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Going Drainspotting

Have you ever looked down and noticed a decorative manhole cover in the street? Did you wonder what might have compelled someone to make such a humble object more beautiful? If you use the hashtag drainspotting on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll see that you’re not alone!

The community of hobbyists who photograph decorative manhole covers, known as “drainspotters”, is a small but enthusiastic group. Using just their phones, they document manhole covers all over the world and share them on social media under the drainspotting hashtag, creating a small online community of dedicated fans.

Iron manhole covers are purposely designed with uneven surfaces in order to make them less slippery in wet or icy weather. In most cases, these are simple functional patterns of raised grids or knobs in the metal. Some designers, however, made covers with elaborate painting, metalwork, or other decorative elements. But, even the more mundane covers often give details on the history of the area and its infrastructure.

Some drainspotters focus on specific types of manholes—based on geography, design, or other features. For example, the intricately designed and vividly painted covers of Japanese municipalities are popular subjects. New York City manhole covers designed by 19th-century craftsman Jacob Mark are also quite popular because of his unique practice of embedding bubbles of colored glass in the metal. Some collectors also find the patterns created by rust on the more conventional covers to be a unique form of urban art.

Others trace the history of their cities by noting the different manufacturers, styles and utility companies each manhole cover is associated with. In many places, some manhole covers may date back as far as the introduction of the municipal sewer system, enabling a careful observer to trace the history of industrialization in their municipality. Since many municipalities dictated unique designs for their covers, these are hyperlocal markers of historical development.

Looking for more drains to photograph can be a new way to explore a familiar place and learn new things about it. To drainspotters in action, search #drainspotting on Twitter or Instagram or follow @IronCovers on either platform. Who knows? You might discover your next hobby! And, if you need help with your home drains, be sure to call your local Benjamin Franklin Plumbing at 1-800-259-7705 to spot any problems!