The Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North America (ABANA)
|Colonial Wrought Iron: The Sorber Collection.
By Don Plummer. Skipjack Press (Order through Bookmasters, INc., PO Box 388, Ashland, Ohio 44805; 1-800-247-6553) 1999. 256 Pp. ISBN Number 1-879535-16-5. $44.
When the Sorber Collectiono of Colonial Ironwork went on display at the 1998 ABANA Conference droves of people went through the exhibit. Most could be seen with tape measure in hand, making sketches in notebooks so that they could forge a copy later.
Thanks to Don Plummer and Jack Andrews, those sketches can more easily go beyond the notebooks. By the time you read this a massive work on the collection will be in print. Jack was kind enough to send me a pre-publication copy and if it is any indication of what's to come I can't wait to see the real thing.
The book contains 505 photographs, all high quality black and white studio shots. There is such an amazing amount of ironwork in this book that anyone even remotely interested in early American iron will benefit in untold ways from this effort.
The book begins with an intro by Peter Ross, who points out that to the uneducated eye the pieces in Sorber's collection would have looked like junk, their merits hidden under ages of paint. Fortunately Sorber, who trained under the late Donald Streeter, "saw the evidence of the maker's hand lying beneath the surface."
It is organized into five chapters, including Hearth and Kitchen, Domestic Items, Tools, Hardware and Conestoga Wagon. Within chapters objects such as lighting and hinges further group the collection for easy reference. An index is a helpful addition.
Accompanying the photos is some enlightening text that adds to the information by explaining the object's use and what the smith had in mind in making it different from others.
Plummer points out in the introduction the importance of this work. He says that often collections are held together by the interests of one individual, and such is the case with this one. With the assistance of Jim Sorber, the author was able to date many of the pieces in the collection and in many cases even pinpoint which house it came from.
Without the assistance of the collector much of this important information would be lost forever. While the intro tells in a few graphs what inspired the collection, I would have preferred an entire chapter devoted to the subject of Jim Sorber. No doubt the modest Sorber wouldn't have allowed this, for the true heroes of this book are the "common and universal blacksmiths". They would be surprised to see their utilitarian efforts immortalized in print.
Count this volume as one of the true classics of the blacksmith community, in a league with Dick Postman's book on anvils and Doug Freund's work on power hammers. Thanks to those who made it happen.
Reviewed by Jim McCarty