Remnants of the Industrial Revolution: the Antique Blow Torch

The antique blow torch you found stashed in the attic or basement, or on sale for a couple bucks at a farm auction, could be a hot collectible.

| March 2005

  • antique blow torch - military torch by hunter manufacturing
    This military blowtorch was made by Hunter Mfg. Co., Solon, Ohio, for the U.S. Army in the 1960s. Rarity, not age, makes it collectible.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - four torches
    Four styles of antique blow torch.
    Photos: Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - common Bernz Co torch
    A common example of a blowtorch. Items like this one (produced by the Bernz Co., Newark, N.J. in the 1940s) are frequently seen at flea markets and on eBay.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - painted red
    Brass blowtorches, because of their appeal when polished, are popular with collectors. But an unusual blowtorch, made of painted steel (such as this Unique Mfg. Co. unit, manufactured in Chicago), is also very collectible.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - Bernz Co. Vulcan torch
    This Bernz Vulcan blowtorch has an 1893 patent date and is one of the earliest such products known to exist.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - combination blow torch and paint scraper
    This extremely rare blowtorch (produced by Climax Co., Hyannis, Mass., with a patent date of 1898) incorporates a paint scraper blade to follow up the torch’s flame. How many home owners set their houses on fire with devices like this?
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - combination blow torch and branding iron
    This blowtorch (Everhot Mfg. Co., Maywood, Ill.) has a branding iron positioned in front of the flame.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - five Lenk Manufacturing torches
    Smaller blowtorches, such as these produced by Lenk Mfg. Co., Boston, Mass., use alcohol or gasoline, and are intended for hobby or home use, rather than as a working tool.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • AnOlderBlowtorch.jpg
    An older blowtorch (the Red Hot, made by Ashton Mfg. Co., Newark, N.J., left) with the pressure pump in the handle; a later Bernz model with the pump in the tank.
  • antique blow torch - restoration of a Detroit Manufacturing Co. torch
    Top left: A typical old blowtorch (produced by Detroit Torch Mfg. Co., patent date 1918) as found after almost 100 years of use and abuse.Right: The same blowtorch has been disassembled for cleaning and polishing.Far right: With all the parts cleaned, polished and reassembled, this blowtorch probably looks even better than new.
    Dick Sarpolus
  • antique blow torch - three sizes of torch
    Blow torches were typically made in three sizes. L to R: A rarely seen gallon size from Turner Brass Works; the standard quart size, made by Clayton & Lambert; a small pint size, also from Turner Brass Works.
    Dick Sarpolus

  • antique blow torch - military torch by hunter manufacturing
  • antique blow torch - four torches
  • antique blow torch - common Bernz Co torch
  • antique blow torch - painted red
  • antique blow torch - Bernz Co. Vulcan torch
  • antique blow torch - combination blow torch and paint scraper
  • antique blow torch - combination blow torch and branding iron
  • antique blow torch - five Lenk Manufacturing torches
  • AnOlderBlowtorch.jpg
  • antique blow torch - restoration of a Detroit Manufacturing Co. torch
  • antique blow torch - three sizes of torch

My friend, Suezy, collects blow torches. So, on a hot weekend in late summer a couple of years ago, we drove south, down the Interstate 5 corridor, from Tacoma, Wash., to Brooks, a tiny farming town eight miles north of Salem, Oregon's capitol city. We had reservations for the annual Blow Torch Collectors Association (BTCA) Convention.

Suezy's good at storytelling. She's recounting the convention she attended in Puyallup, Wash., in 2000. "One of our European members brought torches to swap or sell," she recalls. "He had an antique blow torch from Czechoslovakia, and I traded straight across for a fairly generic torch manufactured in the U.S. He gave me the instructions that went with it … all in Czech. Months later, I made acquaintance with a woman from Czechoslovakia, who could translate them for me. And voilá!, it turns out there's a cap in the bottom of the handle that screws off, and inside there's a cleaning kit for the nozzle, and some extra parts that I never would have known were there."

I'm a pack rat. Little that passes into my hands ever passes out again. I even have stacks of my favorite old calendars, waiting for identical days and dates to roll around so I can reuse them. But blow torches? Still, I was becoming intrigued.

We breezed along a rolling road edged with small farms. Suezy recounted how she started collecting. "I used torches as a tool when I lived in eastern Washington, sweating irrigation pipes and soldering parts onto a baler or alfalfa mower. And everybody over there burns their fields and grass. Then one day, in an antique shop, I spotted this torch polished to its highest shine and made into a lamp. It was really gorgeous, though I like them better as a tool, with tarnish on them."



Suezy was hooked. "After that, I started seeing blow torches everywhere, but predominantly at farm sales," she continued. "Farmers would pass away, and the family would sell the homestead. I could buy a box of junk for a buck, and there'd often be a couple torches in the mix. And that's how I got started."

The Antique Powerland Museum sprawls across 63 acres in Brooks, Ore. Now a heritage site, its buildings and grounds exhibit all manner of machinery from agriculture to logging, trucking to railway. Groups such as the Western Steam Fiends Association, the Antique Implement Society and Branch 15 Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Association restore, preserve, and display all types of power mechanisms.



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