World’s Most Interesting Coal Stove

Iron Stove

Graufthal’s protestant church contained the most extraordinary heating appliance I had ever seen. An eglise mixte until 1904, an unusual arrangement offering both Lutheran and Roman Catholic services in the same facility. Cold and crumbling, the non-descript, non-ornate, and apparently non-profitable sanctuary looked like it had seen better better times. Elizabeth and I were in the small Alsatian town to see its one tourist attraction: the Troglodyte Houses, or Maison des Rochers (the Rock Houses).

Manufactured by De Dietrich & Cie, a 17th century industrial dynasty that remains in business today, the church’s stove was photographically irresistible. Apparently shut out of the French railroad market after the 1870 German annexation of Alsace, they returned to their historical roots in cast iron and began making consumer durables, including stoves. The somewhat shorter entry mentions specially that their cast iron ovens were produced in nearby Niederbronn. the location appearing on the stove’s door,  after 1848.  The company still makes home heating and cooking appliances, along with industrial equipment.

Elizabeth didn’t come in with me, so I didn’t dawdle, but just snapped a quick shot and left.  That wouldn’t be the first or last time that I failed to fully explore what would turn out to be one of the more visually interesting subjects of a trip. Returning home and reviewing my pictures, I realized that this one might have some potential. I ended up spending far more time in Photoshop than I did in Graufthal.


The lighting was very uneven, with a ray of sunlight falling across the middle of the stove, burning out the highlights on the rusty/shiny metal, while leaving some of the shadows almost pure black. This was more dynamic range than a Canon 50D DSLR can capture in one shot, and I regret not having taken at least 3 bracketed images. Lacking the ability to do an HDR image, I ended up instead spending an afternoon in Photoshop, burning, dodging, masking, and correcting, until I’d ended up with a realistic stove. To balance the composition, I picked up the wall sconce and moved it about a foot to the left.   My day in the digital darkroom resulted in 18 Photoshop layers.

It’s a fascinating thing, and I love the spiraling triangular elements. I’ve never seen a stove like it, and haven’t been able to find anything specific online.

Here’s the before image, showing what the camera saw before processing it in Lightroom and Photoshop:

ISO 1600, 1/30, f/3.5

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