This intriguing object (embossed “model no. 27”) was offered at our last Beehive sale. It is a BLOW TORCH, made on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries by Turner Brass Works in Sycamore Illinois, or possibly somewhat later in Chicago when their factory relocated.
Turner Brass Works produced thousands of blow torches with multiple improvements over the years. Their 1905 catalog touts one as “A pint torch for general light work, constructed with our improved automatic brass pump in the tank. The burner is of heavy bronze, strong and durable. For electricians, painters, etc., we guarantee it to give perfect satisfaction.”
The torches used the same kerosene as household lamps from the 1800s. Since a kerosene flame is not hot enough to melt metal, the torches use a manual pump to pressurize the fuel chamber, forcing the flame into a much hotter jet that shoots straight from the nozzle. The brass button on the vertical stem is the pump, and the black knob on the horizontal stem off the back of the apparatus adjusts the volume and focus of the jet. Later models have a pressure relief cap and a gauge to warn if the tank is approaching a dangerous blow-out.
Turner Brass Works operated for almost 100 years and according to a 1925 issue of The True Republican it was “the world’s largest exclusive manufacturer of blow torches, fire pots and braziers.” The company was founded in 1871 by Edward S. Turner, who was bought out 18 years later by Harrison Rountree. An ardent capitalist and industrialist, the young Mr. Rountree was nevertheless also an enthusiastic member of the more artistic circles of high society and socialized with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, feminist author Kate Chopin, and L. Frank Baum, author of many children’s fantasy books.
In fact, Roundtree financed of some of Baum’s early work, so the original sale of this little blowtorch helped bring the vast Wizard of Oz fantasy franchise to fruition. Another of Roundtree’s friends, Chicago artist Orlando Giannini, created the hand-standing gymnast that served as the Turner Brass Works’ logo, just barely visible here on the torch’s pressure pump.
It must be said that pressure alone is not enough to get these torches lit, the operator must also pre-heat the outside area around the nozzle with a splash of flaming fuel, so unlike many of the vintage tools we offer, we recommend leaving vintage blow torch use to the experts!
And what did people do back then when a house or shop fire broke out? The answer from another QBO sale: Harden’s brand Star Glass FIRE GRENADE, a liquid-filled bottle sealed with cork and cement. Although the earliest only held saltwater (which didn’t freeze in cold weather) more effective caustic chemicals were soon introduced. The first American patent was granted in 1863 with many following, so there are a wide variety of fire grenades, from 4″ to 8″ tall, in aqua, amber or clear, or rarely green or cobalt blue, with names like “Red Comet” and “Shur-Stop”. If a fire broke out in your home, you were meant to hurl the grenade at the flame’s base and flee before the fumes smothering the fire’s oxygen overcame you, too. So, they were not the greatest and it’s easy to see why they only lasted from 1870 to 1910, when the invention of brass & copper fire extinguishers rendered them obsolete.
If you collect fire grenades, remember: caustic, noxious, gaseous chemicals in fragile glass! Stay safe. We’ll see you soon.