Guest Blogger: Box Irons

Fletcher Hardware Trade Catalogue

Fletcher Hardware Trade Catalogue, c.1930 [LF62.65]

 My first visit to Birmingham Central Library was in August 1977. The first two visits I came out disappointed, the next visit I was pointed in the direction of the Science and Technology department where I was introduced to Mr. Ted Hunt, Head of Patents. I explained what my interest was; that I was a collector of old laundry irons and how to identify trade marks.

Mr. Hunt took me to the patent department, a small area cordoned off by a small gate, specially reserved to patent users. In this section on shelves were the Trade Mark journals starting from 1875 up to the present.

At this stage as a collector, I had not come across any other collector. A colleague I worked with said that there was a collection exhibition going on in London at the Daily Mirror, and laundry irons were the star attraction.

On the visit to London to see the exhibition were a couple of ladies who had formed an iron collectors club called the British Iron Collectors (B.I.C) where I became a member. My first meeting I attended was at a collectors home in London; many irons were on display and up for sale.

I purchased a Birmingham Gas Iron called the Beetall. At this meeting I came across Julia Morgan from Bath – Julia had also been collecting information. By this time I had gathered a lot of information on trade marks. The research done by Julia, on Birmingham and the Black Country, was passed to me. This introduced me to the local history department, then on the fifth floor, to go through the local trade directories and newspapers on microfilm.

Before long we had produced an iron collectors book called Trilogy of Cast Iron Facts. 100 copies were produced and a copy is held in Central Library.

Roger Fairbrother, a member of the B.I.C., a teacher and artist, turned up at a collectors meeting in Bath. Roger had brought with him his drawings from his own collections and they were stunning. Julia Morgan, Roger Fairbrother (illustrations) and myself, we put together another collectors book on collecting irons, and it was called I.T. Information and Trade Marks. This again was only a 100 plus copies, a copy of this is also held by the Central Library.

Julia Morgan, Stella & Roger Fairbrother and Janet & Colin Davis of London were also interested in collecting washing powder and starches, and other laundry items. They approached me to ask if I would be interested in researching the trade marks for these products.

I did say yes but it took several years and cost a lot of money in expenses for me alone, so each one in turn would send me twenty pounds, so there were four of us putting in £20 until the research was done and totalled nine thousand trade marks. We put together a book, A Century of Laundry Trade Marks, in two volumes with a double index by manufacturers name and one on brands. Very small number were produced – 24.

I have also put together just five books on William Cross, Iron Founder of West Bromwich, and also trade marks on Australia Irons. (Just a couple of copies for collectors.) Also as a project I did a book on Birmingham and Wolverhampton box iron makers in 1991, and I have just put a copy into Birmingham Central Library.

Many public houses were named after trades and Box Inn was one of those trades in Birmingham and West Bromwich. My collection of British Laundry Irons totalled just over 1200. In 2011, I put 748 irons relating to the Black Country into the Black County Museum.

 Colin Giles

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One response to “Guest Blogger: Box Irons

  1. I met Colin yesterday at The Pen Museum Summer Fair where I had a stall! What an interesting man and so passionate about his very unusual hobby!!

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