In an effort to keep their feet warm, men in colonial America developed the practice of bringing their dogs to local meeting houses and churches. They would put a blanket on their legs and their feet under or on top of the dog. Both man and dog were happy. One can only imagine the chaos this must have caused, as the practice was generally banned in the early 1700’s.
Although nothing can take the place of man’s best friend, the foot warmer evolved to fulfill the need for warmth in the winter, as churches and meeting houses did not have heating sources until about 1734. The foot warmer was placed under the feet with a blanket for the legs. It could be used in the sleigh or carriage, as well.
As is the case with most antiques, design innovations give us important clues to dating. The earliest foot warmers were wooden boxes. They had a door on the side holes drilled through the wood and a small metal plate inside to hold the coals. Later, punched tin sides were introduced with decorative punch patterns like hearts, circles or stars. Foot warmers were even made for two. They are rare today and tend to sell for more than other items in this collectible category. There were also combination lantern/foot warmers, which would light the way to and from the carriage in “pre-Edison” America. Patents for this innovation were filed in 1854 and 1865.
By the mid 1800’s, the foot warmer makes its way into Victorian American households. Foot warmers intended for home use usually have some decorative elements, and were intended to carry hot water or charcoal. They were usually made of stoneware, pewter, or carpeted tin. Pewter foot warmers keep the water warm for about three hours, so they can still be used in today’s eco-friendly world.
At a recent auction in California an 18th century wood warmer sold for $1,000.00. Since California was settled later that the rest of the country, these early examples are far more rare there. Auction prices typically range between $20.00 and $500.00, accommodating most collecting budgets.
The diversity of forms, materials, innovation, and prices makes foot warmers a diverse collecting field. This is not a well-known collectible category, as you might guess, so you can build a hot collection for a little cold cash, and still keep your feet warm.