by Stephanie Jane Carter
Due to the generosity of Ms. Alberta Lewis of Sebastopol Plantation of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum has acquired a second early-1900s cast-iron, child’s stove. The stove, which bears the name pet on the door, was originally Ms. Lewis’ mother’s toy stove, and then Ms. Lewis’ childhood stove. It features a four-burner top, chimney, and grate. Little cast-iron pans and kettles, as well as a lid-lifter, accompany it. The collection at SoFAB was inspired by a toy stove donated by board member Julia Johnston, also originally her mother’s.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, stove manufacturers began creating these miniature versions of adult stoves. They bore names like pet, doll, dainty (an American cast-iron version that was anything but “dainty”), baby, OUR baby, and midget. Some bore tougher names, names that transcended any drudgery in the kitchen, names like Jupiter, Eagle, and Eclipse. Other name’s were less imaginative, but equally interesting, such as an American cast-iron nickel stove know as Buck’s Junior 2.
The perceived motivation behind the creation of the little stoves is often debated. Some believe that the heavy little stoves were salesman samples, lugged door to door by men hoping to tempt the lady of the house with an example of the stove she could touch. While some of the little stoves may have been placed in stores to entice buyers, it seems impractical that many of them were carried door to door. According to Florence Theriault, author of Toy Stoves, 1850-1950, the saleman sample theory is “largely discredited today, somewhat by applying common sense, and somewhat by a detailed study of those same manufacturers’ catalogs.” She does say that at least one company, The Home Comfort stove company of St. Louis, did produce miniature stoves as saleman’s samples from 1910-1940. Whether they were created for adults or children, it is undeniable that part of the motivation in their creation was to entice people to buy that brand of stove.
A childhood love of a specific brand toy stove could grow into an adult trust of that same brand. The little stoves instilled brand recognition in children early on, in hopes that would be translated to brand loyalty when it was time to purchase a full-size stove. Of course, children love to emulate their parents, so little stoves provided immense enjoyment for children, and the stove companies made a little extra money.
For many of us, our first attempts into the world of baking and pastry, and all other cooking, were with toy stoves. Over time models that mimicked coal-burning stoves gave way to lighter, plastic or wood versions. As my grandmother baked bread in her kitchen in North Carolina, I toiled away on my miniature, pink, plastic stove next to her. She gave me batter to mix in a little bowl. When it was done, I poured the gooey substance into a little loaf pan and placed it in my pink plastic oven. I opened the door and peered in, considering the possibility that my little oven did not actually work. My grandmother reminded me to be patient and when I turned my back, she would replace my loaf pan of batter with a loaf pan of perfectly warm, sweet cake. With patience, cakes (and miracles) could happen in a toy stove.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum looks forward to continuing to expand its collection of children’s cooking-related toys from many eras. To view SoFAB’s collection policies, click here. To view SoFAB’s FAQ page regarding collections, click here. To contact the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, click here.