When I posted the photographs of the ballroom and the supper room in the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, two very important fixtures weren't visible in the pictures. Here they are now: a pair of coal-burning, cast-iron stoves that were the cutting edge of keeping warm in the 1770s.
Also called "warming machines," the stoves were imported from London where they were effective, fashionable, and exclusive because of their cost. The stoves were the work of a famous inventor of the time named Abraham Buzaglo (1716-1788.) A Moroccan who immigrated to England in 1760, Mr. Buzaglo immediately amazed Londoners with his cast iron warming machines, which he patented in 1765. As one historian has noted, his ultimate goal was to try to "reform English prejudices regarding comfortable warmth."*
Mr. Buzaglo's trade card modestly promised that his stoves "surpass in Utility, Beauty & Goodness any thing hitherto Invented in all Europe". They "cast an equal & agreeable Heat to any Part of the Room, and are not attended by any Stench," with "a bright Fire to be seen at Pleasure." More importantly, the stoves"preserve the Ladies Complexions and Eye Sight" and "warm equally the whole Body, without scorching the Face or Legs," plus "other Advantages too tedious to insert."**
The warming machines were so popular that they became known by the inventor's name (though incorrectly, if inevitably, pronounced by the English as "Buzz-aglow" rather than "Bu-ZAH-glo".) Buzaglos warmed drafty gracious homes as well as university libraries and the shops of tailors and weavers. The two in Williamsburg were imported to colonial Virginia by the Royal Governor, Lord Botetourt (1718-1770) for the comfort of his guests in the Governor's Palace, and shortly before his death in 1770 he ordered another to warm the House of Burgesses.
So do Buzaglo stoves work? While I don't doubt that the twin Buzaglos in the palace are in fine working order, I also imagine that modern-day fire and pollution regulations frown on combining coal-burning stoves with crowds of tourists. But to a lady shivering in a silk gown two hundred years ago, I'm sure they were a very welcome upgrade from the sparks, soot, and limited warmth of an open hearth.
And, of course, there must have been all those "other Advantages too tedious to insert."
* The Invention of Comfort: Sensibilities & Design in Early Modern Britain by John Crowley
** "Hot Air from Cambridge", an article by J.C.T. Oates appearing in The Library