Posts Tagged ‘vintage manhole covers’

The stars, bars, bubbles, and petals of Manhattan manhole covers

June 7, 2021

Underfoot all over New York City are late 19th and early 20th century manhole covers embossed with unusual shapes and designs. There’s a practical purpose for this: raised detailing helped prevent people from slipping (and horses from skidding) as they traversed Gotham’s streets in wet weather.

They’re also a form of branding. The city’s many foundries of the era manufactured manhole and coal hole covers. Each foundry company seemed to have chosen a specific design or look to represent them.

And let’s not leave out the artistry that went into these. Manhole covers aren’t typically thought of as works of art, but there’s creativity and imagination in the different designs we walk over and tend not to notice.

J.B. and J.M. Cornell, who operated an ironworks foundry at 26th Street and 11th Avenue, added bubble-like details and smaller dots to their covers, as seen on the example (at top) found in the East 70s near Central Park. They also added swirly motifs on the sides, prettying up these iron lids and making the name and address easier to read.

McDougall and Potter, on the other hand, went for a classic star to decorate this cover on East 80th Street (second photo above). This foundry on West 55th Street also chose bars and dots, within which they included the company name and address.

This cover (above) on 23rd Street near Fifth Avenue, likely by Jacob Mark & Sons on Worth Street, once has colored glass embedded in that hexagram design. A century and then some of foot and vehicle traffic wore them down and pushed some out.

Could those be flower petals decorating the hexagram shape on this cover, also by the Mark foundry? Located near Broadway and Houston Street, it’s unique and charming, especially with the tiny stars dotting the lower end.

Manhole covers: clues to an older New York

August 26, 2011

There’s a lot more variety when it comes to manhole typeface and design than you’d think. And each cover offers a tiny clue to the businesses that made the modern city.

The Weinstock Brothers started out as steel fabricators in 1898. This Gramercy-area manhole is a testament to their work.

It’s still plugging up the street—and the company is also going strong.

The Flatbush Gas Company must have put this manhole cover down in the area known today as Victorian Flatbush around 1900, when farmland south of Prospect Park was suburbanized.

Hmm, it looks a lot like this Brooklyn Edison cover found in Crown Heights.

It’s clear that this lovely spoke-wheel cover found in Manhattan says “DPW [Department of Public Works] Sewer.”

But the year is hard to decipher. Could it really be from 1871?

Though the newest manhole covers on New York streets mostly appear to have “made in India” engraved on them, the city still creates some fun and fanciful decorative ones.

Check out this one on Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, with a cute porgy on it.