February 16, 2021

Does a Letter "S" on a Chimney Mean a House is from Sears Roebuck?

In this post I will re-examine another common misconception about Sears homes.

Does a Letter "S" on a Chimney Mean a House is from Sears Roebuck?
"Clues such as the metal vintage S on a chimney means a house is from Sears."

"There is a big rod iron 'S' on some chimneys to indicate the house was purchased from Sears."

According to the internet, a house with an S on the chimney meant that it was purchased from Sears Roebuck. There are neighborhoods in my area built in the 1930's where almost every house has a letter S on the chimney. Does the "S theory" make any sense?

Short answer: no.

Sears Had Only Four Models with a Letter S.
The first problem with this theory is that if Sears were using an "S" on the chimney as some sort of branding, they did not use it consistently on their houses. Actually, rarely.

Sears sold over 370 models from 1908-1942. Only four of them had a letter S on the chimney--we can see that from the catalog illustrations. So it certainly wasn't a "thing" that Sears was doing to signal that a house was from their company. Even the Sears houses with prominent front-facing chimneys typically did not have a letter S.

Three of the four "S" models were designed by architect David S. Betcone. (The fourth may have been designed by him as well but we do not have documentation to support that.) All the houses were "English cottage" style, according to the Sears catalog copy. 

The S letters on the chimneys of these four models were non-functional and purely decorative.

The Sears Lewiston.

The Sears Strathmore.


The Sears Yates.

Closeup of the letter S on the Sears Yates.

The Sears Hillsboro.

A real-life Sears Hillsboro in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago.


What was the S Supposed to Represent if not Sears?
Betcone used the letter S on the chimneys of his English cottages, because that was a common stylistic element on Tudor Revival houses built in the late 1920's and 1930's. You will see them on Tudors across America, whether the houses were from Sears or not.

The decorative S's were supposed to replicate the tie-bar ends used in old European structures. Back in the day, iron rods were run through chimneys and brick structures and a plate was put on each end. They helped stabilize masonry buildings. Because they were visible, those end plates often looked like a letter S or other decorative style such as a star or triangle. (Wikipedia calls them anchor plates.)

Chimney with an end plate from a house in France.


End plates on a masonry structure in Ireland.

In twentieth century homes, the "end plates" are often attached to the outside of brick veneer buildings or chimneys just to mimic the look of old European architecture. 

In Conclusion
The letter S was found on the chimney of four Sears models. It was not a reference to Sears, but served as a stylistic element found on many Tudor Revival houses.


SearsHouseSeeker said...

Lara, this is just a wonderful blog post -- to the point, clearly explained, and even has pictures ;). I love when you do these informational posts, that give us a concrete place to send folks who have questions about this kind of thing. It helps so much to clear up misconceptions.
Sears House Seeker blog

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. This was very helpful.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a Gordon Van Tine that had an S on the chimney.

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Please email me a photo! I would love to add your GVT house to this article. Email is in the upper right corner.

Anonymous said...

I have a Maplewood with an S on the chimney. I email a picture for you too.

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