Lining the walls of Howard Fink’s north Sherman Oaks home are household objects most people hide: irons.
Approximately 125 of them, in fact, ranging in age from 50 to more than 100 years old. The youngest have fuel tanks and are made by Coleman, the same company that makes camping lamps and stoves. Some look like triangular pots with long handles. Some are tiny, scissors-like tools for curling hair, and one is a small metal egg on a stick.
“I don’t think you can find a need that they don’t make an iron for,” Fink said. “That’s what makes them so fascinating for me — there are irons for so many different purposes.”
His collection started by accident about 20 years ago. He and his wife Lee had been attending an ElderHostel program in Kentucky and were driving to Howard’s hometown of Marion, Ind.
“We saw a barn with ‘Antiques’ painted on its side,” he recalled. “They had Cokes so we decided to stop, have something cold to drink and stretch our legs. I saw a little flat iron there. Then I started looking for them and I discovered there so many different kinds. It doesn’t cost much to start collecting them, so I did.”
He has since gotten involved in the Pressing Iron and Trivet Collectors Association and a group of iron collectors that meets annually in Pleasant Hill, Calif., coinciding with the Alameda Swap Meet, one of the largest in the United States.
“I collect mainly pre-electric irons,” Fink said. “But those were made into the 1950s.”
He generally finds irons to add to his collection in antique stores. But collectors also sell them on eBay, at conventions or auctions or trade among themselves, he added.
Basically, most irons use weight (or pressure) and heat to either smooth out wrinkles — or to create them in a precise way.
To demonstrate, Fink pulled down a large, pot-like object with an open top and a wooden handle. These pot irons, common in Asian for ironing silk, are filled with hot sand or coals and then guided over the fabric to smooth it.
By contrast, a fluter looks like a curved piece of a wide gear attached to a base. A matching piece with a handle fits so the teeth of each pieces engage. The base is heated, a piece of fabric is laid on top and the top piece presses the fabric between the teeth. The result is pleated fabric.
Among the irons in his collection is a trio of brand-new, still wrapped in tissue paper, irons sold by Sears Roebuck & Co.
“This type of iron had a detachable handle,” he said. “It was designed so that you could have one iron heating on the stove while you worked with a second. When it cooled, you put it on the stove, removed the handle and attached it to the hot iron, so you didn’t have to wait for the iron to reheat.”
One of the most fascinating pieces in the collection is a small silver curling iron with its own stand and oil-burning heater. The piece is stamped with the name of John Mason. Fink said he had found a silversmith named John Mason who worked for Tiffany & Co., but it’s not confirmed that he created the curling iron.
For a closer look at irons and spray bottles from Fink’s collection view the slideshow.