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How to find an Anvil

How and where to find a blacksmith's anvil anywhere in the world

Jock Dempsey, anvilfire guru

It may sound trite, but for years I have been telling people "anvils are where you find them". But it is true.

They are just as likely to be in the basement of a brownstone in Queens, a cold water flat in London or an old Sugar Mill in Guatemala as an old closed blacksmith shop in a little rural Midwestern town. I've found them in garden sheds in the suburbs, in machine shops in the city, in an old couples basement, AND had them delivered to me (without asking) in the trunk of a car (it found ME).

I've found them in antique shops and truck repair shops. I bought one out of a junk yard. My two larger anvils came from auctions at ironworks (one a foundry / machine shop, the other a welding / fabrication shop). I bought two with broken horns at blacksmith Hammer-Ins and a sweet little Mousehole Anvil at SOFA Quadstate in Ohio a few years ago because it was selling for less than $1/lb. (€1.66/kg).

DESPITE my opening statement, I realized I bought my first anvil from an old blacksmith shop. However, there are used anvils by the millions and old blacksmith shops are VERY VERY rare. Anvils are more common in some regions than others but they are found anywhere in the world there has been people (since the 1800's), agriculture or industry.

NOTE: New anvils are still being made and are sold by our advertisers as well as others. It pays to know what new top quality items are selling for before you go into the used market or to auctions. It is not unusual to see folks pay more for old junk than what can be purchased NEW.

You will not find anvils at your local hardware store unless they happen to be a large farrier's (horseshoer's) supply. You will not find anvils in most antique shops unless they are of the ironmonger sort filled with old horse drawn farm equipment and tons of iron "stuff". You will not find anvils at Walmart, Kmart, or Sears. They like to deal in fast moving high markup items.

There are only a few general blacksmith suppliers that stock anvils. If you live near one GREAT, but the probability is low.

Anvils at the Old Millstone Museum NJ.

How to find a good used anvil without traveling to every possible place.

The first step is to know what you are looking for. Anvils are not all alike and there is a lot of junk on the market. Start with our Selecting an Anvil article and then peruse our Anvil Gallery.

As noted above it helps to know what NEW products cost before going into the used market. Educating yourself about the product and the market will save you money.
ASK Everyone

Now that you know a little bit about anvils the first step is to simply ASK everyone you know, especially relatives (even distant relatives that you have to search for and introduce yourself to) about anvils. TELL them you are interested in learning blacksmithing and need an anvil and tools.

THEN ask every stranger you meet. Ask the waitress at the truck stop, the counter person ad the dry cleaner, the good old boys on the corner. . . anyone and everyone.

When you tell them about learning to forge steel to make tools and decorative items. . .

DO NOT tell them you want to make SWORDS or KNIVES.

They will think you are a dangerous nut and will be more likely to turn you in to the nearest police officer than to give you the time of day. If you are young and speaking to older folks be respectful if you want their help. Listen to their stories. Before they give you any information you will need to wait patiently and listen for a while until they are comfortable with you.

Those good old boys, the farmers in a rural restaurant or hardware store, the mechanics at the service station, know everyone and everything for miles around. TALK to them. Don't be a wise ass and correct their mistakes about blacksmithing. LISTEN to what they have to say. THEN follow their leads. One of the most important parts of finding is follow through.

The advice about strangers also applies to relatives. You never know if you have a third cousin on your Uncle's side that has a collection of anvils. . . Everyone has many more relatives than they think they do. ASK. Listen, take notes.

The Above methods WORK!

I've heard from people all over the would and seen it in action. Ask the question, listen to the stories, wait for it, be polite, then follow up.

In almost every case where folks say there are no anvils to be found they either have not tried OR they could not find one for FREE OR were not willing to pay a fair price. I've heard working metalworkers say there was no anvils to be found in their area and a stranger come in, using the methods above, and find anvils in that person's neighborhood.

Talking to strangers is not for everyone.

I admit I am very bad about cold calls and talking to people I do not know. At nearly 60 years old I still feel like a timid child sometimes when it comes to talking to strangers. To be a finder, even a marginal one, you have to get over that shyness. But do not despair, there are other ways to find anvils.

Advertise

Put an ad in your local paper that you want to buy used blacksmithing equipment. This is much less likely to bring you a FREE anvil such as asking all your relatives as suggested above but you may be surprised at the results. Be prepared to buy a lot of equipment. . . There is a large market for old blacksmithing equipment and most can be resold at a profit OR traded for that anvil you are looking for. Take notes, many will call you looking for the same. They may be future customers.

Such ads can often be run for FREE in the little papers that circulate in convenience stores, grocery stores and similar places. Paid ads may be no more successful. But that is the cost of not being able to walk up to strangers, introduce yourself and ask the question.

Join your Local Blacksmithing Group

There are groups all over the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany. . . and many other parts of the world. Sometimes you may need to travel a considerable distance but it is almost always worth it. See ABANA-Chapter.com

Blacksmithing organization meetings are held monthly and almost always include demonstrations and people selling equipment. If not, then ASK. Out of 20 smiths (any mix of professionals and amateurs) they will own at least 60 anvils among them. Some may want to sell or trade. If they do not, they will know the local finder. If they want to trade you MAY have something from that ad you ran. . . You DID run that ad?

Anvils seen at SOFA Quadstate 2008
Just a few of the hundreds of anvils seen at SOFA Quadstate Roundup in 2008.

At many of the regional or national meets you can completely outfit a blacksmith shop with OLD or NEW equipment including everything from anvil and forge to specialty hammers. Just bring your truck and cash. If you can wait, make the trip and have a little cash to spend then there is NO problem at all.

FINDERS AKA "Pickers"

These are people that know how to do the above (asking everyone).
   AND they often have a nose for where things will be.
   AND have a sharp eye looking out for those items they specialize in.
   AND they know how to talk to people then LISTEN to what they say.
   AND they follow through.




I should have known better than to go
fishing with Thomas the anvil finder!

Hmmmmm. . . I wonder what he uses for bait?


anvilfire.com comic page

Finders (generally known as "Pickers" in the antiques trade) are often the people that run antique shops, sell at the flea market and are the guys at the big blacksmith gatherings or swap meets. Some finders find for themselves and others for their friends and acquaintances and some do it as a business. Being a finder is a skill and it is worth paying the finder his markup on what it is that he has found. Finders use the exact same methods I describe above.

On-Line Ads

Many people look on Craig's List. Prices there range from typical garage sale to looking for fools to part with their money prices. EVERY anvil is a rare "antique" or collector's item. Anvils just start becoming "antique" at 200 years and the more valuable ones are 400 years. . . You should educate yourself to values before buying on-line.

Other on-line listings include our anvilfire Tailgate Sales page, tool collectors and machinery sites. You generally will not find a "cheap" anvil via these listings. The folks selling here know what they have and have gone to the effort to advertise. Most will not be common anvils in the portability range of 100 to 140 pounds (50 to 65 kg's).

Auctions

Real auctions. . not ebay. I've bought most of my anvils at auctions. It is a hard way to go. I traveled to every farm and estate auction in a 100 mile radius over a period of a decade and found 6 anvils, 4 of which I bought. The cost of going to all those auctions was not insignificant and the time could have been better spent IF I HAD KNOWN BETTER. I saw MANY of the same people at these auctions all looking for the same thing. But *I* bought ALL the good anvils. Of the two I did not, one was a huge cast iron ASO and the other a lovely little 30 pound Mousehole that went for over $10/lb (€17/kg). It was a great little anvil but I could not afford those prices. Small anvils still sell very high today.

Note again, *I*, one person out of the hundreds in our area bought ALL the anvils that showed up in our area for over a decade. This is common in many areas. Single dealers or collectors that want ONE thing and are willing to pay just a LITTLE more than others. Unless you really enjoy spending all that time at auctions there are better ways to obtain an anvil.

When buying at auction there is also always a chance of auction fever. It happens on on-line auctions but is much more severe in live face to face auctions. You absolutely MUST set a price and stick to it. See My First Anvil. While I would have paid more I only had a few dollars cash. I REALLY had a bad case of auction fever.

On Line Auctions

This primarily means ebay. The problem with ebay is that the vast majority of anvils are cast iron ASO's (junk) described as professional quality steel anvils. They are not, it is ALL lies. However, due to anonymity of the system, non-refundable high shipping costs, buyer ignorance, embarrassment at being duped and the difficulty or getting one's money back, the crooks have continued in business on ebay for a decade.

DO NOT purchase such things on ebay unless you really know what you are doing. I've bought a LOT of things on ebay and only got ripped off once and that was a purposeful purchase to show how the dealer was committing a fraud.

See Fraud on ebay

There are a LOT of good honest ebay dealers but I am afraid that in the anvil business the crooks outnumber the honest folk.

What Price to Pay?

Anvil prices vary a great bit. Brand (often indicating quality) and condition, mean a great deal. An anvil sold on a farm or by a widow lady getting rid of her late husbands things may get the 60 year old price of $1/lb (in the US) OR less. That same anvil may resell to another dealer for twice that amount. That newest buyer may clean up the anvil, do some research on it, write a nice description of it, photograph it and then sell it for $4/lb to $7/lb. on ebay to someone tickled to find a good old high grade forged anvil.

Good old top Brand anvils from the 19th and early 20th century often sell for as much or more than the most expensive of new anvils. This has made them a good investment for over the past decade. Anvils are still a good investment as long as you are not paying current top dollar price.

Typically good old slightly worn anvils of no major note have been selling for as high as $2.40/lb. for a decade. But the same anvil may sell for less when the seller gets desperate OR just doesn't want to haul it around any more.

Can't Afford to buy : Have no money. .

We hear this a lot from teenagers, notably in North America. I have no sympathy. They are accessing the net on a better computer than mine on a faster connection and probably have Game Boys, iPods, Wii, stereos . . . a huge investment in electronics that may be worthless in a few years. To you I say, ask ANY neighbor if they need help doing manual labor. Cleaning gutters, raking leaves, weeding gardens, washing windows. . .

If you show up clean and sober, wearing neat work attire, speaking clear English (or the language of your country), you will probably be put to work immediately. Don't speak the language? Learn at least the minimum, be polite, don't scare the old folks. There are 10's of millions of folks looking for a dependable part time day laborer to do the things they are too old or out of shape to do OR just need help doing.

If you are young and healthy you can easily earn $100 a day or more (in the US) with a step ladder, a squeegee, some paper towels and a bottle of ammonia, cleaning outside windows. From experience I would charge at least $50/house. Show up at our house and its a $100, today. Do four houses on a Saturday and you have $200. Expect to have to do some windows over, streaks DO happen. Windows do not need cleaning every week so you will need more than 4 clients if this is all you do. Its work, but not difficult work. Its easier than working at McDonalds and pays MUCH better. Be clean and friendly, do not insult your employers by using foul language. Just do a good job and you will have more clients than you can serve.

There are opportunities like this almost everywhere. Save your money, buy an anvil. You can make money with it as well. . . AND as mentioned above, it can be a good investment.

Wrap up:

You wont find an anvil at your corner store, you wont find one growing out of the dirt in your back yard. Most people that say they cannot find an anvil have not looked much further than that or cannot find a FREE anvil. But FREE anvils do happen. The easiest way to obtain an anvil is to just pull out your credit card and order one on line from a reputable dealer. The next easiest way is to travel to one of the regional blacksmith meets. But your local meeting may be just as productive.

To find those really good deals you usually have to be THE Finder. We explained how to do it above. Once in the hands of folks that know the value of an anvil the price goes up. But do not begrudge the Finder their fee. It is much easier if they do the looking than YOU.

Anvils ARE where you find them. . . . - anvilfire guru

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