A sad iron is a smoothing iron with a solid, flat base which could be heated by placing it directly on a a stove, the term "sad" being Old English for "solid." They were developed in the later Middle ages, and rags were used around the handle to avoid burns.
Mrs Mary Florence Potts patented two clothing irons in 1870 and 1871, the second of which was the "Cold Handle Sad Iron." It became so popular that it was copied by several other manufacturers, and effectively revolutionised clothing iron production in the United States. The removable wooden handle was sold with three bodies and a stand.
J & J Siddons is a well known foundry from West Bromwich in the English Midlands, still in production, although now their output consists mostly of industrial castings rather than sad irons.
The difficulty with sad irons is that they don't hold their heat very well. The charcoal iron was hollow with metal pans to hold glowing charcoal, often designed small holes in the side to feed the glowing charcoal with air, and a chimney to direct the smoke produced away from the garments.
The Tilley paraffin pressure domestic iron was advertised in 1953 as proving "themselves a friend to every housewife."
Photographs and text by Brett Payne