Today’s record cold temperatures across most of the nation sparked our recollections of how people stayed warm during winter cold spells before the invention of super insulation for homes and high efficiency furnaces.
“Pot Belly” small cast iron stoves were often placed in rooms as a source of heat and as a warming surface for water. They helped to circulate air around the room; however, they had to be placed away from the walls to keep from setting them on fire!
In Scandinavia, where winter temperatures regularly dipped to low levels, highly ornamental and decorative ceramic stoves called Kakelugn provided a very efficient source of heat. The ceramic retained the heat and provided a more consistent and longer lasting source of warmth. These charming and noteworthy structures are still in use at The Inn at Union Pier, Union Pier, MI.
Small metal lined boxes or foot stools were used as feet warmers. By placing your stocking feet on these devices your toes would stay toasty warm in front of the fire.
Women would use fur or knit muffs to keep their hands warm. Both fashionable and warm, they provided additional warmth when accompanied by a pair of traditional thin cotton gloves. Additionally, the pouch served as a compartment to hold a small change purse, lipstick, or compact.
The layering technique for creating warmth is still important and popular, although our modern day clothing layers have measurably changed. Layered clothing is particularly relevant in cold climates, where clothing must serve multiple purposes to transfer moisture, provide warmth, and protect from wind and rain. The layers of the time included long cotton underwear, which we now know does not wick moisture away, rather it retains the cold. Other alternatives were silk or wool underwear (scratchy and uncomfortable), followed by cotton flannel shirts, hand-knit wool sweaters, scarves and socks. The artistry of the vintage knitted patterns reflects both the creativity of the designer and the traditions of the times.
A variety of bed warming devices were used to make the bed warm and cozy. These came with disadvantages if you unexpectedly rolled over too far! They worked by placing hot coals or embers into a covered copper pan that would be inserted under the bedcovers via a long wood handle. Also, copper or ceramic vessels were filled with very hot water for use as a “bed buddy” to keep you warm and provide a lasting source of heat. Although cumbersome, this approach was a bit safer than the hot coal approach. The venerable hot water bottles have stood the test of time. They were used for a variety of health ailments as well as providing warmth to the bed during cold winter months.
In the course of on-site liquidation of residential contents, we frequently come across a variety of vintage warming devices, stoves and vintage clothing. See our ever-changing assortment of these and other vintage items on our shop page.