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Collector’s Minute: Santa Claus Andirons

by Mike Wilcox (12/20/10).

Nothing says Christmas like a good Yule fire, and what would be more appropriate than Old Santa warming himself by the blazing fireplace in the form of figural cast iron andirons?

These Santa cast iron andirons were made by the Ives Company in the late 1800s.

These Santa cast iron andirons were made by the Virginia Metalcrafters, probably in the mid 1950s.

Even though both pairs of andirons pictured above are virtually identical, depending on which pair you chose to take home would make the difference of paying cash or making payments until Christmas of next year.

The set on the left, though unmarked, are late-19th-century originals, attributed to the Ives Company. Ives is best known for its cast iron toys and trains and was founded by Edward R. Ives in 1868, first located in Plymouth, Conn., moving to Bridgeport, circa 1870. Ives operated until bankruptcy forced it to close in 1929.

The set on the right, also unmarked, are mid-20th-century reproductions, possibly by Virginia Metalcrafters. Virginia Metalcrafters got its start in the stove business in 1890, as the W.J. Loth Stove Company. It wasn’t until 1938 when it began offering decorative casting as Virginia Metalcrafters. The company expanded to produce brass and cast iron reproductions in 1951 for Colonial Williamsburg , followed by products for the Smithsonian, Old Sturbridge Village, Old Salem, Monticello and many others. It continued operations until 2005.

After 50 years in a fireplace, good reproductions like those made by Virginia Metalcrafters—or other foundries that specialize in such things—have developed a patina that, short of expert analysis, would be hard to tell from an original that’s been packed away for the better part of a century.

While the differences in appearance may be too minute to see, the differences in their values is substantial. A match to the 19th-century example sold at auction in 2007 for $9,000, while the mid-20th-century examples sold for $110.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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