Collecting, cleaning, displaying, researching, and appreciating TRIVETS and related go-withs!
Image of John Z. Harner reprinted with permission of
David Esser, Kutztown Publishing Company, Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
In his lifetime John Zimmerman Harner (1872-1965) was both a manager and owner of the Union Manufacturing Company of Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1894, the company produced cast iron stoves, sadirons and other ironware in its early years. After World War II the Union Manufacturing Company expanded into trivet production; from 1944 to 1958 sixty-five different trivet designs were marketed. John Harner passed away in 1965 at the age of 92.
In 1966 the company merged and became the Unicast Foundries Division of Berkmont Industries. The Harner family sold their interest in the Unicast Division in 1981 and it’s been known since as the Unicast Company. This foundry, still active in Boyertown, pours over 40 tons of gray iron daily, producing a variety of industrial castings.
John Harner’s interest in preserving Early American trivet designs led him to design and produce a special Alphabet Series of nicely cast trivets between 1944 and 1955. Each design is inscribed on the back with J.Z.H., its assigned alphabet letter and the year. Three of the alphabet trivets (F, H and P) occur in two versions, making the total number of collectible trivets in the series to be 26 + 3 = 29.
It’s becoming harder with each passing year to locate all the alphabet trivets, especially the rarest designs: A, B, F (with a handle) and N … but many of the others are still readily available. Good luck and happy collecting!
PS: See also my blog post Seed Time to Harvest: the Harner memoirs.
You might find a JZH “D” design with “Faith 444” and red, green, white, blue, and yellow enameled star points on the face. Those trivets were produced by JZH/Union Manufacturing Company for the Order of Eastern Star in the late 50’s and early 60’s and represent custom work for the various chapters of each state.
Be aware that some of Harner’s alphabet designs were re-issued by other companies. Those trivets may look like original JZH alphabet trivets but the signatures on the back differ.
● Designs with a “T” added on the reverse were re-issues by Emig. So far I’ve found the following Emig designs: 1945 C Rings T-36; 1955 L Cupids T-11 (the cupids face in opposition from the original design); 1945 M Lyre T-35; 1948 P Hex T-9; 1955 Cathedral T-12; and 1948 V Sm. Cathedral T-46. The Robert Emig Products Company of Reading, Pennsylvania was a distributor of decorative cast iron home items; independent foundries were contracted to produce the castings.
● I’ve seen a trivet signed 1948 U Sunburst; maker unknown.
● Iron Art obtained the alphabet patterns from JZH and reissued the entire A-Z series in their 1957-1958 Catalog. The Iron Art Company of Philipsburg, New Jersey was, like Emig, another distributor who contracted out for their castings. I’ve never seen any alphabet trivet designs signed Iron Art. It’s probable that John Harner’s Union Manufacturing Company was the independent foundry casting most of these re-issued alphabet design trivets.
Question from Mark in PaDutch Country: I recently bought a trivet in the “A” design. It only has “A” on the back and nothing else, no “J.Z.H.” or “1944”. It measures 7 3/4″ in diameter. Would you say there’s a good chance it was made by Union Mfg. Co. or Unicast? Here’s an image of the reverse of my “A” trivet.
Answer: The letter “A” was not associated with this trivet design until the JZH 1944-A trivet was produced.
In the 1950s-1960s trivet patterns were frequently sold, shared, or copied without permission. Harner’s Union Manufacturing Company also produced castings for distributers like Iron Art and Emig. After 1966-1967, when Union Manufacturing Company merged as Berkmont Industries/Unicast Foundries, trivets continued to be produced by contract. How they were signed on the back varied. Many Unicast trivets were unsigned or only had the name of the contractor and possibly one or more code numbers or letters.
I’ve never seen a trivet reproduction with only a raised “A” on the reverse. Your trivet is most likely a copy of Harner’s JZH-A trivet by some unknown foundry or individual.
The unsigned, antique version of this design, used as Harner’s pattern, is 8” in diameter, has long legs and is quite a heavy trivet. Harner’s J.Z.H. “A” reproduction trivet measures 7 7/8” in diameter and weighs less. Your trivet measures 7 3/4″.
Note that your trivet is 1/8″ smaller than the JZH-1944 A trivet, which is 1/8″ smaller than the original antique version. This demonstrates the rule of One Size Smaller: Trivets were often used as patterns. Any resulting repros would be slightly smaller, due to molten metal shrinkage after cooling. Cast iron shrinks 1/8″ (2/16″) per foot; brass and copper shrink 3/16″ per foot.
Clicking the first image will open a Slideshow. There are controls at the bottom of each screen to enlarge the image to full resolution. Click again (+) to zoom in.