I am not a gardener, as I’ve confessed in the past, but I do adore flowers.
Every week for many years, I would hit the outdoor flower stand and assemble a different fresh bouquet. I’m usually partial to fragrant flowers but these days I am making do with something more permanent – vintage cast iron flower vase doorstops. These were entirely new to me when I purchased the first one – a pink, yellow and white tulips in a classic fluted vase [top] made by Hubley (more on that in a moment) from my neighborhood antiques shop about eight years ago. I bought the tulips (Hubley no. 143) on impulse purely to have “flowers” in the bookshelf during every season.
As you can learn from Wikipedia, cast iron toys, doorstops, bookends and animals were made in the U.S. by a handful of manufacturers beginning in the 1890s, and remained popular through the 1960s. Chief among these was the Hubley Manufacturing Co., which today is a major brand that commands a premium price in the collectibles market — mainly at auction. In addition to Hubley there were other manufacturers who made very charming cast iron doorstops in a similar style. For novice collectors like me, there’s not much information on Hubley, only one out-of-date book on doorstops written by the proprietor of a New Jersey auction house, plus random scraps of information. Auction records provide a hit-or-miss trail of prices but listings are sketchy at best, with misidentified flowers and dating that cannot be verified. I’m no expert and I buy carefully.
My recent discovery of this photo of an original Hubley box made it clear to me that numbers embossed in the back of doorstops are manufacturer’s style numbers that also appeared on the box labels when they were new. For some styles, there are variations in colors of the vases or the flowers. But I’ve never seen one for sale in a box, and usually the doorstops are chipped, rusted, worn or faded because they’ve been used. So it’s difficult to know – except by seeing auction catalog photos – how many total number of flower vase doorstops exist, or how many variations there may be.
Early on I decided to focus on flower doorstops with vases – but not baskets. Like furniture feet, the style of a vase is often the best clue to the general age of the mold from which the doorstop was cast. This flower vase (Hubley no. 479) is the smallest doorstop, only 6-inches high. I love the black foot of the vase (I’ve also seen it in sky blue), the old rose and what I believe are pink and blue hydrangeas (I’m partial to roses and hydrangeas).
In addition, the vase must have some interesting detail, or I must love the flowers in the vase, or their colors and the color must be original – not repainted. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for pansies, which my Mom grew when I was little. I planted big purple pansies in my stone urns this spring and was sorry to see how short-lived they were. So naturally it was love-at-first-sight for the pink-and-cream “pansy bowl” doorstop (Hubley no.456) with its purple flowers even though the base may have been repainted black (I’ve it also with a cream base and there’s a blue version).
One of the most iconic Hubley doorstops is the Nasturtiums in a black-and-white striped pot (Hubley no.221). I’ve been hunting for one of these for some time (I adore the pot) and I was thrilled to receive it this year as a birthday surprise from Allison. Thank you again, dear friend! This one is charmingly weathered and well used.
The anemonies and lilacs, also in a grey and black striped vase (Hubley no. 265) is one of my older ‘stops. This one was a great buy but it’s not one of the most valuable styles.
I’ve had a pair of white geranium plants longer than most of my doorstops and every year I bring them in to winter over. (I showed a photo of one in my Confessions of a Garden-Challenged Decorista post.) So when this yellow geranium doorstop (Hubley no. 488/1) appeared, it was a must-have even though the flowers were mis-identified as peonies on the auction listing and others have been listed as primoses but I believe that’s wrong, too.
If you have geraniums, and compare the leaves, it’s clear this is geranium. I’ve also seen this doorstop in a version with pink flowers.
The ‘gladiolus’ doorstop (Hubley no. 489) is one of the larger (about 10-inches high) and most frequently seen examples. While it’s generally pale, the bits of pink hydrangea in the back and yellow coreopsis add nice dots of color. In this case, the two-handled, classic urn with a black-rimmed base were of more interest to me than the flowers.
So many of the Hubley flower doorstops are baskets with handles rather than vases. On close inspection, this one (Hubley no. 470) depicts a white basket-weave holder for a terracotta vase with petunias and asters in the floral mix. One auction source dated this doorstop to the 1930s, but I feel it may be later. I’d love to hear opinions on this.
Blue and white is a standard color theme in many of these doorstops and the vibrantly striped Deco-style vase in this one (Hubley no. 315) immediately called out to me. Generally described as “marigolds,” the yellow flowers lack the full-on orange marigold hue. So while I’m not sure about that, there are blue asters and pale pink petunias. The detail of the fallen leaf on the base shows the kind of detail that sets Hubley’s doorstops apart from many others.
Are these are zinnas in what I believe to be a gray and blue Wedgewood-style vase? (Hubley no. 267) I believe so yet they look less like zinnias (to me) than the flowers in the doorstop below. What do you think gardeners? Whatever the flowers may be the great detail on this doorstop makes it a classic.
The blue and white Swedish-style vase with the scalloped detail and stylized flower in the middle is the terrific feature of this zinnas doorstop (Hubley no. 316) and the leaves have exceptional hand-painted detail.
According to about.com “John Wright bought the old Hubley doorstop molds and began his replicating these styles in the early 1940s.” While that may be true it conflicts with the Wikipedia story of Hubley being purchased by toy-maker Gabriel at the end of the 1960s. Whatever. This spring-flowers doorstop, with a floral garland on the base, is stamped “J.W. 52-575.” It’s quite similar to Hubley’s no. 266 doorstop which has the same exact form but different coloring in the flowers. Hubley’s vase has black and white stripes with a colored garland while the base on this Wright doorstop is all white.
However, all the academic aspects – how many were made, how many variations, how many manufacturers, which date is “right” for any doorstop, and what the subtle differences might be don’t ultimately matter. I collect these doorstops for their special attributes and display them in the bookshelves in my office so I can enjoy my flowers every day.