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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

American Andirons of Brass and Wrought Iron

From the start of the Colonial period to about 1835 when fireplaces were superseded by stoves, andirons were taken-for-granted household items. For two hundred years American homes depended on wood-burning fireplaces for heat and cooking. Andirons were essential. Probably they were among the necessities brought over by the first settlers.

Just when they were first made here is unknown but those of wrought iron must have been produced for local needs about as soon as the first blacksmiths set up their forges. These artisans played a potent role in the making of America. Home and farm depended on the tools and other necessary items formed on their anvils. In fact, the two evidences that a town was an established community instead of a frontier outpost were a "settled" clergyman and a blacksmith with forge in working order.

The blacksmith made all the fireplace tools and his andirons were of two kinds, those entirely of wrought iron and those with brass uprights and wrought iron leg rests. Most of the brass uprights before the American Revolution were imported from England and then fitted with suitable shafts and log rests by the local blacksmith.

Shapes and patterns in the wrought iron andirons changed little. A simple arch formed the legs. To it a handwrought shaft, sometimes flat and sometimes round, was welded, thus forming the upright which ended in a finial of some sort. There was no effort to form feet with the earlier types. Those dating a little later had a pad-shaped foot, done by hammering when hot. The more decorative of these wrought iron andirons had cast-brass finials of ball and simple urn designs but more were all of iron. A favorite type from about 1750 to 1800 , Above the arched legs are flat uprights ending in finials known as rose-headed goose-necks, all formed by the skilled hammer of the blacksmith. At the left are a pair of brass andirons of steeple and ball design with spurred legs ending in small ball feet. They date from about 1800.

Brass andiron designs vary, with changing fashions, in foot and upright. The former may be pad, claw and ball, slipper, or simple ball. Uprights include the swirled baluster column, classic urn, and steeple and ball. Those dating from before 1850 are of cast brass made in vertical half sections, braised together, and then smoothed on a lathe. They can be recognized by the fine vertical hairline of the braised joining, usually whiter than the rest. Also the iron support within has a hand-cut thread. Later andirons are of spun brass, have no braising mark, and the interior iron rods have machine-cut threads.

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