrs. Florence Potts, a housewife from Iowa. The Potts style irons, as hers and numerous imitations came to be called, had a removable, curved wooden handle. After the Potts iron was heated on a stove, you would reattach the handle to use it. This would keep the handle from heating up, and you could have a second iron on the fire to switch to when the first iron cooled.

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These colorful and rare Silver Streak irons, produced around WWII, were made out of glass and came in four different colors. Photo by Bud Prescott

     Standouts in the collection include the Silver Streak irons, made mostly of glass. They were produced around World War II to conserve metal and came in four colors – red, blue, gold and green. Being made of glass, the red ones are rare. The green ones are very rare. According to a book in Stein’s collection, you would be lucky to see one green Silver Streak in a lifetime. Stein now has all four colors.

     A streamlined, Petipoint electric iron was designed in an art deco style that almost looks like swan wings or an airplane. The wings are purely ornamental serve no purpose for ironing.

     The largest iron in Stein’s collection is an Egyptian foot iron. At several feet long, with a heavy head and large piece of wood to protect your foot while moving the iron, it was sent from Germany wrapped in an very odd-shaped package covered with duct tape. Even though he was always receiving irons in the mail and never had any problem, the clerk wondered what it could be, and Stein gladly explained the whole story when he picked it up at the post office.

     Sometimes a seller would have the original box for an iron. Even though it cost more, Stein preferred that the box be shipped separate from the iron.

     “You should pack up the box in one box, and the iron in another, so that the original box does not get damaged,” said Stein.

     Even with those instructions and willingness to pay for more shipping, eager to be done with the deal and get their money, sellers mailed irons in the original box. That seemed to be the only thing Stein ever had a problem with, as he said he never had a problem doing business by mail.

     Other pieces in the assemblage included an array from Minnesota, many made by the Albert Lea, American Gas Machine Company; jawbone smoothers, that would have been some of the earliest cloth smoothing devices; slickstones, made of glass; miniature and children’s irons; and a handmade, terra cotta, charcoal iron. A few mangleboards, used to smooth out dampened clothes. He is proud of a unique, Norwegian mangleboard that has a handle shaped like a horse and is from the late 1700s.

     To find out the age and other information about irons, Stein noted several books on the subject. The Evolution of the Sad-iron, by A. H. Glissman;  Tuesday’s Children and Early Tuesday Morning, by Frank and Judy Politzer (Arnie says these books by the Politzer’s are very interesting to read); Irons by Irons, by David Irons, gives valuations and the rarity of different styles of irons. Some books get so much use that he has a working copy and also a good copy.

     “I don’t know how many times I’ve taken one of these books to read in bed and found something interesting,” said Stein.

     He even met Mr. Irons, and Stein told him how his books put him to sleep. He had a little explaining to do.

     After years of collecting he wanted a nice place to display the irons.

     “I didn’t know how much room I needed for irons.”

Steins collection includes unusual specialty irons, like this commercial glove iron, that was likely used in a factory that made gloves. Photo by Bud Prescott

Steins collection includes unusual specialty irons, like this commercial glove iron, that was likely used in a factory that made gloves. Photo by Bud Prescott

     Stein settled on 700-800 square feet of a multi-use building for his museum with a historical display of the earliest known ironing devices through the 1950s. Now that they are all displayed, he is happy with how things turned out, even though he could have used twice the space.

     “I feel like everything came into place, as if the collection was meant to be the way it is now. I guess, this is what I was meant to do,” said Stein.

     Arnie and his new wife, Linda, enjoy visitors to the iron museum. Many beautiful and strange pieces are displayed. Some you would never think of as irons, but the prize of the museum may be the unexpectedly interesting stories of so many antique clothes irons.