Turn up the heat! Winter is coming!
November is well under way and with the clocks turned back an hour, the cold dark of night comes sooner than many of us probably want. Here in the northern hemisphere, if we haven’t yet turned our thermostats to the hot setting, we will eventually. Thanks to industrial innovations and modern energy sources, for the vast majority of us getting toasty warm requires only a flipped switch or dial turn. Our ancestors were not so fortunate, but neither were they entirely without options.
Fireplaces and stoves were the primary methods of domestic heating, as had been the case for centuries. The big problems for clever inventors to tackle related to types of fuel and iron stoves with improved efficiency. There were many versions created over the decades, each with unique qualities. A stove of note was the “warming machine” invented by Abraham Buzaglo (1716-1788).
Buzaglo was an Anglo-Moroccan, the son of a rabbi named Moses Buzaglo, who immigrated to England in 1762 after an unknown period of time traveling the European continent. A skilled iron-founder, it is speculated that Buzaglo was inspired by the three-tiered stoves fairly common in Germany. Whether this is true or not, Buzaglo’s cast iron, three-tiered stoves were incredibly effective. As one historian has noted, his ultimate goal was to try to “reform English prejudices regarding comfortable warmth.” There appears to be no disagreement that Buzaglo succeeded as his stoves were efficient and true works of art.
Patented in 1765 as simply a “Buzaglo” —pronounced Bu-ZAH-glo— they were decorated with extravagant reliefs. The only two Buzaglos known to survive are shown below. They reveal the exquisiteness and why these stoves were sought after despite the outrageous cost.
The Buzaglo immediately above right is the largest of three imported to the colonies from London in 1770 by Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botetourt, one of the last British royal governors of Virginia. Two other modest, two-tiered Buzaglo stoves were provided for the comfort of his guests in the Governor’s Palace. These two stoves were presumably lost when the Palace burned in 1781 (replicas now reside in Colonial Williamsburg).
The grand stove of cast iron stood over seven feet in height and was originally a gift to the House of Burgesses where the majesty of the King had to be displayed through rich furnishings, lavish entertaining, and the latest in technological home improvements. The House of Burgesses stove was extravagantly praised in an accompanying letter from Buzaglo, who assured that “the elegance of workmanship and impression of every particular joint does honour to Great Britain; it excels in grandeur any thing ever seen of the kind, and is a Masterpiece not to be equalled in all Europe, and could not be sufficiently admired.”
In her essay in Antiques, curator Elizabeth Gusler of Williamsburg reveals that Buzaglo charged 143 pounds to make the stove, the most elaborate style he made. It is covered in undulating neo-classical designs and rests on four legs. Except for the legs, it is shaped like a huge ceremonial birthday cake.
The big stove survived the American Revolution, having been removed from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1780 when the capitol of the newly formed Virginia state was moved to escape British troops. Thomas Jefferson ordered the large stove taken up the James River on a barge and installed first in a temporary wooden capital and then in the present Capitol when it was completed in the 1780s. There the stove remained until 1933 when John D. Rockefeller Jr. restored the 18th-century capital. Buzaglo’s masterpiece was sent back to Williamsburg on a long-term loan. It is currently on display in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, where it remains “at the pleasure of the governor.”
Mr. Buzaglo’s trade card promised that his stoves “surpass in Utility, Beauty & Goodness any thing hitherto Invented in all Europe” and that they “cast an equal & agreeable Heat to any Part of the Room, and are not attended by any Stench,” with “a bright Fire to be seen at Pleasure.” He also claimed that the stoves “preserve the Ladies Complexions and Eye Sight” and “warm equally the whole Body, without scorching the Face or Legs,” plus “other Advantages too tedious to insert.”
In his lifetime, stove-maker Buzaglo offended fellow British craftsmen by his exalted boastings of the beauty and utility of his “warming machines.” Scholars of Buzaglo’s work, however, disagree with his boasts being excessive or incorrect. Two have written that his stove is a “flamboyant rococo … tour de force, an enviable status symbol” that “amply secured its maker’s reputation.” And Colonial Williamsburg’s curators, as well as the many visitors, agree with Antiques magazine that Buzaglo’s stoves are “masterpieces in perspective.”
In fact, Buzaglo’s stoves found quite a market in upper-class houses, churches, and other public buildings in Georgian England, so much so that they came to be known simply by the inventor’s last name.
Further proof of their popularity was the inclusion into a poem from 1793. The basic concept underlying the poem was the common late 18th century belief that climate formed national character. Click the link below to read the relevant sections of the poem by Richard Tickell, but the idea is that if one could change the indoor climate with the aid of a Buzaglo, maybe people’s character and behavior would change too, and in particular the behavior of members of the warring parties and factions in the House of Commons. That is quite a tall order!
I confess I like my central forced-air gas furnace with handy-dandy wall thermostat. Nevertheless, one cannot deny how gorgeous Buzaglo’s stoves were. I can definitely imagine one of these beauties heating a parlor at Pemberley. And considering how fascinated my Mr. Darcy is with modern inventions, I am sure he had at least one installed. Probably more!