Collecting, cleaning, displaying, researching, and appreciating TRIVETS and related go-withs!

Seed Time to Harvest: the Harner memoirs

In my last blog post I introduced John Zimmerman Harner (1872-1965) and his JZH Alphabet Series trivets. The 1950s era photo above shows John Harner in the basement of his Boyertown, Pennsylvania home at 600 Highland Avenue. There he maintained his personal collection of JZH trivet castings ~ as well as many other Early American antiques and collectibles.

Were you aware John Harner’s memoirs were published? In 1957 he collaborated with Alliene Saeger Dechant, then editor of the Kutztown, Pennsylvania Patriot News; the result was his biography Seed Time to Harvest. Chapter 7 is titled “Union Manufacturing Company, Inc.” It discusses the history of the foundry, elaborates on the production of trivets and briefly discusses the history of sad irons.

Seed Time to Harvest is a hard-to-find book; many thanks to the Kutztown Publishing Company for allowing me to share this excerpt recounting the history of John Harner and his trivets, pages 144-146:

Nary a guest leaves the Harner House without a gift. It is not an ordinary gift, and you are certain to be told, “Pick what you like!” You stoop down eagerly and choose from several cartons. They are trivets, exact replicas of those on which Mother Harner used to set her sad irons while ironing Monday’s wash. John can still hear the clanking sound of it.

Trivets are so-called because they stand on three tiny legs, less than a half inch in height. They are made of cast iron, and John has more than 65 originals stored on the attic of his garage. He bought them at sales. Some he borrowed from friends, cast patterns over them and returned them, giving them several new ones for the loan. A few are so old that the design is almost obliterated.

Back in 1944, because they struck his fancy, John decided to reproduce half a dozen at the Foundry. Over these originals he made molds and poured them with white metal. These white metal castings he had his pattern-maker file, scrape, build up the rough edges with solder and sharpen up the old decorative lines and designs- all to their original shape and beauty. These he then used as patterns over which to mold and cast the more than 60 different styles.

He lettered each trivet, beginning with “A” and added the date of the year it was reproduced and the now famed initials J.Z.H. (John Zimmerman Harner). So numerous became the patterns that John ran out of alphabet letters and had to resort to numbers, which in addition to the 26 letters of the alphabet have reached more than three-score. At the Foundry, the warehouse storage space for trivets prior to shipment requires a large area. A trivet is hung from an overhead wire to mark the storage location of each type. From 90 to 100 are packed in durable, galvanized metal, returnable bushel baskets. Every available space in those baskets is utilized.

After his first reproduction, John gave a few to friends. Tradesmen heard about them, and very soon there were so many calls, personal ones and by phone, that he always kept a variety in bins in his home garage. Later, the matter became so burdensome and disturbing that the request of a distributor was accepted and now the entire output is handled in this manner.

The trivets vary in weight from slightly below one pound to about two pounds. Some have handles. The patterns include double hearts, wreaths, stars and tulips. John’s pattern-markers and molders make these trivet patterns and castings so smooth and exact that the castings produced therefrom are just about as perfect as the patterns themselves.

John’s pattern-markers and molders make these trivet patterns and castings so smooth and exact that the castings produced therefrom are just about as perfect as the patterns themselves. Some other foundries soon caught on to the fact that they could take John’s perfect castings, obliterate the J.Z.H., use them as patterns and also produce trivets with practically no pattern expense. Still other manufacturers, seeing the J.Z.H. trivets and nice castings, became interested in having neat castings in their own line, and therefore offered John’s Foundry some of their work.

John’s trivets are not only in friends’ homes across the United States but are presented as souvenirs at “Fersommlings” in which citizens of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and other distant climes, participate. “Fersommlings” are annual banquets where only Pennsylvania German dialect is spoken, and where the program features dialect speeches and a family style menu.

The Foundry also designed and made 900 special trivets for the “Grundsow” (Groundhog) Lodge No. 1 on the Lehigh River at Northampton, Pennsylvania, February 2, 1956. This trivet has a groundhog in the center, flanked by a trio of hearts, and the handle is decorated.

Harner photo and book excerpt shared with permission of David Esser, Kutztown Publishing Company, Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

Grundsow Groundhog Trivet, JZH, 1956. Cast iron, 12 x 7 1/2″.

I treasure my copy of Seed Time to Harvest and highly recommend this limited edition hardbound book for any trivet collector’s personal library. Copies can occasionally be found on Amazon.

Harner, John Zimmerman with Dechant, Alliene Saeger. Seed Time to Harvest. Kutztown Publishing Company, 1957. Print.