A Heavy Metal Favorite: Hartzell’s Auction Gallery’s The William Carson Iron Collection Sale

Rebekah Kaufman
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Feeling a little rumpled this summer? Then press forward and check out Hartzell’s Auction Gallery’s The William Carson Iron Collection sale, to be held on July 29th at the company’s gallery in Bangor, PA. This sale features pressing irons, trivets, mangling boards, hand-carved seamers, and smoothing implements, as well as advertising items and store displays pertaining to irons or laundry. We spoke to John R. Hartzell of Hartzell’s Auction Gallery to learn more about these functional and decorative household tools.

Small German box iron. Image from Hartzell's Auction Gallery.
Small German box iron. Image from Hartzell’s Auction Gallery.

Auction Daily: Please give us a brief overview of your July 29th sale featuring the William Carson iron collection. 

John R. Hartzell: Our sale on July 29, 2021, is the collection of William “Buck” Carson.  Though not the largest, it is the finest American iron collection and possibly the best in the world. The sale also offers his collection of mangling boards, which includes the finest examples from across Europe. The irons range from as early as the 16th century with Japanese and Chinese smoothing stones through the 20th century with souvenir irons from the annual PITCA (Pressing Iron and Trivet Collectors of America) conventions.  

Auction Daily:  Who is William Carson, and why are these items going up for sale now? Do you know why he collected these antique household items – what about them called to him?

John R. Hartzell: Mr. Carson is a retired scientist and businessman. He now resides in New Jersey. His items are going up for sale due to personal reasons, and he has decided it is time for others to enjoy his fine collection. He started collecting irons in 1985 when he bought his first irons and used them as doorstops and bookends. And then every six weeks from then on, his son would show up with a box of irons that had been cleaned and polished or in their original state. His collection began to grow to what it is now – just over 6,000 irons and mangling boards. He was drawn to them by the detail of the raw metal, how they ranged from very plain in design to how fancy they could be when designed and used by royalty.

18th-century German mangle board. Image from Hartzell's Auction Gallery.
18th-century German mangle board. Image from Hartzell’s Auction Gallery.

Auction Daily:  Many of our readers are probably not familiar with “mangling boards.” Please tell us a little about them, their place in time, and purpose.

John R. Hartzell: Mangling boards go back as early as the middle part of the 16th century. They were given as wedding gifts and were traditionally made from two pieces – the board itself and a roller. These were used as a way to smooth out linens for families. This collection includes some of the finest and earliest examples, often in pristine condition. Many have vibrant color patterns and exquisitely-carved designs and handles in the form of horses, mermaids, maidens, and even Adam and Eve. Some have finely-detailed geometric patterns. They range in origins from Iceland, Scandinavia, Germany, Russia, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and more.

Auction Daily: Many of the irons featured in this sale look more like finely-designed sculptures than functional household items. For example, lot #220 features an angry duck, lot #137 has a snake handle, and lot #20 is in the form of a peacock. Can you tell us a bit about the history of these functional works of art, and why they may have been designed so elaborately?

European peacock box iron. Image from Hartzell's Auction Gallery.
European peacock box iron. Image from Hartzell’s Auction Gallery.

John R. Hartzell: Many of the irons in this sale have “fancy” details. The reason for this is twofold: wealth and the maker. Sometimes, very wealthy families would have intricate details on their irons to show status or even royalty. And makers would get creative with their irons. These special touches make something very unique and elaborate that sets it apart from the rest. As for the details being functional, sometimes they are, but most of the time, they are not. 

Auction Daily: And finally, tell us a bit more about lot #250, a rare Simon Troger tailor on a goat carving, estimated at $75,000-125,000. Its cataloging notes in part: “Carson’s most prized possession.” Who is Simon Troger, and what is this carving’s relationship to the cast iron items on offer throughout this sale?

John R. Hartzell: Simon Troger was a German sculptor from the 17th and early 18th century. He was born in Nuremberg, Germany. His carvings were done from bone, ivory, and wood with details that make his works very valuable. In this case, lot #250 features a “tailor” riding on a goat. That brings in the ironing and tailoring aspect. Mr. Carson kept this piece in a very special showcase on the top shelf for all to see. 

Simon Troger carving of a tailor on a goat. Image from Hartzell’s Auction Gallery.
Simon Troger carving of a tailor on a goat. Image from Hartzell’s Auction Gallery.

For more information on Hartzell’s Auction Gallery’s The William Carson Iron Collection sale, please see their website.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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