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Street seller of fire-stove ornaments

"Ornaments For Yer Fire Stoves!"

  • Above: Victorian Christmas and New Year greetings card*
  • London street-seller
  • 45 x 102mm (1¾ x 4in)
  • Circa 1870s
  • Below: Victorian Comic Valentine
  • Closed 127 x 197mm (5 x 7¾in)
  • Unfolded 127 x 368mm (5 x 14½in)
  • Circa 1870s

While re-visiting past issues of The Ephemerist an item from Notes & Queries, December 1988, caught our attention and were pleased at last to be able supply some visuals for the enquirer who signed themselves as "Londinense".

Browsing through Andrew Tuer's Old London Street Cries the other day my curiosity was once again aroused by 'fire-stove ornaments':
"Another summer cry recalls to memory a species of house decoration, which we may hope is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. 'Ornaments for yer fire stoves' are usually either cream- tinted willow shavings, brightened by the interspersion of a few gold threads, or mats thickly covered with rose-shaped bows and streamers of gaily- coloured tissue papers. Something more ornate, and not always in better taste, is now the fashion; the trade therefore has found its way from the streets to the shops, and the old cry, 'Ornaments for yer fire stoves' is likely to be seldomer heard".
I am quite mystified by this and at a loss to visualise what these things looked like and what they were really for.

The following issue, March 1989, Peter Jackson supplies the answer:

Fire- stove ornaments, which so mystified Londinense (Notes & Queries 30), were common in every household in the days of open fires. They were merely a way of decorating the dead fire-grate during the summer to make it look pretty. George Scharf (1788-1860) painted a delightful watercolour of a street vendor selling 'Ornaments for your fire- stoves' which is in the British Museum and there is a photograph of a woman making the ornaments at home in 'Living London' by George R Sims (1903) Vol II p 23. The text reads, "The little kitchen table is covered with coloured paper, and here and there are long strips of gold shavings, as well as rosettes of various colours; these are dexterously pieced together and form a very pretty ornament. A very precarious income is earned, however, by hawking them about the streets of London, and many of these women find it necessary to follow another calling in addition, most of them making artificial flowers for the winter months".


Comic valentine sheet Comic valentine sheet

* Additional information supplied by society member Katherine Howells shows the greeting card was registered for copyright protection with the Stationers’ Company whose records are held at The National Archives.

Copyright registration record
  • Registration date: 17 July 1879
  • Description: 'A water colour drawing of girl carrying fire stove ornaments'.
  • Name and address of proprietor of copyright: Augustin Thierry, 13a Finsbury Square, London.
  • Name and address of author: Felix Dussert, 35 Great Portland Street, London.
  • Name of parties to agreement: Felix Dussert, and Augustin Thierry.
  • Catalogue reference 'COPY 1/46/78'
  • Copyright © The National Archives



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