Permanent-press fabrics have relieved most households of the need to iron clothing.
In past centuries, ironing was an almost daily duty of a woman in the home. Before about the 10th century, cloth was ironed with smooth wooden or glass pieces and a pounding stick. Heat was not used until the 16th century in Europe. By then, pressing irons were metal pans with long handles.
A piece of charcoal was put in the pan to heat the bottom and the heated pan was rubbed over the cloth. This crude iron was gradually improved. Charcoal was replaced by a heated iron rod to avoid the charcoal ashes that sometimes fell on the cloth. Next came special box irons with handles and pointed fronts. They were shaped like the electric and steam irons used today.
Soon a solid piece of iron, also in today's familiar shape, was made to put on the stove to heat, then quickly used to heat and smooth cloth. By the turn of the 20th century, irons were heated by liquid gas, alcohol, gasoline or electricity. Unfortunately, some of the liquid-fueled irons blew up.
The electric iron was patented in 1882, but few homes had electricity back then. So the electric iron was not in general use until about 1915. Since then, irons have been improved with the addition of thermostats that control heat and steam. Some even became cordless and could fold up to go with travelers.
All types of old ironing sticks, mangling boards and irons are collected today. Nineteenth- and unusual 20th-century examples sell for hundreds of dollars. In the 1950s, an early Chinese iron that looks like a small, ornate cooking pot with a handle was copied and used as a portable ashtray. These mid-20th-century copies sell for about $30 today. A genuine antique Chinese iron is worth hundreds of dollars.
>Q: I was pleased to see your recent column about furniture designs by Charles Rohlfs. But being from Buffalo, I was disheartened that you said Rohlfs was a New York City furniture maker. He actually lived and worked in Buffalo.
A: Thanks for speaking up for Buffalo. Rohlfs (1853-1936) was born in Brooklyn and studied design at the Cooper Union in Manhattan. But he moved his family to Buffalo in 1887, when he took a job with a stove manufacturer there. In 1897 he opened his own workshop in Buffalo and created his unique furniture designs for a decade.
>Q: My mother left me an oval brooch made of blue milk glass. I think it originally belonged to her grandmother, who died in 1924. It's a series of little blue balls and tiny silver balls. The gold-tone border is impressed "Czechoslovakia" in capital letters on the back. What do you think it's worth?
A: Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, when World War I ended. The country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Costume jewelry made of Czechoslovakian glass could sell for $20 to $50.