Solid Anvil Collection

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Below left: A 300-pound oil field anvil.
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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.
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Left: A 120-pound Fisher anvil, with the eagle trademark visible.
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Left to right: Three generations of Barkmans: Henry Barkman, Jake Barkman and Chip Barkman. Henry, who still farms the family farm, recalls the family anvil (a Fisher, shown here) from his earliest memories, nearly 70 years ago. Jake is Chip Barkman’s son; Chip is Henry’s son. Chip works as a millwright.
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Left: A 156-pound English anvil, manufacturer unknown.
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Right: A pair of Hay-Budden anvils.Above: A Peter Wright farrier’s anvil, with a tool in the hardie hole. This English anvil, which dates to the 1700s or early 1800s, is made of wrought iron with a steel-plate face for added hardness and durability. The table is 3/8- to 1/2-inch thick forge-welded steel plate.
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Above: A Trenton anvil.
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Below: A set of hardie tools. Anvils are manufactured with a variety of holes, performing a variety of functions. Square-shank tools such as these fit into the Hardie hole, typically located on the top surface of the anvil. Other holes include those under the anvil’s base, or in its feet (used to maneuver the anvil during manufacture); heat sumps, located under the base and extending nearly to the top, used to help distribute heat more evenly; and the Pritchel hole, a round hole usually adjacent to the Hardie hole, used in conjunction with a punch to punch holes in hot steel, drive out nails, or bend small-diameter rods.
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Left: A Trenton farrier anvil.
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Left: A 635-pound anvil on a 500-pound factory stand.
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Below: A trio of Trentons. Old anvils vary in price. Big ones are rare and expensive. Smaller anvils can be found at relatively affordable prices. Many are sold by the pound, anywhere from $1 to $2 per pound.
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Right: A Peter Wright anvil; Chip Barkman uses this anvil in his shop.
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Below: A 134-pound Hay Budden anvil
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Below: 140-pound EHC Hay Budden. The heyday of American anvil manufacture was from 1890 to about 1930.
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Below: An EHC Hay-Budden. Hay-Budden made anvils for various companies which then put their own name on the anvil. This anvil, for instance, is marked “EHC”: the latter two letters stand for “Hardware Company.” The name of the hardware company is lost to time.

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
in America.

“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.”

The Mousehole Forge in England is generally considered to be the
first site of commercially manufactured anvils, reaching as far
back as the 1600s. Sometime in the 1700s or early 1800s, a worker
at that facility, Peter Wright, left to form his own company. “You
see a lot of Peter Wright anvils in the U.S., and a lot of them are
still in use,” Chip says. “Most of those were imported, or brought
by settlers. There were no American-made anvils until about

Mark Fisher is said to be the manufacturer of the first anvils
produced in the U.S. Fisher & Norris anvils were produced at
Trenton, N.J., from 1847-1961. The first model was made of cast
iron with a cast steel face. All Fisher & Norris anvils bear an
eagle trademark. “Even if the name is unreadable,” Chip says, “if
you see an Eagle, you know it’s a Fisher.”

In the 1890s, Hay-Budden anvils entered the fray in Brooklyn,
N.Y. Until its demise in the early 1920s, the company produced
wrought iron anvils (considered to be superior to cast iron) with
crucible cast steel facing.

As with all farm equipment, anvils were meant to be used. With
many now at the century mark, condition varies. “I’ve seen some in
remarkably good condition,” Chip says. “Others are not. I haven’t
seen one that’s been perfect.

“If the anvil is cared for, it stands up pretty good. What you
see in the wrought iron with steel plate is that the steel is much
harder and a piece may have broken off and have to be repaired. Or,
it may have been used until the break was so bad that it couldn’t
be repaired.” He prefers to leave his anvils the way he finds them.
“I buy them for their historic value,” he says.

Identification is easy, in theory. “Almost all manufacturers put
their names on the anvil,” Chip says. Usage, though, can make that
name impossible to read. “Often when you bend metal on an anvil,
you actually hammer on the anvil’s side, where the name was,” he
notes. “A lot of times, the name is gone, just because of use.”
German and Swedish anvils are measured in kilograms and may carry
that designation.

Find an anvil with a mysterious three- or four-digit number cast
into it? It’s almost certainly of old English manufacture. The
number reflects an English system of weights and measures based on
the English hundredweight, equivalent to 112 pounds. The number is
deciphered in this way:

Say the number on the anvil is 117. The number in the first
position stands for multiples of a hundredweight, in this case, 112

The number in the second position stands for the “quarter
weight” of a hundredweight. Because it stands for quarter-weights,
the number in the second position will be either 1, 2 or 3,
representing, respectively, 28 pounds (one-quarter of 112), 56
pounds (one-half of 112) or 84 pounds (three-quarters of 112).
Because the number on this imaginary anvil is 117, the number in
the second position (1) represents 28 pounds.

The number(s) in the third position represents a value between 1
and 27. In this case, with our imaginary anvil marked 117, the
number in the third position represents seven pounds.

To compute the anvil’s total weight, simply add the three
figures: 112 + 28 + 7 = 147 pounds.

Anvil shooting, a long-established Southern tradition, is not a
natural partner to anvil collecting. Dating to the end of the Civil
War, when Confederate field artillery and cannons were removed by
Union troops, the practice (in which a large quantity of black
powder is ignited in an anvil) is one said to be born of necessity.
Without cannons, how else to make “a big bang” on the Fourth of
July? When extreme force meets flaws in the iron, however, the
anvil can be damaged (and airborne fragments become, essentially,
shrapnel). When it comes to anvil shooting, Chip is interested … to
a point. “I know very little about it,” he says. “I would like to
see it done, but it would hurt me bad if I saw one of my anvils up
in the air.”

For more information:

? Chip Barkman, 7120 FM 559, Texarkana, TX 75505; (903)
832-6227; e-mail:

? Anvils in America (considered by anvil collectors to
be the ultimate authority on the topic), by Richard Postman,
Postman Publishing, 10 Fisher Ct., Berrien Springs, MI 49103;

? Blacksmith’s Gazette, P.O. Box 2168, Snohomish, WA
98291; (360) 668-0976;

? Anvil Magazine, available online only at

? The Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America, online

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