UMPI Geology Professor Kevin McCartney, and wife Kate, recently returned from attending a national meeting of pressing iron collectors and researchers in Pittsburgh, PA.

The McCartneys have been members of the Pressing Iron and Trivet Collectors of America (PITCA) for more than 25 years, but this is only their second meeting due in part to summertime scheduling conflicts.  The conference included collectors and researchers of pressing – also known as laundry – irons from the United States and Canada.

Kevin views old irons as both a hobby and research interest.  The use of tools for the laundry and pressing of clothes is a vast but understudied field of social and technological history.  There has been a considerably diverse application of technology and design to the challenge of keeping the iron hot without burning the hand.  This and the use of irons over a long history in many regions has resulted in an astonishing variety.

Dr. McCartney spoke at the meeting on a group of fluting irons that he has been researching.  Fluting (also known as crimping or pleating) irons were used for the fancy ruffled edges of sleeves and collars of Victorian dresses and hats of the late 1800s.  Kate talked about the running of an iron-themed business in Caribou, Maine.  Together, they did a presentation on the topic of pressing irons in music, in which Kate played her fiddle.

The Pressing Irons conference included the auction of a noteworthy iron collection, and Kevin bought a few irons from the Old Iron Inn collection.  At this auction, he concentrated upon tailor irons and the devices used to heat irons on the stove or through the use of an oil or natural gas burner.  Noteworthy among these additions was a burner for two tailor irons that includes a large brass oil tank that is now displayed in the living room / museum at the Old Iron Inn.

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