We had a few days of pre-Fall cold weather in Western New York, so it was time to fire up the Rumford fireplace. Many of you know that Count Rumford (aka Benjamin Thompson) was a Colonial-era scientist who, like Ben Franklin, was interested in the properties of heat and smoke. Rumford created a design for fireplaces that maximized heat and sent smoke up the chimney as intended. We had a “Rumford” built a number of years ago when we added a couple of rooms to the house. It has served us well.
By now it would seem that I would know the basics of the fireplace: open the damper, warm the chimney by burning a rolled-up paper to start the fireplace draw, then light the fire. Simple enough. Unfortunately I opened the damper, then in my usual distracted manner closed it. Then I lit the fire. When smoke began to flow into the room I realized I hadn’t warmed the chimney which, of course, wasn’t the problem. I tried that and failing to halt the growing smoke plume I stuck my head in the fireplace (fortunately it’s 45 inches tall) and looked for an obstruction. It was, of course, the closed damper. I quickly opened it and all was well after the draft started drawing the smoke in the room back into the fireplace.
It’s amazing how many antiques relate to the use of the fireplace for heating and cooking and are available to collectors today. I always had a fondness for fireplace antiques, so there are quite a few “examples” in our collection. I say “our” to the extent that Linda likes a few and tolerates the remainder. I bought a few trammels and even a fireplace crane long before we had the fireplace. We also bought jamb hooks well in advance of the arrival of the fireplace.
Much of the collection is open hearth cooking-related. Utensils, trivets, long-handle pots, skewers, and toasters are among the early 1800s “necessities” in the collection. One of the few non-iron items is a nice brass fireplace “jack,” the clock-works device designed to keep a roast spinning rotisserie style – only in a vertical position.
Some years ago I bought a “spill plane” to create the wood-shaved curls that were used in lieu of matches. It took a helpful volunteer at the Genesee Country Museum to show me how to use what appeared to be a simple tool. The spills also needed a place to keep them, so the spill jar (sometimes confused with a “spooner”) joined the collection. Fancy decorative spill containers are also out there, often confused with vases.
Today the fireplace is a nice-to-have accessory in the household. As much as I like sitting in the room with a fire burning, I find myself stepping outside to smell the smoke in the cool autumn air. It takes me to another place where, at least in my mind, things moved a little slower.