A Thing for Radiators

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Here’s a guest post that a reader sent in…The cold weather is here and we are now thinking of heating our homes. Some people collect rare coins, others collect baseball cards, I collect radiators. How crazy is that?! I bought my brownstone 10 years ago, it was built in 1910 and I remembered being really bothered by the plain radiators it had. This was the time when plain Edwardian style was in and the ornamental Victorian radiators were out. So I said the heck with it and started searching for interesting ornamental radiators, restoring them and installing them in our house. I remember thinking, “it’s a large functional object in my space, so it should be attractive”. The variety of style in the castings I find really interesting. Some of the designs look like stylized flames and clouds of steam. They breathe and hiss with such personality too. One of the earliest ones I have has a lace shelf on top and has a stamping on it that reads J.R. Reed’s Patent April 9. 1878. Another one has a floral design from the American Radiator Co. It has a humidifier that works really well. My cat loves to drink from it for some strange reason. Recently I found one of the rarest examples in a ghost town in PA. It sat in an old bar that hasn’t been in use for 70 years. This odd radiator has a built in warming oven that works much like a hot plate keeping food warm. It was made for fancy dining rooms at the turn of the century. It works surprisingly well, just yesterday it kept a cup of coffee warm at 110 degrees.

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  • Absolute beauties! we love them too! :)

  • What a great post. Love your radiators.

  • My neighbors have one of those pie-warmer models. I once saw one sell on eBay for $1,000+.

  • Great post. Have you ever seen the circular radiator in the MCKB store? It is one of the most beautiful old radiators I have ever seen. It wraps all the way around a large support column.

  • Excellent feature — would love to see a photo essay on this.

  • Those are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing.

  • This is the reason I log on to Brownstoner. Thanks

    MikeZ

  • I saved one of those radiators back a few years ago. It had been tossed onto the street in Brooklyn Heights. I still have it. It isn’t attached to the plumbing, but it looks great in our bedroom. They must be tough to collect though; these things weigh a ton!

  • Radiators. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  • Are these the part of the junk that was gutted out of that old house in PH in that post yesterday? Might fetch something at the scrap yeard.

  • I would love an old fancy radiator. How much do they cost?

  • rh

    We were lucky enough to be blessed with all of our original ornate radiators in our Victorian home upstate. Our brownstone…eh, no. Frank and Richard or Kevin, or whatever, on Myrtle in Clinton Hill has a great selection of these radiators. I think we paid $11 per section, so less than $300 for an average sized radiator.I’m sure someone here can share the correct name of the place.

  • I think that we need to see more photos!

  • THOSE radiators are STUNNING! wow, thanks for sharing them.

    Kevin and Richard is the place that sells old cast iron radiators on Myrtle Ave at Franklin in Bedstuy.

  • These look like normal old Brooklyn radiators to me. Except for the one with the little oven, that one is more unusual though no more attractive.

  • we had ours circa 1915 dipped a few years ago. really look great. But they still hiss and clang!

  • Johanna

    I’m glad to see that many of you really enjoyed seeing my radiators. I often find them coated with 30 coats of paint. It’s always a thrill to see the detail brought back once they’re cleaned up. Yes, they do weigh a ton but fortunately I know some body builders, weight lifters who love to haul them up and down stairs for me! ( I guess we all have our unique obsessions.) Here’s some more photos.

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

  • Great feature – more, please. I love how the Victorians decorated even the most utilitarian things. These are all great.

    Last year I bought one on ebay that was from the Plaza Hotel. Pretty small, very ornate flowers on the end, and weighs a literal ton. I haven’t cleaned it up or had it hooked up yet, but someday…

    Akwaaba Mansion B & B in Stuy Hts has one of the food warmer radiators in the dining room. Wonderful.

  • We’re moving into a rental with iron baseboard radiators and they’re really hot. We don’t want to spend a ton of money covering, but worry about our kids who are 4 and 15 mo. Can anyone suggest ways to cover these things so they don’t burn the kids? If not, can you put furniture in front of them without it being a fire hazard?

  • Just out of curiosity, have there been no new developments in radiators in the last 120 years that render these things obsolete? Do they work with newer valves designed to regulate (moderate) temperature?

  • buildings are not built with radiators any more. They are a dinosaur technology that are more fuel-guzzling than any SUV’s. These old fuel guzzlers are either “on” or “off” no adjustment. You bake or you freeze. They get dangerously hot. they super desicate the environment and they are just a mess. Very ungreen. Modern buildings have heating zones and thermostats and do not have the heating element on the outside where it can burn you. radiators are also usually painted with about forty layers of lead paint. spare me the radiator nostalgia. I ripped every single one of them out of my house and put in a modern baseboard system for heat and a separate forced air system for cooling.
    They are efficient and comfortable.

  • Great piece…..I have six beautiful old radiators needing stripping and painting……could anyone please tell me where I can get this work done in Brooklyn and approximate cost……Thanks

  • Brenda from Flatbush

    We have radiators ranging from 100 yrs old to modern, and older is better–not just the fanciful design, but the steam-beast efficiency and power of the things. (By efficient, I mean at heating the room–not “energy-efficient.”) We’ve spray-painted them silver with special auto engine-block paint; anything else will stink when they heat up, we were told. But so far we have never tried to save one when a seam in the feet sprang a leak; for ours, that has been a death sentence. (Hasn’t happened very often, though.)

  • 3:02: Don’t know which green manual you’re reading, but being in the business myself, I can assure you you’re exaggerating.

    Steam heat is slightly less efficient than hot water (82% vs 94%); but if you can run hot water through radiators, they’re exactly the same as your baseboards.

    And radiators are a great design element. And steam provides some humidity.

  • Johanna

    Good point Brenda. Engine-block paint is rated for high temps and the paint will not crack like other paints. I’ve had a seam give out once too and had to scrap that project. It’s best to check for leaks before you bother the time consuming task of refinishing. If a radiator takes a strong hit they can open a seam They do weigh a ton but they have to be handled with some care if you’re bringing them in from the street. Chemical stripper works well. I just lay them flat on a dolly in the back yard and let the stripper do most the work. A wire brush and a water hose with a power sprayer gets the job done.

  • Wonderful post, and wonderful pictures! This is the kind of quirky stuff that keeps bringing me back to the this site.

  • “I just lay flat in the back yard and let the stripper do most the work.”
    Sounds like heaven!

  • Johanna

    Good one GHB! How in the world did I miss that one! Well, I now know what I want for my birthday. Thanks!

  • A note on efficiency:
    The term doesn’t apply to radiators because all radiators are 100% efficient.

    That means that all the energy put into a radiator is given off to the air surrounding it so long as there is a difference in temperature from one to the other.
    Efficiency is the result of the fuel-burning appliance and the distribution system.

    Nice radiators!

  • We have a few anciet radiators in our home in Kensington. Any idea who is willing to pick them up or where we can sell them? Thanks for any tips you may have.

  • Check out this neat book with drawings of many radiators including the ones in the picture at the top of the page:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=bWMJAAAAIAAJ