About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Antique or Just Old?

For many years people have asked me if I live in an antique house.  I always responded that my house was not antique...just old.  As the years rolled by that answer sounded more and more ridiculous.  After all, my house was built in 1863 making it 150 years old this very year.  How could it not be antique?  The definition of antique as applied to other things is considered to be roughly 100 years. Why am I not calling my house an antique house?

Typical 18th Century Timber  Framed House

Up until the mid-nineteenth century houses were timber framed.  The trees were felled, the frame was hand hewn, then raised.  The interior rooms were laid out and the walls were not load bearing. The sturdy frame supported the house, not the studded walls.

Houses had big chimneys encompassing several fireplaces.  The "hall" or kitchen fireplaces were large and equipped with an oven for baking.  The other fireplaces could be utilized from time to time for heating.

18th Century Ten Foot Cooking Fireplace

As the years passed frames and fireplaces alike evolved from bigger to smaller; both in terms of a lighter hewn frame and in smaller fireplaces that were more effective for heating.

As the mid-century mark approached, circa 1840, stoves became more commonplace for heating.  During this time it was not unusual to find a stove in the parlor even though the cooking fireplace prevailed for a while longer.  Eventually, even the cooking fireplace was replaced by a cast iron kitchen range.  A society of women who had always cooked over an open fire finally embraced the new lifestyle and fireplaces disappeared entirely in new construction.
A Comfortable Late 19th Century Kitchen.
(If you look closely you can see evidence of a cooking
fireplace behind the stove when the kitchen was updated)
Simultaneously the growing population and demand for housing as well as improvements in machinery led to the introduction of the balloon framed house constructed with dimensional lumber with load bearing walls.  They were so much lighter than their timber framed predecessors that some quipped they might blow away like a balloon.  They didn't blow away and most are still with us having stood the test of time.

Classic Greek Revival with Gable Facing  The Street
(Notice the triangular pediment at the top which seems
to be supported by the traditional four columns.)

This evolution from hand-made is important for me in determining my own personal definition of an antique house.  True antique houses, in my own opinion, are the handmade (hand hewn) houses that employed fireplaces for cooking and h eating.  The demise of the timber frame and the phasing out of fireplaces occurred almost simultaneously, especially during the decade of the 1840s.

So what do I call these other old houses that don't fit my definition of antique?

House styles were changing in appearance as well. Many pattern books, no longer from England but purely American, were readily available.  The symmetry of older houses faded.  Houses were designed from the inside out and new styles were appearing in quick succession.  This was the long Victorian period paralleling the reign of Queen Victoria.  There are many subtitles to describe the parade of house styles from the last half of the 19th century.  First came Greek Revivals; the first to have the gable end of the house facing the street.  Gothic houses and cottages such as my house followed.  Rounding out the 19th century were a whole string of styles under the umbrella we call Victorian but more specifically called Italianate, French Second Empire (Mansard), Eastlake or Queen Ann.  Last came the shingle style transitioning into the new 20th century with another whole parade of styles to follow.
Queen Ann Victorian with Tower
A good example of a late 19th century Victorian house.  Queen
Anne houses were asymmetrical with rounded, no square, towers. 

Whether it be furniture, a house or even things made from fabric; if it is 19th century and hand made it is surely an antique, houses included.

There is no hard and fast rule.  You can make your own choices as to what is or is not antique. It's up to you!  My house is balloon framed and has no fireplaces but it is 150 years old.  So what would you call it?

Thanks for visiting my blog.  There will be more to follow. Stay tuned!


PS  And by the way, you saw that awful looking dilapidated house at the top of this post? It is a lovely Georgian, circa 1750, house and it isn't dilapidated any more.  Even the worst of houses CAN be restored.  Take a look!


  1. How can there be no fireplace in a 150 year old house?

  2. Thank you for asking this question. In this area, NE, the decade from 1840 to 1850 is the period when stoves became common and fireplaces were phased out. The cooking fireplace was the last to disappear even after stoves were used in the parlor or elsewhere. By 1850 there were very few fireplaces with a few stragglers after that, By the Civil War fireplaces were uncommon. Fireplaces for aesthetic value had not yet become popular. Fireplaces were out of style until nostalgia brought them back.