• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his study, circa 1875.

    Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

Object of the Month

Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site has a large museum collection consisting of thousands of objects, many of which are not regularly displayed in the house's furnished exhibit rooms. Every month, an object will be featured on this page, providing a look at an unusual piece from the collection.

A brass and pumice fire starter made by the Cape Cod Shop, 1890s - 1930s.
This brass pot, drip tray and metal rod with a piece of stone on the end may not be familiar to most people in the 21st century, but similar items are still sold and used today. It is a fire starter.

The idea behind the device is that it allows one to ignite a fire with little or no kindling or paper. The brass container that looks much like a pitcher is filled to a certain level with fuel oil, often kerosene. The piece of stone on the end of the rod is immersed in the fuel oil and allowed to soak it up. The stone is then lit with a match and placed underneath the wood to be burned. Flame from the stone ignites the wood after a few minutes, after which the stone is removed from the fire and allowed to cool before being replaced in the fuel oil container.

A key feature of the device is the stone used, pumice. Pumice is a type of volcanic rock that has a low density due to the many bubbles that are created in it during its formation process. This structure enables the pumice to absorb enough fuel oil to burn continuously for 10-15 minutes.

Regarded by some as a cleaner and simpler way to light a fire in a hearth or wood burning stove than using paper or kindling, these fire starters were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the best known manufacturers was the Cape Cod Shop, which produced handmade brass and copper items with an Arts & Crafts style influence. The Cape Cod Shop, with a location on Fifth Avenue in New York City according to an early 20th century advertisement, operated from the 1890s to the 1930s. The piece pictured here has the fish-shaped Cape Cod Shop trademark symbol on the bottom (shown above) and features the flared "fishtail" end to its handle that was a common feature of the shop's pieces. It was probably purchased by Alice Longfellow, or her nephew Harry Dana.

Did You Know?

Flowers in the garden at Longfellow National Historic Site.

The garden at Longfellow National Historic Site features over 30 different types of flowers, many of which are present in more than one color.