You really can't discuss antique stoves without the mention of antique cast iron fires, so for this discussion, take them to mean similar items.
For the most part, when people speak of antique stoves, they are referring to "cast iron" stoves. Cast iron was hugely important and widely used in the nineteenth century. It is iron with three to four percent carbon and up to six percent silica that is cast in molds. The desired consistency of cast iron is varied during the production process through carbon and silica, and oxidation.
Further treatment with heat can follow the casting process during which any excess of carbon can be converted to graphite. The extent of this has significant bearing on the mechanical properties of the cast iron used in stoves and fires.
Many uses of cast iron vanished with the arrival of steel in the twentieth century. Mid-way through the nineteenth century cast iron fireplaces and stoves entered the home. Cast iron fires are somewhat strange objects for the antique collector since they were mass produced in foundries on industrial lines and hence do not have the craftsmanship normally associated with antiques. On the other hand, their designers gave much thought to their appearance and many cast iron fires are of very fine and striking appearance. This attracts many collectors to them, making them well worth considering. Trade buyers are always eager to acquire them because of their ready sale characteristics.
There were makers of cast iron fires and stoves throughout Western Europe. The appearance of their products varied widely. Most European makers though remained several decades behind the renowned French makers (such as Jean-Baptiste Andre Godin -- 1817-1888). The 23 year old Godin started his business making fireplaces in the centre of Thierache in 1840 with a loan of about 4,000 francs from his parents. Godin quickly recognized the advantages of cast iron for the production of fireplaces and stoves.
His success was so great that he established a foundry in a small shed in 1842 but this quickly became too small. The works soon moved to Guise where 30 people were said to have been employed. In spite of fierce competition and the unremitting copying of his products, his business grew rapidly -- making antique stove from his era especially valuable. The most important reason for this was his innovation. Godin applied for many patents for his products and concentrated on continually improving them both aesthetically and technically.
This helped his factory to be the leading manufacturer. Godin conducted many experiments and was a very good business manager. One of his achievements was the mechanization of the casting process. His modest stove works grew by 1880 into a factory wi1h 2,000 employees -- remember stoves and fireplaces were the ONLY heating source. The success of Godin was a great surprise to many of his contemporaries. This skepticism was founded on the poor economic circumstances of the small area he worked in at the time. It was far removed from the many traffic routes and urban markets and raw materials. Godin chose it though because of a ready supply of labor that was less demanding than in the urban areas. Much of Godin's success was due to the input of his employees.
Godin was remarkably interested in his workers and paid wages that were relatively high for the region and he successfully raised the living standards of his workers. This is probably the primary reason for the unparalleled quality of his antique stoves and fireplaces!
For many the Godin name evokes stoves that were still in use until after World War II but he was also a leading figure in his branch of industry and known too for his forward-looking social ideas.