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Essential Craftsman.


A reprint from “The American Blacksmith” September 1914


While everyone is familiar with the anvil of today in its high state of development and graceful lines, it is doubtful i very many, even blacksmiths of the present age, would recognize the rough crude uncouth lumps of metal of primeval and medieval times as the common ancestor of our present-day anvil.

The history of the anvil takes us back to antiquity, where is origin is lost. That it was used at a very early date is manifest, for even before the discovery of iron, pre-historic man used an anvil of stone upon which he chipped and shaped his spear and arrow heads of flint.

old anvilsThe writer had the pleasure of seeing one of these prehistoric anvils which was discovered many years ago in the north of Scotland while some excavations were being made. The anvil, a large irregular block of o yellow flint, one side of which had been chipped and worn to a comparatively level surface, was found amidst a heap of flint chips, arrow and spearheads, some of which were neatly chipped and finished, while others seemed to be only blocked out.

To follow the history of the anvil it is necessary to go back to the time when copper and bronze were the metals in common use. Having ample proof that the ancients were familiar not only with the art of casting copper and bronze but of forging them into tools and weapons, which they hardened. It is therefore safe to assume that the first metal anvils were of copper or bronze, probably alloyed with other metals and hardened. Research has failed to bring to light any anvils of copper or bronze, but there seems to be little doubt about their having been used.

Not definite date can be assigned to the first knowledge of iron, but the earliest hieroglyphics to which and accurate date can be fixed, the pyramid texts of the fourth millennium B.C., prove beyond question that iron was well known in Egypt and was forged into instruments, weapons, and tools. It would seem however, that for a period of about 3000 years its existence remained more or less in obscurity, as it was not until the time of Homer, 880 B.C., that noticeable attention was given to iron. At that time it must have been considered of less value than bronze, from the fact that objects dug up from the mounds of Nineveh, of about the time of Homer many were composed of cores of iron around which bronze had been cast.

Dr. Percy, in referring to the finds from the mound of Nimrud, says the Assyrians were well acquainted with iron, as is clearly established by the explorations of Lyrad, who has enriched the collection of the British Museum with many objects of iron of the highest interest from Nineveh. Amongst these, worthy of particular attention may be mention tools for the most ordinary purposes — as picks, hammers, knives, and saws, which could be of a date not possibly later than 880 B.C. The fact of iron having been applied to such ordinary tools as hammer head, for which bronze might have been a fairly good substitute, would clearly indicate that by that time, for tools at least, iron had superseded bronze.

A few centuries later, Thucydides describes a chain of iron made use of by the Plateans, during the siege of their city by the Thebeans, 429 B.C., which was used to suspend beams which were dropped so as to break off the heads of battering rams brought up against their city/

Quoting Pliney the elder, in recounting the treaty which Porsena granted to the Roman people on the expulsion of the kings, 509 B.C., there as a specific provision that iron was not to be sued except in the pursuits of agriculture, and the most ancient authorities have preserved the fact that it was at that time that writing with at bone style came into practice.

Besides the literary evidence of iron having been used at an early date by the Romans, we are not without actual samples. At the Saalburg near Homburg, Germany, which was build and inhabited as a Roman fortress between 11 B.C. and 274 A.D. There is a still preserved the iron chain and its hook that were used to raise water from a well. It is clamed that the chain is welded and beautifully made.

The use of iron and the anvil being synonymous is the only reason fro the writer having gone so far into the early history of iron and having said so little of the early history of anvils. Actual specimens of the very earliest anvils are so rare that their size and shape is more or less a matter of conjecture.

Julius Caesar mentions, that when he invaded Britain, 55 B.C., The currency of the people consisted partly of iron rings adjusted to a certain weight. Thus at the beginning of the Christian Era we find that both the Romans and the Britons had long understood the working of iron.

Up to and for several hundreds of years after the beginning o the Christian Era nearly all objects of iron, including chains, were of square or rectangular section. This may be accounted for by the fact that iron is easier to draw down from a lump by hammering on an anvil into flats, squares and rectangular sections than to any other shape. It would also indicate that in early blacksmithing .few if any tools were used other than anvil and hammer, and that the anvil itself had not been developed beyond the type at present used by sawmakers, i.e. a rectangular block without the overhanging tail or horn. The tails and horns of the earliest anvils were of the most rudimentary character, often barely extending over the base, as may be noted by referring to sketches of early anvils shown in Fig. 1. There is There is no question about the art of smithing and the anvil having developed simultaneously.

From the 12th to the 17th century, smithing all over Europe reached a stage bordering upon perfection. but no attempt was made to standardize the shape of the anvil. The reason for this would seem that as a rule every smith was his own anvilmaker, and an anvil being a piece of equipment that lasts a lifetime or over, it stands to reason that there were few if any expert anvilmakers in the Middle Ages.

Anvilmaking as an industry was first stated at the Mousehole Forge, Sheffield England. How long ago there is no authentic record but of well over 200 years anvils have been made for the trade at the Mousehole Forge, which for two centuries at least, was the only works of its kind in the world. The first of whom there is a record of having operated the Mousehole Forge in anvilmaking is the family of Sri John Burgoyne. Then Cockshutt and Armitage, and following them came M. and H. Armitage who operated the forge for over 100 years, The present owners, Brooks and Cooper, have run the works for upwards of 38 years , and are still making anvils that are hard to beat either in quality, shape or workmanship. Although there are now a number of concerns making anvils both in England and America, the Mousehole Forge is unique in several respects. They were the first to make any attempt at standardizing the shape of the anvils and they operate their forge to this day with no other power than that developed by an old fashioned water wheel.

For well over a century there has been practically no change made at the Mousehole Forge. the same old-fashioned helve hammer, or “metal helve” as it is locally termed is still doing duty and is operated by the already mentioned water wheel. The building itself, with its old fashioned solid stone walls and low arched windows and doorways, shows but slight signs of the ravages usually worked by time and are apparently good,. barring misfortune, for centuries to come.

Originally Mousehole anvils were made by the building up process, that is, the corners of the base or feet , the horn and the tail of heel were welded on to a centerpiece. After this the steel face was welded on in sections. The anvil was the n trimmed and finished to the desired shape by the use of hand tools. The face as then ground and hardened and after hardening the fas was again ground and the anvil then received the finishing touches. Some idea of how well this work was carried out may be had by referring to Fig 2, which shows a group of standard patterns of Mousehole anvils.