by Richard Postman
reviewed by Fred Holder

Published in the August 1999 Issue of Anvil Magazine

Reprinted from Blacksmith’s Gazette

What do you say about a book that measures 8 1/2” by 11” by 1 1/8” thick and contains 550 pages of information about anvils? Probably not much, unless you are a blacksmith!

Richard Postman has done extensive research on the subject of anvils and has assembled an impressive piece of work on the subject. Will this book help you to do a better job of blacksmithing? No. Will it help you to understand more about that anvil that you hammer your hot iron on? I believe so. This is a great reference and research book for people wishing to know more about anvils in America and in the world. Richard has put together a vast amount of information on anvils, how they were made, who made them and where. There are hundreds of pictures of anvils and dozens of old anvil advertisements reproduced for your reference and a lot of explanatory text that is interestingly written.

This book began in 1982, when Richard Postman was setting out to teach a newly created class in hot metals, which included hand forging. He says: “I thought it best that I learn a little of the history or background of the anvil to pass on to the students. Our metal shop had two anvils of one hundred pounds each, bearing the name Vulcan and an Arm and Hammer trademark like that on a baking soda box. This trademark was cast in relief on one side of both anvils. I had often wondered how old they were, who made them, and where they were made.

“The library at the university where I taught has more than one million volumes. Certainly among all of these books there would be one on anvils, or at least a book on blacksmithing containing a section on the history of anvils. I looked through the card file for anvil...NOTHING!”

Among those million volumes, Richard found one book on blacksmithing: the American Blacksmithing Toolsmith and Steelworker’s Manual; it didn’t answer his questions. His searching did not turn up any book on anvils or any book that had any significant amount of information on anvils.

He says, “With all the books on every conceivable subject in this world, surely you would think that someone would have written a book on an implement as old and important to the Iron Age and so historically relevant to our age. Sure there were snippets here and there, but nothing of any magnitude has been compiled. I still find it hard to believe. However, the more I talked to smiths and people who own anvils, including anvil collectors, the more I discovered how little is known about them. Thus, I began collecting information on anvils to satisfy my own curiosity; later I thought of sharing it with others.”

The result is the book that I’m reviewing here — a book that was long promised and slow in coming, but I believe well worth the wait!

Richard begins his book by defining the parts of the anvil. Lots of books have done this to some degree, but this book defines 17 distinct parts to an anvil. This is preparatory to talking about the anvil and not having to define what you are talking about when you say heel. Then he discusses weights of anvils and how they were generally marked. English anvils used hundredweight designations using three numbers: the first was the number of hundredweights (112 pounds), the second the number of 1/4 of a hundredweight, and the third the odd number of pounds. This was designated as the “stone” weight system, where eight stones equaled one hundredweight. Other methods were used to designate weight and not all English anvils were so marked.

From there he goes into a discussion of how to date an anvil and gives some rather good guidelines for fixing the time frame of manufacture for some of the old anvils. He devotes several more pages to general information about anvils, their shapes, weights, and features — like a fifth foot — and discusses why these things may have been used. He then begins a discussion on “Anvil Patterns and Types” and clarifies greatly why some anvils were shaped as they were. From there he goes into the materials used and the methods of manufacture of the various anvils, including: solid wrought iron, cast steel, and cast iron. Finally, he closes Chapter 1 by discussing briefly how anvils were repaired.

Chapter 2 begins the discussion of early American anvils and various European anvils. Well, obviously, early American anvils were going to be very close in form and method of manufacture to those made in Europe, because the people making them likely learned their trade in Europe.

In Chapter 3, he discusses “English Anvils” and the various anvil manufacturers of the anvils that tended to come to America. Chapter 4 talks about “American Cast Anvils,” both cast iron and cast steel. Chapter 5 deals with “American Wrought Anvils” and their manufacturers: American, Arm & Hammer, Hay-Budden, and Trenton.

In Chapter 6 he discusses “Miscellaneous American Anvils,” including some unknown and miscellaneous anvils and some special and unusual anvils. The main part of the book ends with Chapter 7 talking about “Anvil Odds and Ends and Trivia.” Some of the trivia is really quite interesting.

The last 100 or so pages of the book are devoted to the Appendices, which provide a lot of useful information that just didn’t fit into the seven chapters, but important information nevertheless.

Can I recommend this book? Without question! If you are a blacksmith, someone interested in blacksmithing tools, or a collector of blacksmithing tools including anvils, this book is a must for your library, and that is especially true if you are a collector.

The book is a bit pricey at $60 plus $5 shipping and handling, but I feel the quality of the contents and the amount of information provided more than justifies the price.

If you want to order one of the prized books, send Richard Postman a check for $65. Mail to: Richard Postman, 320 Fisher Court, Berrien Springs, MI 49103  Ph: 616/471-5426 (616 changes to 269  in 7/02).
Copies will continue to be available on an ongoing basis.

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