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The anvil is the primary tool of blacksmiths and one of the few tools that most blacksmiths will purchase. The first metalsmiths probably used flat rocks but as the world entered the iron age, iron anvils came into being. These were probably simple blocks of iron with a flat working surface. Still, there is evidence that the early Viking smiths used flat rocks for their work. The anvil went through a long period of development and there was no common or standard type through the western world.
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Since most of early iron work was directed to the making of arms and armor, the armourers developed anvils that suited their work. It was the Germans who improved steel and therefore they produced the finest armor. Their knowledge of metal led to excellent anvils. Through the centuries, there evolved a European or continental type of anvil that is represented by the double horn anvil but without a table.
The English also developed an anvil, but with a style all their own. The English controlled the market to the American colonies and in the mid-1700s, the London style came into being. Even after the Revolutionary War, the London style continued to be imported in such numbers, that in time it has also been called, the London/American style. It is today an American favorite.
| Anvils have been made for many special uses ranging from the smallest jewelers anvils to the heaviest industrial anvils. Of course, silversmiths don’t use heated metal on their anvils and swages. Rather, they anneal their metal and work it cold. It is the blacksmith who works the metal hot, and not all blacksmiths preformed the same tasks.
The old Mousehole Forge in Sheffield England made five types of anvils:*
1. The London shape anvil
2. The double pike anvil
3. Coachsmiths’ anvil
4. Farriers’ anvil
5. Sawmakers’ anvil
Additionally, there is the bench anvil - made to ge used on a workbench, the bridge anvil, and the coopers’ anvil.
The image to the left shows traditional single and double bick (horn) anvils, a cast iron anvil stand, and two Saw Makers anvils, (from Vaughn/Brooks Lye, England). Western Saw Inc. (Oxnard, California) also makes Saw Makers anvils.
Two Medieval Armourers and the Anvil Bench graphic, detail from an engraving of the anvil bench of sixteenth century armourer, Conrad (Konrad) Seusenhofer.
Medieval Square Anvil and Medieval Double Horn Anvil graphics redrawn from The Art of Blacksmithing by Alex W. Bealer, p. 65.
All Colonial graphics except the black and white Stake Anvil redrawn from Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloan, pp.90, 92.
JHM Anvils, NC Tool Co., Nimba, Peddinghaus, Sterling, and Vaughn/Brooks graphics from the makers’ advertisements, and are copyrighted by them.
* The listing of the five Mousehole Forge anvils was complied by David Poppke and presented online by David W. Wilson and the North Texas Blacksmiths Association.
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