Antique Cast Iron Fireplace Insert

mrjoebeeSeptember 16, 2008

I recently bought my first home, a beautifully restored Victorian built c. 1909, and in the formal sitting room there is a fireplace with a cast iron insert. I was wondering how this sort of fireplace is used.

Some details: Across the inside back it has in raised letters, "The Monarch." There is a key on the outside at the upper right that, when turned, closes a... flue? Damper? I'm not sure of the terminology here. Below that is a lever that seems as though it should be able to be pushed in and pulled out, but it's stuck and I don't know what it controls.

There are two grates in the lower front of the fireplace that can be opened and closed (like vents). The fireplace itself doesn't really have a floor; it opens down into the basement where, at the base of the chimney there are two cast iron doors that can be opened to, I suppose, clear out the ashes.

If anybody can give me any details about how this all works, I would sincerely appreciate it!

Here is a link that might be useful:

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It sounds like you recently bought this house and that's why you are not familiar with the fireplace. You probably should have asked about it when you had the house inspected. But that might not have mattered because it's so old that only somebody with specialized knowledge could answer your questions.

I suggest that you have a fireplace contractor who does chimney sweeping come to the house to clean your chimney. Unless you know for a fact that the chimney has been cleaned recently, you should have that done. That is not such a big expense. While he is doing the cleaning (it's almost always a man), you can ask him some questions about it. If he's any good at what he does, he can probably be helpful, even if he's never seen your type of unit, because he has a trained eye that can figure out how the thing is put together and how it's supposed to work.

Alternatively, if you have friendly neighbors who live in houses of a similar vintage, they may be able to guide you.

Another suggestion: Go to That website has a chatroom frequented by very knowledgeable fireplace guys who seem to have nothing better to do than answer questions about fireplaces.

I hope you resolve your problem and enjoy your fireplace for many years to come.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 4:44PM
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Btw it's an Edwardian house Queen Victoria died 1901 and Edward himself died 1910

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 10:37AM
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This was probably a coal burner.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 11:10PM
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1) Agree with getting chimney sweep. He can tell you for sure.

2) The key like thing probably is a damper. It would typically have teeth on the inside of the fireplace that would turn a gear/cam to open/close the damper.

3) Not sure about the lever. Old fireplace parts often get bent from heat and corroded/rusted with age, so if it's stuck, that's life.

4) There often is an ash dump in old fireplaces. It's usually covered with a metal plate and goes to the basement where there's a cleanout with a cast iron (typically) door.

5) The vents may be to draw up cooler air from the basement and to create some circulation in the house.

5) If the cast iron insert is flat it may be a heat retaining panel that absorbs heat while fire is going and then radiates into room when you stop burning it (e.g., at night).

    Bookmark   September 29, 2008 at 11:18AM
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The house I live in has one of these - it's beautiful. You didn't mention the front piece of the fireplace, so I'm wondering if yours is complete. The front piece is a solid, and very ornate, cast iron "screen". You cannot see the fire when this piece is in place. The heat radiates from it into the room.

There are two flues on this model: the forward one (closest to the room) can be opened fully, partially, or closed by turning the key you describe. The handle below the "key" operates the rear flue. Pushed in, the flue is closed, pulled out, the flue is open. Between these two flues is a fluted and curved cast iron part, set at an angle rising from the rear flue toward the front flue.

Along with the solid upper front, there are two other removeable pieces, both with vents operated by small handles on their faces. For some reason, the upper (and larger of the two) has only one handle. The lower vent has two handles.

Also, the upper vent piece has a small cutout on its bottom, toward the right side. This accomodates a square "peg" which, when turned, operates the fireplace grate. The grating is comprised of several pieces which hold the wood, and when the peg is turned the pieces spin to dump the ashes into the tray below.

Mine has an ash tray which can be accessed by removing the lower of the three front pieces.

Unfortunately, the landlord has asked that we not use it. But it sure is pretty. If you like, I could take some photos and email them.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 4:45PM
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it's a coal-burning fireplace. it's likely small and would not work well with wood, try to find some decent bituminous coal and you will have a nice, authentic fire. if you need coal sources let me know.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 9:26PM
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I know this is an old message however, I am in the process of having my wood burning fireplace replaced with natural gas. I took out the old cast iron fireplace and found the raised lettering on the inside which said "The Monarch". All the pieces are there except for the key which turns the grate. I is in excellent shape and I removed it an have it wrapped in a tarp outside. What I would like to know is if this fireplace is worth anything or should I just incorporate this fireplace in my yard? Stan

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 3:51PM
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I know this is an old post, but do you guys still have the "Monarch" fireplace? If so... do you want to sell any of the parts?

Thanks, Mike 1-773-230-0214

    Bookmark   September 6, 2013 at 9:49AM
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