Gladys Ferrie, a resident of Clara House in Harmony, stands behind a display of sad irons, which is only a portion of her entire collection.
Gladys Ferrie, a resident of Clara House in Harmony, stands behind a display of sad irons, which is only a portion of her entire collection.

Gladys Ferrie of Harmony has a "sad" collection. One need not feel sorry for her, however, as she loves each and every piece. Her home north of Kendallville, Iowa, and her apartment at Clara House in Harmony are full of historic sad irons of every shape, size and type known to man. Each one is lovingly cared for and displayed so Gladys can share her love of these irons with others.

Recently, Gladys' daughter, Nancy Dieter, helped Gladys display a portion of her collection on the dining room table of Clara House. One-by-one Gladys explained where each iron came from and what they might have been used for. Even though a few of the irons had notations made on them as to where and when they were purchased, several did not. No matter the case, Gladys easily shared detailed stories about each one, sometimes remembering how much she spent on them and sometimes admitting she might have paid too much, but the unique piece just needed to be added to her collection.

As she lovingly picked up each piece, she shared how some irons were designed for a specific purpose such as to press hat brims or ties and others were small enough to press the wrinkles surrounding buttons on shirtsleeves. Many of her irons were designed to be heated on wood-burning stoves, while others had compartments for hot coal, hot oil or heated metal inserts to keep them warm. Some were even "powered" by burning corncobs. Gladys has a gas iron, which she has never used, but has heated it to ensure that it worked. More modern designs could be plugged into electrical sockets, but most were non-electrical.

Nancy explained that her mother not only has thousands of sad irons, but she also has many accessories to her collection such as toy irons, things shaped like irons, washboards, knick knacks, water sprinklers, pictures and so much more associated with irons and the act of ironing.

"Everything in her house is devoted to irons," Nancy said. "It has made shopping for her easy."

Gladys has had shelving added to display them and even a wood-burning stove added to a room so she can show how these irons were once heated.

Collecting irons was a hobby that Gladys shared with her late husband, Ray. The first iron in their collection was her mother's and they attended auctions where they saw many irons and found they could be bought at a reasonable price. Soon, the interest took hold and their collection began to grow. Together, they traveled the world collecting unique pieces for their collection and meeting other sad iron collectors.

She and her husband helped start the Midwest Sad Iron Club and were members of international clubs for collectors, attending conventions near and far.

Gladys and Ray collected sad irons for over 50 years, from all over the world. The current collection, which Gladys has continued to grow even after Ray died, has grown to well over a thousand pieces.

Some have interesting stories and are unique to the collection, while others may be similar, while not the same, as others.

The collection includes some of the oldest irons from the Asian culture where hot coals filled a heavy pan. One is in the shape of a dragon and steam could escape the nose of the dragon making it look as if it were breathing fire.

A slave iron had an interesting characteristic in that the iron rattled as one smoothed it over the piece of clothing. While one might be perplexed by that feature, Gladys quickly explained it was so the slave's master would know that she was still working as the rattle continued. This is one of her favorite pieces because of the story it tells and the history it holds.

Her most cherished iron is a red Pyrex iron, made out of glass during World War II when metal was in short supply. These irons are highly sought after and on the top of many iron collectors' wish lists. Manufactured by the Saunders Company, this electric iron is totally unique in that its entire top shell is glass or Pyrex, with just the sole plate being chrome plated metal. Irons of this type were made in red, blue, green and clear. While Gladys already has an iron of this type in her collection, she would love to add another in the color blue . . . or green . . . or both if she sees them available.

Gladys enjoys her collection, touching each piece and remembering where she and her husband may have found it. However, more than that, she loves to share those stories and the irons associated with them. She has presented programs at local historical societies, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Burr Oak and even Luther College.

And just a few weeks ago, when she displayed that small portion of her collection at Clara House, she had the opportunity to share those stories once again - with her neighbors, friends and now, her community.