Andirons are used to hold the logs inside the fireplace. American made andirons evolved a much different design direction since the 1600’s, as wood fuel which was plentiful here was all but gone in much of England.
Sturdy forged iron designs have been made in the US since the early days of colonization, when the fireplace was used for both cooking and heating. Since great big pieces of wood burn for a longer time, a substantial design was required to hold these large logs in place. Forged iron is a process where a piece of metal is heated to make it malleable; the andiron is bent and hammered into shape, so variations within a pair of hand forged andirons are quite common. Where the shaft and leg of the andiron are made as individual pieces, hand rivets are seen on the earliest designs.
Brass andirons were made in America starting in the late 1600’s for use in more formal rooms. Immediately following the American Revolution it was considered somewhat unpatriotic to import from England, though wealthy households did bring in many French designs. Between 1790 and 1810 there were many brass foundries established in the US manufacturing andirons in brass. European styles were often duplicated, but uniquely American designs evolved with patriotic symbols becoming popular. Paul Revere was a noted maker of household brass items including andirons. Common design elements include claw feet, ball feet and slipper feet; a tall shaft to keep the logs in place topped with balls, urns, flame tips and steeple tops.
Short shank andirons, generally less than 8″ long, were a more recent design popularized in London. Although most Londoners were burning coal or peat, the formal design of andirons still appealed to them in the Victorian era and still do today.
Cast iron became a preferred material during the Industrial Revolution, and continues to be popular today. Cast iron is made from pouring hot metal into molds, enabling mass production Available in all styles imaginable, the Victorians had a field day with mass production of cast iron andirons, often using regional designs & patriotic styles to adorn andirons that are heavy duty enough to provide years – even centuries – of use with wood burning fireplaces. Again, Americana was popular so we often see designs incorporating soldiers, George Washington, eagles, ships, arrows, owls and more.
It’s easy to incorporate a pair of antique andirons into your home decor, even if you prefer the modern convenience of a gas or electric fire. When using gas logs, it’s often easy to slide the shaft of the andiron under the log grate. Similarly with electric fires, place a set of electric logs or an electric insert onto your andirons. Painting the inside of the fireplace with high temperature black paint will provide a better focus on your “fire” and an aged look to bring the eye forward to your andirons.