What is it?

Mystery stone
I found this block of stone a few months after moving into our house. It was sitting on top one of the braces in the basement. The brace leaves a space between it and the sub-floor above, which is where I found the block. It is 7 x 4 x 2 inches long with a 1" divot in the center that can been easily seen in this picture.   

Picture taken of the area of our our basement ceiling where the block was sitting.

I figured that there had been some intentional, useful purpose for the stone, but I had no idea what that might have been. That said, it is fairly heavy so I started using it as a book end, which was useful to me, anyway. While exchanging emails with James Gage of Stones Structures of the Northeastern United States about our house's foundation it occurred to me to ask him if he knew what it was.

He asked me if it had a soapy feel and if it could be easily scratched with a knife. Sure enough, it did. I figured that he was trying to determine if it was soapstone, which it seems to be. It is apparently a soapstone bed or foot warmer. I went right to The University of Google and did an image search, and sure enough, there were several pictures of these things.
"In the settlement in Hampton, N. H., the meeting houses were owned by the town and were built of hewn logs. They had none of the modern ways of heating their meeting houses of the present day; later on the little foot warmer was invented, with a wood bottom and a tin holder to put in a piece of candle; they were made of tin perforated, about ten inches square, and with a little door on one side that would open; this heat from a candle was all the warmth they had for a time when they went to church. Tradition says this crude article was used until the fireplaces were used." -from Family records of branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith, Neal, Haley, Lock, Swift, Plumer, Leavitt, Wilson, Green and allied families (1915)
Our stone has a divot in the center that, to me, looks hand-made. There is also a very small impression a few millimeters wide on the opposite side that looks tool made. James Gage explained that "many (but not all) of these bed warmers had a small hole drilled on either side for a wire hanger used to carry the stone when heated." This is a possible explanation or the divot in the center of our stone, or, he said, it could just be a natural imperfection. Stones used for this purpose, he explained, were often made "from a poorer grade of soapstone" and that "intrusive veins of other rock, iron oxide staining, natural cavities, etc is common with these." (personal communication with James Gage, March 16, 2012). The divots on our stone could be the result of a tool, like some sort of tongs, being used to pick it up from the hearth and place it in a blanket.   

Photo from New England Salvage
Soapstone holds heat very well, so these were heated on the hearth and then used to provide radiant heat for hours. They were used to heat up the bed or as a foot warmer placed on the floor of a horse driven buggy. Many churches didn't have fireplaces until well into the 19th century, so people were continually coming up with ways to keep warm during services. In the 17th and 18th centuries, one solution was to place candles in specially designed boxes made of wood, or wood and punched tin. Similar boxes were invented to hold hot coals, whale oil and soapstone blocks. Some of these stones simply had a handle, called a bail, used to carry it from place to place.

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