I love auctions...you never know what you are going to find. It is like opening a present every week...surprises...some weeks it is the ultimate goody...others...OMG...but those of us in the antique business love the hunt. It is not like regular retail where one can sit with a catalog and order...and, for the customer, we cannot get 2 more of the item...no slow boat from China coming with this inventory!
This week I saw some iron urns tucked under and next to a piece of furniture. The furniture section sells last so I had to camp out for awhile, but I knew these were worth the time.
I tend to avoid cast iron items inside the shop...something about a cast iron pot around my antique yellowware bowls gives me pause. But, doorstops and bookends are all right, and so are garden pieces. Rarely do I see the garden urns show up at auction because I think most of the time they sell with the house. But there they were...2 large and 2 smaller ones.
Cast iron is simply iron that is poured into a mold...pots, pans, fences, garden urns. Iron was not common until people figured out how to get the furnace hot enough to melt the iron...guess who figured it out first? China! Of course! In 513B.C.! England managed to perfect the technique around 1100 A.D. Now pots could be made by making molds out of sand and pouring molting metal into the mold.
My research uncovered an interesting tidbit. In 1776, Adam Smith, in his book, The Wealth of Nations, noted that the actual wealth of the nation was not its gold but in its manufacture of pots and pans. (Wonder what he would say about T-Fal?) Cast iron cookware was highly valued in the 18th century. George Washington's mother thought so much of her cookware she made special note to bequeath her cast iron in her will. In their expedition to the Louisiana territory in 1804, Lewis and Clark indicated that their cast iron Dutch oven was one of their most important pieces of equipment.
The Victorians loved their gardens, and they bought cast iron with abandon. The picture above shows a heating grate from the Victorian era. The coal mines near Pittsburgh fostered the manufacturing of much of the iron. As the Arts & Crafts movement replaced the Victorian era, pottery replaced cast iron, and it is obvious in many of the vases made throughout the early part of the 20th century.
Although cast iron is not fragile, it does need some care. Paste wax will arrest the rusting process on surfaces of outdoor pieces (apply in the late fall and mid-spring). Also, repainting - or painting - does not effect the value of the piece.
Of course, most readers are familiar with Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn," but as a writer, I have kept this William Faulkner quote in my collection...
“If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies."
Fortunately, you do not have to trade in your Mum or Granny for any of these, cash will suffice!