cold feet and hot dogs

In an effort to keep their feet warm, men in colonial America developed the practice of bringing their dogs to local churches and meeting houses. They put a blanket on their legs and feet under or on top of the dog. Both the man and the dog were happy. One can only imagine the chaos this must have caused, as the practice was generally outlawed in the early 18th century.

Although nothing can replace man’s best friend, the foot warmer evolved to meet the need for warmth in the winter, as churches and meeting places had no heating sources until around 1734. The foot warmer was placed underfoot with a blanket for the legacy. It can also be used on the sleigh or carriage.

As is the case with most antiques, design innovations give us important dating clues. The first foot warmers were wooden boxes. They had a door in the side holes drilled in the wood and a small metal plate inside to hold the coals. Later, perforated pewter sides with decorative perforated patterns such as hearts, circles or stars were introduced. They even made foot warmers for two. They are rare today and tend to sell for more than other items in this collectible category. There was also a combination flashlight and 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.

In the mid-1800s, the foot warmer made its way into American Victorian homes. Foot warmers intended for domestic use usually have some decorative elements, and were intended to carry hot water or coal. They were usually made of stoneware, pewter, or carpeted tin. Pewter foot warmers keep water hot 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 heater sold for $1,000.00. Since California was settled later than the rest of the country, these early examples are much rarer there. Auction prices typically range from $20.00 to $500.00, which fits most collecting budgets.

The diversity of shapes, materials, innovation and prices make foot warmers a diverse field of collection. This isn’t a well-known category of collectibles, as you might assume, so you can build an attractive collection for a bit of cold cash and still keep your feet warm.