American Anvils

An Unwritten Chapter in the Annals?

by Clayton E. Ray

I believe that a significant epoch of anvil-making in colonial North America has yet to be recognized and documented. Postman’s pioneering 1998 book, “Anvils In America”, the first comprehensive coverage of the subject, provides a solid foundation for further research. Its greatest value is not as a last word, but as a catalyst, a value yet to be realized. Anvils are unquestionably the most important tool in the development of civilization but remain strangely neglected. The formation of BIG (Blacksmithing Interest Group) stands to redress this lapsus.

I have seen a few crude anvils of a certain blocky type, and have two in my possession.

 

Unsigned Anvil

These are cast iron without a face plate or cutting table, and without hardy, pritchel, or handling holes. They have no heel, a small horn, and no constricted waist, and their front and back surfaces are planar and vertical. The toes are insignificant in size, and there may be a fifth toe. The only one that I have seen having any marking is one of mine with the name “Jones” embossed on one side.

Anvil with cast in “JONES”

 

I think that these anvils were cast in one piece (excepting the horn), and were poured upside down, having no undercuts. The horn would have been added by welding.

The skilled iron workers in any of the foundries from Massachusetts to the Carolinas easily could have made these anvils clandestinely while pouring the sows and pigs that they were supposed to be making to send to the mother country to be returned as value-added finished products, including the expensive steel-faced wrought anvils for marketing to the needy pioneers, whose needs could have been met much more cheaply by the crude locally made cast anvils. No colonial community could have functioned without a smithy.

Not surprisingly, there is little or no paper trail of this activity, as production of such finished items in the colonies was prohibited. The royal appointees who supervised the Colonies (Spotswood, Byrd, and others) carefully concealed their own illicit profitable ventures. Thus far, I know of only one revealing allusion (cited by Postman, page 46), in which the writer in 1759 recommended the purchase of an anvil “of Byrd make”. William Byrd as early as 1744 had exploited his extensive iron deposits in central Virginia. There may very well be more clues to be found in colonial writing.

An additional source of documentation might be the metallurgy of the anvils themselves, but that is beyond my expertise and access. Meanwhile, I hope and expect that other members of EAIA have seen anvils of this kind, and will have better ideas for pursuit of their story. If my suspicions as to the source and age are confirmed, they would add significantly to the record of anvil making in North America.

Please share this blog with any of your friends who may have more information about possible American anvils of this period or even the anvils illustrated in this blog.  Any comments should be added as comments to the blog.  Your help is needed!

4 Comments on “American Anvils

  1. I agree, there is much to be learned about anvil making on this continent. There are excavated anvils assoicated with Saugus ironworks that may be the earliest examples, but the industry certainly existed here through the 18th and 19th centuries. Regarding your stub anvils- to my knowledge, there was no welding of cast iron material before oxy-acetylene or electric arc welding innovation of the late 19th/early 20th century. These cast anvils were most likely poured in one piece. Mechanical joints were occasionally used to join cast iron, such as dovetail or mortise and tenon, but “welding” was limited to malleable materials that could be hammered together while at welding heat. Even at that heat, cast iron is quite brittle and will crumble. If you have evidence of welding I hope you can share it, as we can all benefit.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve passed this along to Clayton and get back to you as quickly as possible

    • Thanks for your comment; sounds like an interesting lead. Can you send more information and perhaps a photo?

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