Rock Solid Anvil Collection
More than 200 anvils make up David Baker's blacksmith museum and anvil collection
David's collection includes several hundred "hardies," chisels used by blacksmiths. These, too, are growing scarce, often selling for $20 and up at farm auctions.
David Baker will go to almost any length to add to his anvil collection.
"I went to this one sale where an anvil was advertised," he said. "I got there, and didn't see one. Finally, the auctioneer said 'The anvil is at the bottom of the cistern.' All you could see was a horn sticking out."
David sized up the situation: 45 feet down, and a 300-lb. chunk of iron. He passed. But that's the only time in 40 years of collecting that he's walked away from a blacksmithing tool without putting up a fight for it.
He's lugged home some 200 anvils, weighing between 100 and 1,400 pounds, from farm sales and pawn shops. He's bought even more tongs and "hardies," the chisels that fit into the square holes on anvils. He houses the collection in what he calls his blacksmith museum: two buildings beside his farmhouse in Wentworth, Mo. He enjoys showing off the collection to interested folks, but doesn't keep regular hours.
David's love for blacksmithing was, uh, forged when he was 17, working for a local smith.
"He paid me 15 cents to turn the forge," David recalled. "Sometimes, I'd turn it fast; sometimes slow, depending on how hot he wanted the metal."
A friend gave him his first anvil. He bought the second, and, voila, a collection was born.
"By now, I know my anvils," he said. "I can stand 20 feet away, and tell whether it's a good anvil or not."
Most of the anvils in his collection were manufactured from 1880 to 1900. They're all solid cast iron with a steel-cast face. Top U.S. manufacturers included Hay-Budden, Trenton, Fisher and Columbian Hardware Co. Other companies, such as Keen Kutter, stamped their names on anvils manufactured by others.
David's most valuable anvil is a 1,400-lb. Wilkinson from England. He believes it to be the largest anvil owned by a U.S. collector. The largest one catalogued in Anvils in America, a comprehensive guide written by Richard Postman, weighed in at 900 pounds. Postman interviewed David for the book, and cites him as being among the leading collectors in the country.
The 1,400-pounder was spotted by a friend, a furniture dealer, while on a buying trip to England. A Las Vegas casino owner had planned to buy the anvil to use as a display piece, but David beat him to it, matched the price offered, and paid the freight to boot. (He also paid the cost of having the anvil hauled to his farm by a wrecker.)