What is a Parlor Stove?

Malcolm Tatum

Popular as a heating source in one of the more formal rooms of the 19th century home, parlor stoves were common from the 1840’s until the early decades of the 20th century. Usually made of cast iron, the stove tended to be more compact than the larger stoves used in the kitchen, and were more formal in design that the casual pot bellied stove that was found in simpler homes. Today, this type of stove is enjoying a comeback in many homes as an alternative or secondary-heating source.

A parlor oven is designed like a wood burning stove.
A parlor oven is designed like a wood burning stove.

The parlor stove is designed to function as a wood burning stove. Keeping in mind that the parlor was intended to be a comfortable but formal room for entertaining guests, the size of the stove was scaled down from the larger and more utilitarian wood burning stoves found in kitchens. At the same time, the stove was often designed with more pleasing lines, and sometimes included scrollwork or other ornamentation in the cast iron components. The primary function of the stove was to emit a comfortable amount of heat, keeping the room warm and inviting for family members and guests.

Parlor stoves take firewood for fuel.
Parlor stoves take firewood for fuel.

The presence of a parlor stove often made the room one of the two main gathering points within the home during the winter months. Families would gather in the parlor during the daytime to enjoy conversation, reading, or similar activities. In the evenings, a parlor stove helped to keep the room inviting as the family enjoyed coffee or hot chocolate after dinner.

Today, many people restore antique parlor stoves and make use of the devices as a backup to modern heating options. An antique one is usually small enough to be installed in a standard fireplace area, with one end of the stove positioned in the chimney proper and the main body extending outward on the hearth. Replica editions of the older parlor stove have also become popular and are manufactured by a number of companies today. In the event that the main heating system in the home fails, the parlor stove is able to comfortably heat the den as long as firewood is available. When not in use, the stove can serve as a valuable decorating element within the room.

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