Philadelphia Metropolis


The Blacksmith Revival

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By Stuart Geisler

I make a living buying and selling anvils, as well as being a professional blacksmith.  The craft movement in America is making a come-back because of these tough economic times.  People are fashioning their own hand-made goods to economize.  Recycling old iron into functional objects is gaining popularity and profitability as people seek new and unique ways to increase their income. I used to show many pictures of myself blacksmithing in my shop 25 years ago, and people were always curious about the craft, so I started working again in my shop and studying the history of what I thought was a dying craft. Suddenly, people started asking me for lessons in this ancient craft, and how to acquire tools of the trade.   Many of the folks asking me, believe it or not, are Yuppies in shirts and ties, who are not used to manual labor.  Many folks who have lost their jobs due to downsizing, seem to be ready to rethink career possibilities.   But are they ready for the real deal 5936297479_bfa9a6e948_o.jpgof hard work?  I always explain that this is not a walk in the park, that if you're not willing to get your hands dirty and sometimes scorched, then this is not for you.       This demand for blacksmith tools created a business opportunity for me.  I am constantly ferreting out anvils, forges, vises, and hammers in Philadelphia flea markets, auctions, factory closeouts, and online vendors of these tools in the Philadelphia area.  The other day, in the suburbs, I attended a farm auction where I stood for 11 hours, in the sweltering heat, trying to beat out anvil collectors, incipient blacksmiths, and tool dealers, all vying for a few anvils that are very highly prized indeed.  Because of the huge demand, the competition was fierce for these tools.  People looking to bid against me were shoving me, pushing me, and trying to intimidate me and others out of bidding on a particular tool. Even Amish men and women, usually well-mannered, were jostling for position as each blacksmith tool was sold.  All this and there was no drinking water out in that hot hayfield where the auction was occurring.  Believe it or not, this is normal in a day of hunting for blacksmith tools.  And despite the horrendous heat, nobody was leaving without bidding on something.

Because Philadelphia historically had many blacksmiths shops, because iron and coal are native to this state, there are many blacksmith tools still available in junk yards, old factories, and antique shops in the area.  Just like gold and silver, the heavier, the more valuable.  Very large anvils, vises, and forges command enormous prices.  There is only one problem with this.  The anvil I won at that auction I attended last week had to be loaded into my minivan.  Greed exceeded common sense, and as a result of lifting that anvil, I suffered a groin pull that still hurts today.  In other words, that anvil just "crushed the coyote" from the Roadrunner cartoon.

 What makes this even worse is that, tomorrow, there is another auction in the Philadelphia area, where they are selling blacksmith tools.  Nursing a sore groin from lifting the last anvil, I have to make a decision as to whether I am up to bidding on these tools, with all that competition, in the hot sun all day.  What makes me lean towards attending that auction are a legion of young folks, neophytes to this craft, begging me to acquire these tools for them so that they can carry on this exciting and historical craft.  Learning this craft under my tutelage, these new blacksmiths are manufacturing beautiful objects of iron, all functional, and all pleasing to the eye.  This renaissance of craftsmanship fits right in with President Obama's call to start manufacturing here in America.  I even have some folks manufacturing tools for export, all hand-made, and all of high caliber.  There is a huge amount of excitement while practicing this craft.  Pulling a hot piece of iron out of a fire and hitting it on a large anvil, creating sparks and tremendous sound effects appeals to my sense of drama, you can easily forget about the danger of the craft when you forge your first work of art.

Tonight, I am going to prepare an Epsom salts bath, hoping it will improve my groin pull, as well as other sundry aches and pains from hoisting and transporting anvils.  I know for sure that I am doing something very positive by buying and selling anvils, which makes this totally worthwhile.  The anvil I buy tomorrow will end up in a new blacksmith's hands, where the craft shall continue.



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