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...the dampened linen to be pressed was wrapped around the roller flat on a table and the roller was worked back and forth by means of the flat board, a downward pressure being exerted by the hand at the same time.
Edison Monthly, Jan 1922

Norwegian Touches: History, Recipes, Folk Arts Notably Norwegian by Louise Roalson, from Amazon.com or Amazon UK

Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills by Abigail Gehring, from Amazon.com or Amazon UK

Mangle boards

Mangling board and pin, board and roller - carved or plain

plain wooden board with handle plus rolling stick Hot metal pressing irons are so common that we may forget how widespread wooden mangling boards once were. People who have heard of mangle boards may know they were traditional courtship gifts carved by young men in Scandinavia or the Netherlands. They were found further afield too, and were a standard way of smoothing linen from Russia to France, from Iceland to Bosnia. We know they were in use before 1600 and in some places were still familiar in the 20th century.

board with ornate curly handle on top, little other carvingHow do they work? Like the 100-year-old Norwegian tools in the photograph, the board was always one half of a pair. A roller was an essential companion to the board. While the board could be beautifully decorated on one side - sometimes with carved initials and dates - the roller had to be smooth and plain for effective "ironing".

Two utensils are necessary - the first a kind of rolling-pin, round which the sprinkled linen is tightly swathed. The other, a mangling-board, a narrow flat piece of wood ... is then pressed tightly on the linen and rolled with as much force as possible.
Nico and Beatrix Jungman, Norway, 1905

mangle board and cloth on roller As well as the Norwegian woman pictured left, this photo from Germany shows how the board was placed at right angles to the roller. Skill and experience would make for a good rolling action, balancing heavy pressing with smooth motion. Experience would help you know how damp the cloth should be, how best to wind it etc. In some regions, a handle on top of the board helped you press down firmly.

board with carved decoration and horse-shaped handle Animal-shaped handles like the horse were often favoured in Norway and Sweden, while the English board from Whitby, Yorkshire pictured above left has a lion handle. In parts of northern England these mangling tools were called a 'bittle and pin'. Attractive carved boards could help decorate the home, as in this picture from Marken, Holland

Highly decorative carved board Originally this article said that the oldest dated mangle board was from 1566, and kept in the Arnhem museum, according to the Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée. In April 2011 Tonnis Prins kindly wrote to tell me about an even older one, from 1554, which is in the Zuiderzeemuseum in the Netherlands.

During the sixteenth century the mangling board and roller came into general use. The idea spread from Holland, Denmark and northern Germany.... The material was wrapped round the roller...which was placed on a flat table. The mangling board [was] then passed backwards and forwards over the roller until the fabric was smoothed.....The idea was exported by Dutch colonists, particularly to North America and South Africa.
Ian McNeil, Encyclopedia of the History of Technology , 1990

squarish boards attached to pan-type handle The pictures on this page are not to scale, and some come from books published in the early 20th century by authors who didn't record sizes, even though they were experts in their subjects. (Like Charles Holme's books on 'Peasant Art'.) However, we know the Norwegian board top right is about 70cm or 27 inches long. This is not untypical for mangle boards from Scandinavia. Edward Pinto, author of Treen and Other Wooden Bygones, thought these were some of the heaviest boards because wood was abundant there, and reports that boards from Friesland (northern Netherlands) were much lighter. Ages are also not mentioned though some have dates from the 1700s or 1800s carved into them.

mangling boards from Transylvania, Bosnia, Upper Austria and Styria

These batlers or battledores, as they are now generally called, are still in use in Yorkshire. They are the prototype of the "patent mangle", and consist merely of a flat rectangular piece of wood, some two feet long, and six inches broad, with a thin short handle. The linen to be mangled is coiled round a roller, which is placed on a table, and then the batler is placed on the top, and pushed forwards and backwards on the roll under pressure of the hands. They were not used in Yorkshire only. I procured a very handsome specimen in Suffolk some years ago, the upper surface of which is rather elaborately carved with a Gothic design. The initials of the owner are burnt in in Gothic letters-, and the article cannot have been made more lately than the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Notes and Queries, 1865

The last two pictures of mangle boards, with fine chip carving, come from Holmes' books, Peasant Art in Sweden, Lapland, and Iceland, and Peasant Art in Austria and Hungary, which includes areas of the old Austro-Hungarian empire like Transylvania, a Hungarian-speaking culture within modern Romania. Some are quite similar in shape to laundry bats. In parts of England mangling and washing boards/bats had similar regional names.

1735 board from Iceland and 2 from Sweden The concept of pressing linen with a weight and rollers was developed into the large box mangle - illustrated and explained on the box mangle page.

Words to help you google for more pictures: mangelbrett (German), manglebraet (Danish), mangelbräde, kavelbräde (Swedish), mangletre (Norwegian), mangelplank (Dutch), planche à calandrer (French)

8 Jan 2010

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For sources please refer to the books page, and/or the excerpts quoted on the pages of this website, and note that many links lead to museum sites. Feel free to ask if you're looking for a specific reference - feedback is always welcome anyway. Unfortunately, it's not possible to help you with queries about prices or valuation.