Rachel R.

The Anvil

anvil-frontier-culture-museum     photo credit: Rachel Robbinsanvil-for-object-biography photo credit: Curator sheet from Colonial Williamsburg

On the top is the replica of the original London Pattern Anvil that is shown on the bottom. The replica is found in the Frontier Culture Museum and the original is found in the archives in Colonial Williamsburg.


At the Frontier Culture Museum, I was able to experience working with my object which is the anvil. In the Irish forge at the Frontier Culture Museum. I was able to work with the Eighteenth Century replica of a “London pattern” anvil.[1]  It is used to make a variety of objects ranging from s-hooks and nails to armor and weaponry depending on the time period. Imagine that you are a peasant in eighteenth century Europe and you are in need of a s-hook or a repair. You have to a blacksmith that you have to pay with money to get what you need. The black smith will then go to work and use the anvil to hammer the iron as he/she reheats in order to make it malleable and then make it into the desired shape. Once the desired shape is reached, they then cool the iron in water to keep the shape. Once the object is made, you can come back and get it and it is then able to be used for what you desire.

The anvil is made out of a steel cast or sometimes with an iron cast with a steel face in order for it to stand up to the impact brought upon it during the work of the blacksmith.[2]The original “London Pattern” anvil weighs 275 pounds and is made by Samuel Bird. Samuel Bird is an anvil maker from London between 1750 and 1770.[3] The replica weighs the same but it is made by Smith’s Custom Steel in Texas. [4] The shape of the anvil has changed overtime as well as having different types for specific jobs. Some examples of different types of anvils are: The London Pattern anvil, the Small Stump anvil and the Armorer’s Anvil.[5] Each anvil varies in size and shape as well as the centuries that they were used in. The Armorer’s Anvil is smaller than either the London Pattern and the Small Stump Anvils. It was only used to make armor rather than the large variety of items that the other two. This example shows how overtime the anvils became more specialized in what they were used to create.

The anvil has been used since the Middle Ages into the modern day, and is used to turn pieces of iron or other types of metals into functioning objects such as s-hooks, armor, swords, and axes. It is found in forges throughout Europe and the world. In the scholarly article “The Art of the Medieval Blacksmith” the author states that “the greatest demand for things made of iron has always come, as Pliny relates in his Natural History, from the farmer, the architect and the soldier.”[6] The anvil still has a presence in modern history especially since it has traveled from Europe into the colonies therefore allowing for blacksmiths to continue their trade in the “New World”.

The Blacksmith was an essential part of life during the Eighteenth Century because they served as the maker of the most important objects. They made spoons, horse shoes, s-hooks, and many other things. They also did repairs depending on the area that they were in. The Irish Forge in the Frontier Culture Museum was one forge that would be used to make repairs. For some of the objects it was cheaper to either buy from a merchant or a specialized smith because for the local blacksmith it took longer to make certain things while a specialized maker could pound out multiples of one thing in a shorter period of time.[7] One example of this was nails because to build the people needed nails and many times there were nail makers who pounded out thousands of nails a day and could make a nail in under a minute because they were so skilled. While other times it was cheaper to purchase some iron goods from a merchant rather than a blacksmith, nail smith, or even a gold smith. Mainly it depended on the item that someone was trying to purchase or gain at the time along with the purpose it was needed for.


Many times blacksmiths would take on apprentices either when they were of age or even at birth. If one was taken in at birth, they would be raised by the family and educated until they were old enough to work and begin their apprenticeship. “A master could demand cash payment from the parent and the apprentice was bound by a legal document to serve for seven years”.[8]The apprentice was held in the contract until they were an adult which during that time period was twenty-one years old. “After seven years, a boy in Europe would be a journeyman and would go from place to place and work for other masters until he became a master himself.” [9] If an apprentice ran away, the master would put fliers up saying they were missing but not offering much of a reward because they did not want them back. The fliers would most likely give the runaway a bad name and make it so that another master would not accept them. One of the most famous runaway blacksmith apprentices was Benjamin Franklin.[10]The business itself is a cash business because owners had to for the plot of land that they were using and a chicken traded for work, would not cover the cost of the land or the labor. A blacksmith could be either gender because most of the time businesses were run by families. It was not uncommon to find a woman in a blacksmith shop especially if their husbands traveled[11]. In most cases though, it was a man and even through history men are always portrayed as big strong men.

There are some interesting facts that have been found about blacksmith forges. In the scholarly article, “An Early Irish Law Tact on the Blacksmith’s Forge”, it is said that there

Are no iron-anvils of pre-medieval date or bellows to be found. Iron did not withstand time and impact from the blacksmiths hammer as well as steel did.[12]

The anvil has relations to everyday life because all social classes needed iron for one reason or another. The anvil connects each social class because it had to be used in order to create the ironwork that either social class needed. Farmers needed iron in order to plow their fields, or even to make an axe in order to cut wood. The fun fact about axes then is that they were mainly made out of iron and only a steel bit was melded to the tip to cut or chop the wood. The architect utilized iron in multiple ways from created artistic pieces to actually building. Examples of ironworks from the architect include iron wrought staircases, fences, and railings. The soldier needed iron for weaponry and armor. Soldiers had iron weapons such as swords, battle axes, arrow tips, lances and muskets. Overtime the armor evolved from chainmail which is linked iron to plate armor which gave them more protection. Another element of iron protection that they used were shields, which overtime got smaller as centuries passed. Iron and steel are what connected the social classes together because everyone had a use for it from weaponry to household items.

[1] Rachel Robbins

[2] Dictionary.com

[3] Marianne Martin “Curator Sheet”

[4] Chris Furr, Head Black Smith, Email interview

[5] Karen Harris, “Medieval Renaissance and Material Culture”

[6] Jeffrey M. Hoffeld. “The Art of the Medieval Blacksmith.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 28, no. 4 (1969): 161-173.

[7] Misty Furr, Frontier Culture Museum

[8] Blacksmithing of the 18th Century, 1

[9] Ibid 1

[10] Misty Furr, Interview, Frontier Culture Museum

[11] Ibid

[12] B.G. Scott “An Early Irish Law Tract on the Blacksmith’s Forge.” The Journal of Irish Archaeology 1 (1983): 59-62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30001629.