The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Monday, 28 November 2016

Coal carving

Coal has been used as a carving material for many years. The earliest known examples date from the 17th century, but you can still buy examples as souvenirs today - even though coal mining is almost extinct in the UK.

Although large and ornamental pieces were often made by professionals, many small, personal items were carved by miners themselves. The National Coal Mining Museum for England, near Wakefield in Yorkshire, has many examples of carved coal.

Snuff boxes were common items - miners were keen snuff users because it was a great way to clear coal dust from their noses at the end of a shift - but other regularly made objects were ornamental shoes, or small pieces of jewellery.

The material used for carving was cannel coal, a fine-grained variety that was used to produce coal gas. It was cleaner than domestic coal, and took a high polish. In Scotland they used another type called parrot coal, which got its name because of the noise it made when it was burned.

Parrot coal was also very strong and was often made into furniture. The Wemyss Coal Company had a table that weighed 5cwt (250 kilos)

The items in the photo were made by miners in Nottinghamshire and date from the late 19th century.

Incidentally - this is my 100th post on this blog.


  1. Congratulations on reaching 100! I will have to look out for some carved coal objects, I would never have thought you could make furniture.

  2. Fascinating post. Many years ago I bought my step father a miner with his Davy lamp carved out of coal as he'd always worked at the local pit as a fitter but it also reminded me of many of my ancestors who worked at the coalface and my great grandfather who was killed in a pit accident. Congratulations on the 100 posts:)

  3. I always enjoy learning something new and this was certainly new for me.


Why not add your two pennyworth?