pound for pound, Texas man's anvil collection is …
Below: A 450-pound bridge anvil used mainly in railroad shops to make large, round, metal rings for boilers. The height of the anvil enabled the smith to loop the rings through the opening.
For some collectors, a stationary engine is a
portal to the past. For others, sentimental ties are maintained by
preserving a tractor that's been in the family for decades. For
Chip Barkman of Texarkana, Texas, an anvil used by his father and
grandfather is a very solid connection to the roots of agriculture
"We have an old family anvil that was my grand-dad's," Chip
says. "Three generations have used it. Last year, we retired it. We
regard it as a family heirloom now."
It's also the start of a collection that now numbers more than
30 anvils from the U.S. and abroad. Chip's dad began the hobby with
a small collection; Chip has taken off from there. "About two years
ago," he recalls, "I saw an anvil for sale, said 'What the heck'
and bought it." His wife, Michelle, joined forces with her husband:
She collects small anvils, the type used by jewelers. The couple is
also interested in related tools: tongs, chisels and hammers.
Anvils were once common on the farm and industry. "Blacksmiths
and farriers used large anvils to shoe horses," Chip says. "Anvils
were used for all kinds of metal work and welding. They didn't have
arc welders back then. Larger anvils were used in industrial shops
- machine shops, shipyards and railroad yards."
Although a special anvil created for the Centennial Exposition
of 1876 weighed in at 1,400 pounds, the biggest anvil produced by
most manufacturers 100 years ago was in the 800-pound range. More
typical was a piece at the other end of the scale, Chip says. "The
typical Texas farm anvil weighed 100-150 pounds," he says. "Farm
anvils in the north and east may have been bigger. With westward
migration, people carried everything they owned with them on
covered wagons, and they had to be more selective. Those big anvils
were just too heavy to haul out here."
Specific anvils were used by makers of plows, coaches, saws and
chains. Ultimately, as technology grew more sophisticated, the need
for anvils diminished. "There was less dependence on horses," Chip
says, "and at the same time, trip hammers and steam hammers
replaced anvils in industrial use."
On the farm, however, for decades the anvil remained a useful
tool. "My grandfather was a farmer, and he sharpened plow points on
our anvil (which is dated 1917). He'd hammer edges down, sharpen
things and bend out bent metal," Chip says. "And I've watched my
dad work with an anvil all my life."
Chip's collection numbers about 30, with American-made pieces as
well as some from England and Sweden. "I've been lucky," he says.
"You can find anvils, but you really have to be looking." Chip
advises looking for them at farm and estate auctions, at antique
stores and in classified ads. Word of mouth is also good, he says;
you might also try draft horse auctions, machine shop and
ornamental iron shop auctions, flea markets, swap meets, antique
farm shows and blacksmith events. "Of course there's eBay," he
says, "but that's really expensive."
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