Antique owl andirons
Antique owl andirons are metal fireplace supports shaped like owls produced up to the early 20th century.
An andiron consists of an iron bar sustained horizontally at one end by an upright pillar or support, often elaborately ornamented in shapes or designs. They hold up the firewood to allow a draft of air to pass around it and generate burning. They generally come in pairs, one for either end of the fireplace. In this case, the upright front pillars of the andirons are shaped like owls.
The andiron reached its peak of artistic development under Louis XIV of France, and it is plausible that owl andirons were produced as early as the late 17th – early 18th century. They saw a huge surge in popularity between the 1880s and 1920s, and this is where the majority of antique owl andirons come from. They are generally of wrought or cast iron, occasionally brass, and often have either holes for eyes, or transparent glass eyes, through which the fire behind them would glow.
Many examples are more recent however, as cheaper, mass produced versions continue to be produced today.
Collecting antique owl andirons
The first step when collecting antique owl andirons is to ascertain that they are in fact antiques. They often lack either a maker’s mark or date stamp. It can be hard to know where they originate from. Many are found languishing in houses and barns, and it is difficult to determine how long they have been there. Being practical items that were used in fires, sometimes they are rusted or worn and any maker’s mark become intelligible.
Their age is a great determining factor in their worth, as is their designer, if this can be discovered. Andirons made by leading metalworkers in the nineteenth-early 20th century, such as Edgar Brandt, Thomas Jeckyll and Chippendale are very sought after. It may be very difficult to determine the exact age, or the maker, of owl andirons, however, whether or not they are antiques and a vague date is not too hard to guess at.
Many sellers are distinctly vague about their ‘antique’, ‘period’, or ‘original’ owl andirons, so it is important to investigate that they are in fact genuine antiques. This can generally be determined from the method of manufacture and the material. Heavy cast or wrought iron owl andirons, manually forged, rather than anything that seems too neatly mass produced, is likely to be the real deal. Variations between the two owls in a pair are suggestive of a hand-made wrought iron process, as well as hand rivets connecting the bar and the upright support, which would have been made separately in both hand wrought, and cast iron manufacture. If they possess remnants of paint or their original glass eyes, this can also help in dating them. A fruitful abundance of antique owl andirons were those made between the 1880s and 1920s, at a time when they were particularly popular.
Antique owl andirons can sell for a few hundred, up to a few thousand dollars or pounds. Their value really depends on how old they are, whether they originate with a particular maker or manufacturer, and if this can be confirmed. A pair of owl andirons in the Art Deco style, attributed to Edgar Brandt, sold for $5,000 by Neal Auction Company in April 2012.