In the mid-1800’s, the cast iron industry was raging in the United States. It was recognized as a medium extremely adaptable for uses ranging from ornamental architectural filigree to actual building construction. It could cast iron from a mold in any conceivable design that could that could be reproduced over and over art a relatively small cost. It could be painted to give an entirely versatile appearance. Furniture with openwork designs of grapevines, leaves, and intricate lacy scrollwork was cast for gardens as well as inside use. Figural doorstops of ever sort, bootjacks, trivets, and a host of other useful and decorative items were made before the “feromania” had run its course. If you are lucky enough to find a piece of decorative iron ware or furniture in your local antique store look for these qualities in the piece before you buy it.
When you are picking up the piece to examine it the piece should have a distinct feel of weight to it. Don’t go by the weight alone as a determinate that you have cast iron because there are other metals that have weight to them as well. Pot metal for one example has a feel of weight and sometimes it can have the same color to the metal as iron. The is the beauty of pot metal it can be made to look like other metals with just a few alterations being done to it.
Remember the time period that is stated in the introduction, it is the mid 1800’s that cast iron was in its hay day so take the time to study the stylization of the time period. Be familiar with the Artists and foundries of the time period and not only the most popular Artists and foundries but some of the not-so-popular Artists that where around at the time. Some Artists and foundries names to look for are: The Gray Iron Foundry Vermont, Kenton Company, John W 218 and others.So it is best to do your homework before you go antique shopping to pick up that first piece that you see.
One tip that I have found that helped me to spot quality cast iron in antique shops is a magnet. It doesn’t matter what size the magnet is, all that matters is that you have one. This tool will help you to identify cast iron verses other metals that are used to look like cast iron. Remember that cast iron is a mixture of metals and a magnet is attracted to those metals. While Aluminum, Silver, Brass and copper make up pot metal and they are not attracted to magnets.
Remember these are only a few tips on how to collect iron ware from the 1800’s there are also guides on the time period that you need to study to give yourself a complete understanding of the styles of the time period. Also be sure to use a magnet so that you are able to identify pot metal when you are antique shopping that way you won’t accidently buy that piece that is not worth more that scrap metal. What I can truly say is, buyer beware of what you are buying. Remember we all make mistakes when collecting, so if you do buy a modern piece, think of the experience as a learning curve for future purchases.