Have you ever had a “a-ha” moment about a word you have used all of your life but didn’t really think about where it came from? Recently I did with the words “iron” and “ironing”.
Last week a set of vintage iron trivets was shared with Southern Vintage Table and as I was imagining how they could be used as vintage decor, I wanted first to learn about them. According to Collectors’ Weekly Sad and Flat Irons, it turns out vintage irons and iron trivets are a part of a long history of people wanting their clothes and linens to be smooth and unwrinkled, dating as far back as first century BC.
The word “iron” wasn’t used until the “de-wrinkling” instrument was made from the metal, iron. Before then, people used a variety of other things like stones, wood, glass and even bone. After the English traveled to China and saw that heat helped to de-wrinkle, they started using heated utensils. Along came “sad” irons, solid handled pieces of iron that when heated over a hot fire, could smooth fabrics. Moving this hot piece of iron over the cloth became known as “ironing.” A companion piece to the sad iron was an iron trivet, a metal stand to set the iron on when hot. By the way, “sad” doesn’t mean you were unhappy when ironing although it was a hard, hot and even dangerous task back then; it is the old English word for solid.
In our vintage decor collection at Southern Vintage Table we have this sad iron with “Jakes” on the handle and an early electric model with an indistinguishable label. Both are very heavy! Also below is a stack of vintage iron trivets.
A breakthrough in ironing was made when Mary Florence Potts invented the sad iron that was pointed on both ends. Then she introduced a model, which she patented, with a detachable handle. Sets of 3 irons with one handle hit the post-Civil War market. With two irons on the stove or fire, the person could quickly exchange the cooled iron for a hot one. In 1882 an “electric sadiron” was invented by Henry W. Seeley but since many rural homes did not have electricity for many decades following his invention and the many improvements thereafter, sad irons were commonly used in rural America up to the 1950s. My husband’s mother remembers her mother, Esther, using one which would be sometime in the 1940s to 50s.
After my research, I started playing around with the trivets, exploring different ways they could be used on the vintage table. With their flat sides, they are perfect for setting something on – like a plant, a bowl of fruit or a vignette of old bottles and flowers. Of course, it also can be used as a trivet for a hot dish. Notice how the trivet interestingly defines the space on the table.
Then I noticed they sat upright, too! Pointing up, the trivet can be a stand for a vintage card, a table number sign or even food signs on the buffet table. I love this look!
Once considered an essential skill for a young woman to have, ironing is now an occasional and simple task. Pay tribute to the many women, and even men, who labored with these irons and trivets by decorating with them on your vintage table. From vintage iron trivets to elegant china, Southern Vintage Table is ready to help make your event charming, memorable and even a bit historical!
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