Collecting Mania: Cast-Iron Door Stops
We can thank the Victorians and their love of all things ornamental for raising the humble doorstop to decorative heights. Prior to the 19th century, most doors were unceremoniously propped open with the nearest rock, a stray brick, or a wedge of wood. By the mid-19th century, doorstop makers cast iron into fanciful forms, painted festively to brighten up the room.
In the United States, the production of cast-iron doorstops reached its height from about 1910 through 1940. Prolific firms included the Albany Foundry Co., in Albany, NY; the Hubley Manufacturing Co., in Lancaster, PA; and Bradley & Hubbard, in Meriden, CT.
To create a cast-iron doorstop, manufacturers first carved a three-dimensional model from wood or hammered a prototype from metal. The unpainted model was pressed into fine, compacted sand, which would serve to retain the shape of the model after it had been removed. Molten iron, heated to nearly 3,000 degrees F, was then poured carefully into the mold. After the metal had cooled, the form was removed from the mold, its rough edges filed, and its surfaces smoothed in preparation for painting.
In the decorating department, painters applied a base coat (usually white or cream but sometimes black) to the doorstop, then colorists used a variety of hues to highlight important details, usually only on the side that would face toward the room. Many doorstops bear identical color schemes, suggesting that decorators may have copied a model finished by a master artisan.
Determining a doorstop's date can be difficult, as popular themes (sailing ships, florals, and dogs) remained in production for decades. Costumes can sometimes provide clues, as can stylistic details such as Art Deco motifs from the 1930s. On the whole, though, enthusiasts concern themselves less with exact dates than they do with condition and rarity.
In terms of sheer numbers, more floral doorstops seem to have been produced than those in any other category. Vibrant colors and reasonable price tags make floral doorstops popular with collectors today. Common styles can still be found in the $100 to $150 range, although rare models with well-preserved finishes can command higher prices.
Other popular subjects included:
- Women, usually with billowing skirts to provide enough weight to hold open a heavy door.
- Little girls, weighted down with large bonnets and bouquets of flowers held in each arm.
- Dogs, in nearly every major breed and in various positions. Size, detailing, and pose all affect a dog doorstop's value more than breed.
Crossover collecting also plays a significant role in the pricing of antique doorstops. Individuals who collect golf-related memorabilia, hunting scenes, or Black Americana, for example, have pushed up prices on doorstops that fall within their fields of interest.
Recent reproductions include some of the most popular designs, such as dogs, cats, and flower baskets. To help avoid them, run your fingers over the doorstop's surface: Authentic examples are generally smooth, while reproductions feel pebbly. Fresh-painted finishes, concentrated wear in inappropriate places, and ill-fitting seams should also raise eyebrows as a growing number of these ersatz collectibles arrive from the mass production factories of China.
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