On Becoming a Blacksmith, MY FIRST ANVIL

By Jock Dempsey  -  March 12, 1988

Originally published in the Blacksmith Gazette, February 1998.

I went to an auction at a local Ironworks recently and bought a beautiful 300 lb. Swedish Anvil, and an old 50 lb. Little Giant Power Hammer (like I really needed a fifth power hammer!). It was quite a different scene nearly twenty years ago.

My first anvil was a 100 lb. Swedish Anvil that I bought at an auction in the summer of 1970 when all I had was thirty two dollars in my pocket. I suppose, that to many modern blacksmiths this moment is as memorable as losing their virginity or the birth of their firstborn. I was so excited at that auction that I bid against my self for the last two of my thirty two dollars!

The place was R.E.CASH's blacksmith shop outside of Monroe, Virginia, a sleepy little village now bypassed by the main highway. I remember the July heat, and the faces of the auctioneer and the dealers like it was yesterday. There was barely standing room in the tiny country blacksmith shop. I was a skinny red faced 19 year old wearing a T-shirt and jeans in a crowd of middle aged dusty grey farmers and antique dealers wearing khaki work clothes or bib overalls.

I had stood by that anvil waiting for it to come up for bid through several hours of the noon time heat. I had spent all of nine dollars on several bunches of anvil set tools earlier in the day and had passed up numerous other opportunities with the limited hopes of securing my first anvil. Slowly the crowd around the auctioneer moved my way like the surf around a rock and then settled there, making me feel a little self conscience at having apparently already taken possession of the coveted anvil that everyone had anxiously waited to bid on. My heart raced, and I could feel my face redden as the adrenaline flowed. The auctioneer asked for bids and started his staccato tobacco barn chant with a call for one hundred dollars! Then, he lowered his call to fifty. Still, there was silence from the crowd of dusty farmers and antique dealers.

Finally! I thought I had a chance! I fumbled out, "three dollars," a ridiculous bid, and the auctioneer's brother jumped up and yelled,

"THU-reee dollars" and then jumped again and yelled,

"FOUR!" as someone immediately countered my bid.

The auctioneer then looked at me, and I bid eight. Then  .   .  .  someone bid twenty. Twenty dollars! The bid steps had gone up from a dollar or so to ten! My hopes sank, but my heart continued to race even faster as the auctioneer's chant matched my pulse and tried to raise it further. Now I had to think quickly, the adrenaline in my brain let what seemed like hours of thought to pass in seconds. I was now firmly in the grip of auction fever! I yelled, "thirty" as calmly as I could, my teenage voice cracking, and stared straight into the auctioneer's eyes. He looked away and continued his frantic chant asking for thirty one. When he turned to me, I had no idea what the bid was or who's bid it was, I just yelled, "thirty two," staring into the eyes of the auctioneer, knowing, that, that was all I had, while I tried to shut out the noise of the crowded room, he stared back for what seemed an eternity then . . .

"Thirty two once  .  .  .

thirty two twice  .  .  .

and thirty two for the last time  .  .  .   SOLD!".

I had done it! I picked up my prize, that weighed nearly as much as I did, like it was nothing, and set it on my shoulder to carry it to my car. Now I was a real blacksmith. I had my own anvil, the only tool a blacksmith supposedly couldn't make himself. Years later, I sold that anvil when I was really broke and have missed it like a long lost love ever since.

I had paid 32¢ a pound that day for a very good anvil when the rule of thumb price had been one dollar a pound for at least ten or fifteen years! I paid only $1.33 a pound for my newly acquired 300 lb. Swedish anvil another eighteen years later! In an altogether different scene, I bid with the calm poker face of a professional gambler, deftly showing my auction card with the slightest turn of the wrist. And now... I patiently wait for the call from a dealer that says he can get me a five to six-hundred pound anvil for even less. An opportunity that years ago would have sent me madly scrambling across the country in a panic trying to obtain the blacksmith's dream, that elusive giant anvil with perfect unbroken corners and a crystal clear voice.

anvilfire graphic (c) 1998 Patrick Dempsey
Copyright © 1988, 1998 by Jock Dempsey,
DEMPSEY'S FORGE