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Biblical guidance cast in iron

August 4, 2015

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life, Exhibit Opening, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Icons

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German text stove plate dating to the 18th century.

This 18th-century stove plate is the only satirical plate known to survive today. The plate makes reference to the biblical story of Balaam’s donkey. Balaam was sent to drive the Israelites out of Jordan, but his path was blocked by God.

Stove plates are notable for their artistic depictions of biblical stories and Germanic text. This stove plate dates to 1753/1763 and is the only satirical plate known to survive today. The image features a Hessian rider astride an animal, possibly a goat or a horse. Another figure blocks the road and holds a sword across his body. The German phrase at the bottom reads: “See here good people, how the Gentleman rides this horse on September 14th.” It’s not clear what event prompted the caster to reference a specific date, but the plate makes reference to the biblical story of Balaam’s donkey. Balaam was sent to drive the Israelites out of Jordan, but his path was blocked by God.

During the French and Indian War, Christopher Sauer, a prolific printer of German language newspapers and pamphlets, blasted Gov. James Hamilton and the Penn family for the treatment of German settlers in America, seeking immigration reform. Sauer’s ideologies were highly radical and polarizing, even for his time; however, he maintained a large readership primarily because he monopolized the German-language news market. In fact, Henry Mercer, an early and avid stove plate collector, argues in Bible and Iron that this stove plate must have been created by someone familiar with Sauer’s teachings. The subliminal messaging of the plate might have been directed at Hamilton’s desire to drive German citizens out of government. Whatever the case, this stove plate is certainly unique in its design, and nuanced in its history.

Five-and six-plate stoves were commonly found in the 18th century households. In particular, the Pennsylvania German home contained a central chimney with a hearth on one side facing the kitchen. The stove acted as a radiator, protruding out of the back wall of the hearth and into the room opposite from the kitchen. Hot coals could be shoveled straight from the hearth into the open stove back. Bolts and metal strips that overlapped the edges of the plate held together the sections of the stove.

Iron molders used the “open sand” casting method to create stove plates. Two boxes would be packed with sand, the mold pressed into the center of one of them and then removed, leaving an imprint. The two packed sand halves would be stacked on top of one another and then the molten metal poured through a bored hole driven through to the open cavity. Mercer notes that the earliest Pennsylvania foundries date to the 1720s. The peak of stove plate production was between 1740 and 1760.

Selected as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure by CAP Curator Katie McGowan, this unique stove plate will appear in the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.


About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.