My Dutee to Arnold

One of the most exciting aspects of digging into Rhode Island’s cultural history is that…Rhode Islanders don’t really change things up much. Rhode Island has an intensely rich history, and as one of the OG 13 colonies, of course it does! But there are certain highlights that seem to take center stage. And stage left. And also stage right. There isn’t a lot of spotlight available for so many other incredible things that took place in Rhode Island.

You’ve got Roger Williams getting the ol’ Heave Ho from Massachusetts in 1635 for being heretically progressive in his religious beliefs. Those beliefs are the underpinnings of the religious freedoms offered today by the United States Government. Those same beliefs are a good part of the reason that Rhode Island held off in ratifying the U.S. constitution–Rhode Islanders wanted them in there.

Then you’ve got the Industrial Revolution kicking off in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, with Samuel Slater bringing his knowledge of the Arkwright water frame to the New World, with his textile mill firing up in 1790. Rhode Island became synonymous with textile production. You may not think of it that way, but your Fruit of the Loom underwear tells a different story.

There are a lot of highlights like these and others that sort of punctuate the popular understanding of Rhode Island history.

As I’ve gone about my semi-voluntary exploration of all sorts of odd bits of history as it relates to the overall current human experience, I invariably turn up a few nuggets of less-explored and, dare I say it, uncommon or even rare bits of history that few if any people think, care, or even know about. This is one of those bits.

For a few years now I’ve been researching the Barstow Stove Company. It started off slow, and then grew. And then grew some more to the point where I’m spending time reading Amos Barstow’s personal letters held in archives and of absolutely no interest to anyone until I bring them up. That interest has blossomed into a book, that I’m now well-behind completing because of how busy things have gotten here at Everyday Anthropology.

A not-insignificant chunk of that book isn’t about Barstow at all, however. Rather, it’s about the other stove foundries that dotted the state throughout the 19th and up to the turn of the 20th century. One of them, Dutee Arnold & Co., is the subject of this post.

Dutee Arnold was born on September 4, 1820. He is considered to be Dutee Arnold, II, but he is not Dutee Arnold, Jr. His parents were Horatio and Cecilia Sheldon Arnold, and it is Horatio’s father, Dutee Arnold, I, for whom our Dutee is named. The elder Dutee Arnold was a prominent Rhode Island judge, and his exploits make it a bit tougher to dig up information on his grandson.

However, Dutee Arnold was up to plenty in his life, being a founding partner in the dry goods firm, B. H. Gladding as well as the Providence Wall Paper Co. He left school at age 14 to become a grocery store clerk, which he used as an opportunity to learn how to run a business. Leaving the grocery store, he started a business selling shoes with his three brothers, Nicholas, William, and Benjamin. Accounts of Dutee’s life report that this was apparently too boring for him, and it was then that he started to dabble in mechanics and engineering.

By 1845 he had started the firm of Dutee Arnold & Co., the “& Co.” referring to his partner, Zelotes William Holden, whose primary interests were financial and it seems that finances were about the extent of his involvement in the partnership in question. For the first several years of its existence, Dutee Arnold & Co. dealt in stoves and sheet metal, although at the time they were reselling them, not manufacturing them.

This 1845 advertisement is among the earliest I have found for Dutee Arnold & Co. Here they are advertising as dealers in stoves, tin plate, and sheet iron.

This would all change in 1850, when they completed and fired up their very own stove foundry in downtown Providence, on the corner of Cove and Aborn streets. This same year, they took on another partner, one with considerable experience in stove design–George Thurston Spicer. Spicer had relocated to the city in 1845, and his interest in stoves led him to eventually meet Dutee and Zelotes.

The stoves and hollow ware cast by this foundry is incredible. It’s ornate, well-designed, and light weight. Pieces are few and far between and honestly the majority of it probably doesn’t exist anymore. I am lucky to have some of their items in my own collection, though it extends to a waffle iron and a single bill head.

From my own collection, this Dutee Arnold & Co. billhead is dated 1858 and at the bottom there it says, “Rec Payt Dutee Arnold,” which is one of my favorite pieces of Rhode Island foundry ephemera.

I never expected to see, let alone handle or own one of these waffle irons.

Their stoves are *somewhat* more common than their cookware or paper, but that isn’t saying much. I own one bill head, and I have scans of 39 others from the Smithsonian. I have seen just one waffle iron, which is the same one you’ve now seen as well. Stoves, though…I’ve seen probably 5.

This stove, by Dutee Arnold & Co., is called the Album. It is not mine and I share this image with permission from The Antique Stove Hospital.

They are fantastic pieces, and part of the purpose of my writing this is with the hope that some of you have a piece of iron with D. Arnold & Co., Prov., or Dutee Arnold & Co., Providence emblazoned on it, and you’re wondering what the heck it is you’ve just stumbled across. I’m hoping that what I’m writing gets feelers out for more pieces marked by them and perhaps saves a few of them from the scrap yard, which, unfortunately, is the fate of many of these pieces.

The firm of Dutee Arnold & Co. had a very solid run. If we consider 1845 to be the date of its founding, it lasted a good 17 years under this name. Zelotes William Holden retired in 1860, with Dutee Arnold following suit in 1862. George Spicer found a partner in his brilliant and enthusiastic son-in-law, Charles Peckham.

Charles Peckham had previously been in banking, and up until his employ with Dutee Arnold & Co., he was a book keeper for Bank of America. He got the same job with Dutee Arnold & Co., and upon marrying his boss’s daughter, the eventual partnership became a family affair. With Arnold and Holden enjoying their retirement, the firm of Dutee Arnold & Co. became the firm of Spicer & Peckham.

An 1865 advertisement for the recently-minted Spicer & Peckham

This firm continued on the fantastic quality iron that their clientele had come to expect from the precedent established 12 years prior. In about 1863, George Spicer’s son, William Arnold Spicer, was hired as a clerk. The year before he had been discharged from the Union Army after becoming seriously ill. Three years later, on March 1, 1866, William became the second Spicer to be partner, and the firm became Spicers & Peckham.

Sometimes I feel like all of my Rhode Island foundry ephemera is my favorite. This billhead from 1866 was printed with Spicer & Peckham, and the plural was later added by hand. This billhead also notes that they were the successors to Dutee Arnold & Co., AND to top it off, it also shows the Roger Williams Stove in the top left corner, which was originally offered by D. Arnold & Co. and is the same stove pictured on the D. Arnold billhead above. That’s a lot for one little piece of paper.

The third Spicer brother, Henry Rice Spicer, followed in glorious suit when he became partner in 1872. Henry Spicer was instrumental in the expansion of the firm into Boston, New York, Chicago, and even San Francisco. Their stoves would go on to win World’s Fair awards, and their prominence and quality was first rate in the intensely innovative world of the 19th century stove industry.

An 1889 advertisement for Spicers & Peckham shows off their beautiful Model Ranges and at the bottom lists their agencies around the country. This was at the very end of the firm carrying this name.

By 1890, the run of Charles Peckham was coming to a close, and upon his retirement (and the death of George Thurston Spicer in 1879) the firm of Spicers & Peckham, formerly Spicer & Peckham, formerly Dutee Arnold & Co. took on its final name–The Spicer Stove Company.

This 1888 advertisement is the earliest I have found mentioning the name as Spicer Stove Co. They were also using the name Spicers & Peckham until at least 1892.

This firm continued on until 1900, when it was bought out by the Barstow Stove Company. While it made Barstow the sole remaining stove foundry in Rhode Island, they continued on with production of many of Spicers’ wares, and continued advertising in the name of the foundry; however, they used the longer-running name of Spicers & Peckham. An obvious business decision at the time, in retrospect it was a suitable honor to their longest-standing competitor and the countless friendships and trails blazed along the way.

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