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Vintage fish tank or terrarium

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Victorian Era1948 of 2097Forget Me Not Victorian Cut Paper with Applied Scraps Collection Jim LindermanPlease help me identify this :)
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Posted 7 years ago


(2 items)

Hi, I recently came across this and was wondering if anyone could tell me about it. I thought it was a fish tank but I guess it could be a terrarium. It has a slate bottom with a quarter size round hole. It is really heavy, maybe cast iron. It is about 30" long, 15" wide, and 14 " tall.. It is from a house built in the late 1800's that was used for Mill workers to live in ( house is in Fall River, Mass. two streets away from King Philip Mills) The house later became a baby clinic about 1902 and then in the 1920's became a preschool. House is still a preschool and we sold many items to raise money for the school that were from the attic where this was ( we had jadite and block sets over 100 years old, etc..) I purchased this from them and was wondering about the age, if it is a fish tank, etc.. I have looked online seen similar ones but not usually in a gold color like this one. I really like the architectural lines to it, my son who just turned 7 is a little collector and he loves it too! It is not something you come across every day. The glass panels are a little loose so I have to figure out how to fix those while trying to keep it as original as possible. It is still in the school attic, I have to plan how to carry it down a few flights of stairs and get it home in one piece!!! My dad actually went to the preschool in the 30's , my siblings and I went in the 70,s my nephews in the 90's and my son a few years ago. ( King Philip Preschool) Neat old building, lots of little rooms, probably a family in each room when the mills rented them out. Curious how old this is..

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  1. Michael Reszka, 7 years ago
    You are the proud owner of a cast iron Victorian terrarium or aquarium! The difference between the two is that the terrarium had loosely fitted glass and the addition of a zinc screen and sheet metal four-sided peaked canopy which was retained under the corner finials. If there is evidence of cement in the corners beneath the glass it was intended for use as an aquarium and had no canopy. The style dates it to about 1875 and the maker was quite likely J.W. Fiske of NYC. Usually, they were painted black, brown or green and the gold might be original but is more likely a later addition.

    Be careful picking it up as the base is not slate but a solid cast iron casting. The tank weighs between 92 and 98 pounds. I have had a number of these and can vouch for the weight! Be VERY careful in dis-assembly as the original glass is a significant part of the value of the piece. The very faint blue of the old glass cannot be duplicated with a replacement material. If finials don't unscrew readily it might be worth having the takedown down by a professional to avoid damage to them...there are no replacements available anywhere.

    Any high quality flat or matte finish paint could be used to refinish the exterior but I would recommend an elastic epoxy pond paint for the inside bottom to avoid rusting when full of water. Not much else will adhere very well over time. Under no circumstances should aquarium silicone sealer be used for the restoration. First of all, it won't last long holding to the cast iron and secondly, it totally ruins the value of the piece. Instead, use either a whiting/portland cement mix or a thick-bodied tar sealer which is used today for roofing repair. Allow either one to dry for at least two weeks before water testing and then cure by soaking for at least two weeks more before adding animals.

    As to value? They can run anywhere from $175 to $1,500 depending on condition and the buyer. Treasure it because they are just not found any more and they certainly "don't make 'em like they used to!" I have owned and sold a number of them but I still have my first one and wouldn't part with it!
  2. simone, 7 years ago
    Thanks Mike for the info!!! I gave my mom the info and she said that the house was built around that time and that there was one schoolteacher from New York who worked at the house when it opened. I will definately be extra carefeul moving it since it is such a unique piece! I will use it as a terrarium so I won't have to seal it for water but thanks for all the info on restoring it! I really appreciate it!!!!!
  3. Michael Reszka, 7 years ago
    My pleasure!

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