Swiss Ceramic Stoves

Take a few minutes during the cold winter months to enjoy these Swiss ceramic tile stoves. Ceramic factories in Winterthur and Zurich produced elaborate tile stoves for wealthy Swiss patrons from about 1550 through the mid-1700s. The stoves provided radiant heat to keep rooms cozy during long Swiss winters. The enclosed stove chamber also contained sparks to reduce risk of fire.

ⓒHistorisches Museum Basel, Maurice Babey

The stove above, displayed in an architectural setting, gives you a sense of the scale of these pieces. Looking at a close-up of this piece (below), you can see some of the marvelous detailed work on inset tiles, as well as the structural elements of the pieces.

ⓒHistorisches Museum Basel, Maurice Babey (detail)

I found several examples of these tile stoves in the online collection of the Basel Historical Museum. Click the images to link to museum information about each piece.

ⓒHistorisches Museum Basel, Maurice Babey
ⓒHistorisches Museum Basel, Maurice Babey
ⓒHistorisches Museum Basel, Natascha Jansen
ⓒHistorisches Museum Basel, Maurice Babey

Another wonderful example of a Swiss tile stove is exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, shown below. The piece is displayed in a larger architectural setting (the “Swiss Room”) so you can visualize how these stoves may have originally appeared in homes of wealthy Swiss patrons.

Stove, ca. 1684–85; Attributed to the pottery of David II Pfau; Metropolitan Museum of Art

A detail shot of this piece from the Met’s website:

Stove, ca. 1684–85; Attributed to the pottery of David II Pfau; Metropolitan Museum of Art

A few ceramic stoves are scattered around different buildings in Swiss cities. I found this image of a ceramic stove in Restaurant Schlüsselzunft in Basel, Switzerland, on their website.

Ceramic stoves are efficient heaters. They take longer to heat than, say, metal, but once heated the ceramic stove will radiate this heat over a long period of time – for 18 to 36-hours in some cases. Mark Twain had some observations about the efficiency of these “German stoves” in his book “Europe and Elsewhere”:

“Take the German stove, for instance … it is by long odds the best stove and the most convenient and economical that has yet been invented.

To the uninstructed stranger it promises nothing; but he will soon find that it is a masterly performer, for all that. It has a little bit of a door which seems foolishly out of proportion to the rest of the edifice; yet the door is right; for it is not necessary that bulky fuel shall enter it. Small-sized fuel is used, and marvelously little at that. The door opens into a tiny cavern which would not hold more fuel that a baby could fetch in its arms. The process of firing is quick and simple. At half past seven on a cold morning the servant brings a small basketful of slender pine sticks – say a modified armful – and puts half these in, lights them with a match, and closes the door. They burn out in ten or twelve minutes. He then puts in the rest and locks the door, and carries off the key. The work is done. He will not come again until the next morning.
All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable, and there will be no headaches and no sense of closeness or oppression. In an American room, whether heated by steam, hot water, or open fires, the neighborhood of the register or the fireplace is warmest – the heat is not equally diffused throughout the room; but in a German room one is as comfortable in one part of it as in another. Nothing is gained or lost by being near the stove. Its surface is not hot; you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt.

Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day; the cost is next to nothing; the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns; one may absorb himself in his business and peace; he does not need to feel any anxieties or solicitudes about his fire; his whole day is a realized dream of bodily comfort.

For this reason ceramic tile stoves were used across Europe. I found interesting examples of tile stoves made in Germany, Latvia, Poland and Russia.

Ceramic tile stoves are still produced and used today. Most producers I found are located in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden. Norrköping Kakelugnsmakeri, a Swedish company “specializing in antique tiled stoves and fireplaces that need renovation” offers a variety of tiled stoves for sale. Click here or on the image below to access their website.

Some Norrköping product photos show disassembled parts, indicating how these stoves are built and assembled.

Contemporary circular ceramic tile stove
Contemporary rectangular ceramic tile stove

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