Recently I had the opportunity to assist in the removal of an early 20th-century mantelpiece from a vacant farmhouse awaiting demolition. The mantelpiece and other woodwork and windows are to be installed in a new house currently under construction on the same farm.
It was a surprisingly simple process, though not all mantels of the period were installed in the same manner. Removing the tile was a bit trickier, and unfortunately involved some losses due to the fragility of the tile. Several pieces were already cracked as is typical of old fireplaces.
The following photos show the process:
The mantel in situ. The ornate fireplace insert, or “outfit” as it was referred to in period catalogs, features a subtle Japanned finish. The surrounding wood paneling, drop ceiling and sculpted carpet vividly recall the 1970’s.
A total of six screws hold the mantel to blocking which was nailed to the plaster and lath wall. The egg and dart molding in this installation was not secured uniformly; the molding along the left side and top of the mantel was nailed to the blocking while that on the right side was nailed to the mantel. After the screws were removed, this molding had to be loosened before the mantel could be pulled away from the wall.
Once the mantel was free, the blocking was revealed. Both blocking and bare plaster had not seen the light of day for more than a century.
The egg and dart molding clings to the right side of the mantel, as seen from behind. A portion of the original paper label remains and identifies the manufacturer as Nord.
Egg and dart molding remains attached to the blocking and header. The header was added to the mantelpiece when installed, presumably to make it relate to the door and window casings in the rest of the house.
The tile surround was set directly on the brick face of the firebox.
The tile was set in Portland cement. The tile setter did a great job, which made removal not so easy. A wide-blade putty knife and a hammer will do the trick – it’s best to tap very gently and be patient.
Even with the utmost care, there will occasionally be casualties, as seen here.
The backs of the tiles show them to be manufactured by Old Bridge.
Tile surround removed.
The hearth was set in a mud base on the subfloor. There were more losses with the hearth tile than the surround tile.
The insert, or outfit, was not physically attached. It just slid out from the firebox without protest.
The mantel awaits transport to its new home.