1876 Fiske #8 Restoration - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 04:00 AM Thread Starter
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1876 Fiske #8 Restoration

I bought this ~38 gal. Fiske with "Durant's Patent Dec 76" stamped into the top frame of this Victorian cast iron aquarium in April of 2016 from a Chicago antique dealer. I really like the looks with its roman column corners and over-the-top designs of the bottom and top frames. I also liked the size of the tank, larger than any antique aquarium I had ever restored. I planned on using this as my main tank after restoration. The tank could be ordered with elaborate cast iron stands which I didn't want since there's no place to hide the equipment. Gary Bagnall was kind enough to provide me with photocopies of a Fiske catalog illustrating my tank. This is also where I discovered that Fiske referred to my particular tank as their #8. I have also been told that these tanks are referred to as "Roman Column Tanks" among the few who collect antique aquariums.
First of all, this thing weighs a ton. It takes at least two people to move it. When I acquired this it had already been restored but the restoration was not done properly. The glass had been replaced and a poor job using clear silicone was used to seal it. The corners had thin mirrors set into them with some sort of gray sealant that didn't work. At least one corner had had a leak that caused the tank to corrode. It had been painted gold as well. The iron bottom had glass covering it and the remains of the original plumbing system for a center fountain and corner overflow were still in place but the fountain did not come with the tank and was probably long gone.
I started out by removing all the glass and dismantling the frame. I found the bottom iron plate had not been removed in the restoration as the original gray colored putty was still in place when I removed it and there was no gold paint in the areas that were inaccessible. I also found the original color of the tank in a couple places on the underside of the top frame. It was a green color. Fiske used either black (nearly all of them in this model) and occasionally this green color.
I then had all the gold paint and corrosion blasted off. There was a good bit of corrosion on the top frame and corner threaded rods.
I then had it bronzed before reassembling it. This was the most difficult and frustrating part of the restoration as the frame was too large for my local bronzing company so I had to take it to a plater that specialized in chrome plating car parts to have the initial copper plating done.
This turned out to be much more expensive than anticipated. After waiting several months the vintage car plating company finished the job. I then took it to my bronzing company for the final treatment.
I was very pleased with the results. I then reassembled the tank and had my glazier place Starfire glass in it and seal it with black silicone.
I'm attaching photos showing what the tank looked like when I bought it, what it looked like disassembled, some of the original paint, and what it looked like after being blasted.
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Last edited by davrx; 01-27-2018 at 05:40 PM. Reason: edit
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post #2 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 04:25 AM Thread Starter
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More Photos

Here's a photo of the top edge showing the patent date, a couple more photos showing it down to the gray cast iron, another photo showing the original paint on the underside of the top frame, part of a Fiske advertisement showing that they offered their tanks bronzed, a photo of another restored Fiske tank that was bronzed, a couple of Fiske tanks with their fountains which are probably similar to what mine originally had, and finally the Fiske catalog with my tank on the cover and the page showing the model number.
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post #3 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 04:45 AM Thread Starter
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Photos of more Fiske tanks

I also had a Fiske #6 that I didn't restore and sold a couple of months ago. I've included a few photos of it to give an idea of the size difference. Also photos of a Fiske in Hemingway's house in Key West, Fl., photos of other Fiskes that were sold or are for sale to give some idea of the rarity of these tanks and to show the different stands that could be ordered with the tanks. The last few screen shots show a Fiske #8 on the same elaborate stand illustrated on the front cover of the Fiske catalog and of the same color that mine originally was. The original asking price was $20K and I was told it eventually sold for $14K.
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post #4 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 05:00 AM
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I love those old aquariums! Thanks for sharing this, and be sure to post the follow-up on getting it going. I see these antique aquariums in online auctions, but they're out of my price range. I keep hoping to find one at a flea market or yard sale that's in rough shape but repairable, and priced accordingly, but I think the odds of that are slim. But, hey! I can enjoy seeing you get yours restored to its original glory and operating again!

Great find, and thanks again for sharing!

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post #5 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 02:59 PM
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Man what a find! I too can’t wait to see the finished project! The original fountain was gorgeous. Will you be trying to recreate it?


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post #6 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 05:17 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Olskule View Post
I love those old aquariums! Thanks for sharing this, and be sure to post the follow-up on getting it going. I see these antique aquariums in online auctions, but they're out of my price range. I keep hoping to find one at a flea market or yard sale that's in rough shape but repairable, and priced accordingly, but I think the odds of that are slim. But, hey! I can enjoy seeing you get yours restored to its original glory and operating again!

Great find, and thanks again for sharing!

Olskule
Thanks, and I too have looked for antique aquariums/terrariums in flea markets etc. but I've never found a single one other than what I've come across online. This one was bought online. They are just so rare because not very many were made in the first place due to them being out of range of everybody but the wealthy. Then you factor in two world wars which called on the public to turn in old metal objects to be melted down for the war effort and it's no wonder they're rarer than Tiffany lamps. Oftentimes they're out of my price range as well. This is the most expensive tank I've ever bought but it was much more reasonable than the two I showed screen shots of due to the fact it didn't come with an original stand. But as I said earlier I didn't need a stand because I planned on using the tank rather than just displaying it and being able to see modern equipment ruins the look for me.


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post #7 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 05:37 PM Thread Starter
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Man what a find! I too can’t wait to see the finished project! The original fountain was gorgeous. Will you be trying to recreate it?


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Thank you, I'll be posting more photos later today. I think the chance of me finding one of those fountains is less than me finding the tank. The two screen shots of the Fiske tanks with fountains weren't for sale or were already sold as far as I know and I had done a pretty thorough internet search and only came up with those two images. I thought about connecting the original plumbing to modern equipment thereby hiding all the filtration/heating but the fittings were rusted solid. We attempted to unscrew the threaded pipe connection and threaded plug from the cast iron blocks on the tank's underside but they wouldn't budge. The only thing I was able to remove was the cap on the corner overflow. Then there's the problem of the plumbing going through glass and then cast iron, as glass is necessary to protect the bottom from rusting out. I tried using clear marine epoxy on a previous 19th. century aquarium that I had but eventually it began to fail in a couple places after a couple of years. Glass is the best option on these metal tanks if they have a flat bottom. The one I used the epoxy on did not which is the only reason I didn't use glass. So if I got any kind of leakage around where the fittings went through the tank bottom I would get corrosion and one of my goals was to preserve this tank.


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post #8 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 06:16 PM
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But I’m curious if you could recreate the fountain with modern materials. Maybe a 3D printer or something to that effect, and not plumb it through the bottom.
It wouldn’t be “original” but it might work. If not, it is still a gorgeous tank. I’ve not seen anything like it, and the fountain is such a special piece.


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post #9 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 08:00 PM Thread Starter
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But I’m curious if you could recreate the fountain with modern materials. Maybe a 3D printer or something to that effect, and not plumb it through the bottom.
It wouldn’t be “original” but it might work. If not, it is still a gorgeous tank. I’ve not seen anything like it, and the fountain is such a special piece.


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Thanks again for your kind words and the fountain would have been a plus. As you can see from the images I attached of Fiske models #6 and #8 as well as the Fiske catalog, it was most likely sold without a fountain in most cases. Also you can see in the two photos of the bottom of the #6 that I used to own that it was never plumbed for anything. I've never actually seen an image of a fountain in one of these roman column tanks but nevertheless my tank was plumbed for one when it left the factory so I looked for similar tanks by Fiske with fountains. I don't know what the model numbers are of the two rusted examples with fountains that I included screen shots of.


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post #10 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-27-2018, 08:30 PM Thread Starter
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I looked again at the Fiske #8 on stand in green and I can see the same pair of holes for a fountain in its bottom plate as mine. I also looked at the Fiske #8 on a different stand in black that is currently for sale and it doesn't have the holes in its bottom plate for a fountain. I've attached their images:
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post #11 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-28-2018, 03:27 AM
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The closest I can come to this, right now, is my planned 10 gallon stainless steel framed tank that was my mother's. I have all her 1960's era equipment to set it up with, including a pre-Metaframe Dyna-flo external filter (syphon fed, pumped back to the aquarium), a Silent Giant air pump (two, actually), the stainless steel light and hood combo (now using screw-in, angle adjustable LED "bulbs"), a vacuum-molded, colorfully printed 3D background with a diver and reef, confetti-like gravel, along with various air operated "decorations" (sic) such as a volcano, waterfall, "broken" sailing ship and a bubbling clam complete with a real, genuine faux Pearl inside! Gaudy as all get-out, yeah, but what can I say? That's pretty much what the trend was in the mid-sixties, with some exceptions, I'm sure. But, if I'm not mistaken, the trend for aquariums of the era yours is from was more toward a natural look, a "slice of nature" in your home, much as most of us on this forum prefer today, and much more beautiful. My "restoration" will be much less serious, more "childlike" and strictly for the fun of it. I'm sure my two year old granddaughter will like it, anyway. It's more of a nostalgia thing, kind of a "tribute" to my mother's more fun side and one of the few things we had in common (which needs more focus, since she had the maternal instincts of a guppy!)

Keep us posted!

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post #12 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-28-2018, 03:47 AM
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Soooo much fun..

anyways this book any good?

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Illustrat...SellerId=10751

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post #13 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-28-2018, 04:15 PM
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Wonderful job so far, I'm loving the details and pics!!

On a side note, there is a 10 page article in the March/April 2018 issue of Amazonas on antique aquariums and decorations that is nicely done and a blurb on the author's plans to create a website dedicated to these items sometime late this year.

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post #14 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-28-2018, 07:45 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Olskule View Post
The closest I can come to this, right now, is my planned 10 gallon stainless steel framed tank that was my mother's. I have all her 1960's era equipment to set it up with, including a pre-Metaframe Dyna-flo external filter (syphon fed, pumped back to the aquarium), a Silent Giant air pump (two, actually), the stainless steel light and hood combo (now using screw-in, angle adjustable LED "bulbs"), a vacuum-molded, colorfully printed 3D background with a diver and reef, confetti-like gravel, along with various air operated "decorations" (sic) such as a volcano, waterfall, "broken" sailing ship and a bubbling clam complete with a real, genuine faux Pearl inside! Gaudy as all get-out, yeah, but what can I say? That's pretty much what the trend was in the mid-sixties, with some exceptions, I'm sure. But, if I'm not mistaken, the trend for aquariums of the era yours is from was more toward a natural look, a "slice of nature" in your home, much as most of us on this forum prefer today, and much more beautiful. My "restoration" will be much less serious, more "childlike" and strictly for the fun of it. I'm sure my two year old granddaughter will like it, anyway. It's more of a nostalgia thing, kind of a "tribute" to my mother's more fun side and one of the few things we had in common (which needs more focus, since she had the maternal instincts of a guppy!)

Keep us posted!

Olskule
Neat! It will be a nice tribute to your mother. Do you know if it still holds water? Does it have a slate bottom? You may have already seen this on other posts but if it does leak you'll want to put glass on top of a slate bottom as part of your restoration since silicone doesn't adhere to slate very well. The first tank I used when I was very young was a "splatter paint" tank from the 1940's that was ~5gal. Around 1970 I got a "Living World" stainless steel framed 10gal. tank that was part of a kit for Christmas. It had the SS hood with incandescent light bulb, a corner filter with air pump, and an unusual brown plastic insert for the bottom that was meant to resemble a rocky substrate. I think there were plastic plants that fit into this plastic insert as well.

Last edited by davrx; 01-28-2018 at 11:37 PM. Reason: yes
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post #15 of 83 (permalink) Old 01-28-2018, 08:04 PM Thread Starter
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Soooo much fun..

anyways this book any good?

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Illustrat...SellerId=10751

I didn't know about this book, thanks for letting me know about it. I'll have to see if the library has one I can look at to see if it has aquariums in it since Fiske made all kinds of iron objects.


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