Book Reviews

The Golden Age of Ironwork

Henry Jonas Magaziner, with Photographs by Robert D. Golding. Introduction by Roger W. Moss. Ocean Pines Maryland: SkipJack Press, 2000. 224 pages, 173 photographs.

During the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was the center of America's burgeoning iron industry, in terms of both artistic and technological innovation. Although iron had been used for countless centuries, Philadelphian's found numerous new uses for the metal due to new technologies, refined artistic sensibilities and business acumen of iron manufacturers such as the ingenious Robert Wood. The essence of Philadelphia's key role in the iron industry is captured in the excellent new book, The Golden Age of Ironwork, by Henry Jonas Magaziner, with handsome photography by Robert D. Golding.

The author focuses much of the beginning of the book on describing in detail the production processes of both wrought and cast iron, and on the impact that the Industrial Revolution had on the way in which it was manufactured. He succeeds in describing technological and manufacturing methods in a manner that is both clear and fascinating, and, in my judgment, his is the most comprehensive and clear description of this subject in print.

Magaziner succinctly and clearly illustrates how Philadelphia developed as the leader of the American iron industry and how ironwork designed there was used and emulated by other across the nation. He focuses particular attention on the work of two master Philadelphia ironworkers, Robert Wood and Samuel Yellin, and he is correct in doing so.
No firm in the history of the United States has surpassed the ironwork produced in Philadelphia by Robert Wood and his successor firms.

While Robert wood gave prominence to Philadelphia as a producer of cast iron, Samuel Yellin broadened this reputation into the area of wrought iron. Although born and trained in Poland, Yellin moved to Philadelphia, in 1906, and quickly established himself as one of the most imaginative designers and extraordinary craftsman ever to work in wrought iron in America. Yellin's work often incorporated whimsical touches such as animal-like figures, birds and plant life, infusing his work with a vibrancy not often found in cast or wrought iron. Unlike the creations of most blacksmiths, Yellin's designs are usually identifiable due to his unique style and sense of design. The photographs in this book capture the visual excitement of his work. A door pull and lantern at Bryn Mawr's Goodhart Hall illustrated in this book, shows Yellin' brilliance as a designer and craftsman. These works embody so much energy that the door pull and lantern appear as though they are about to jump off the building.

The photographs by Robert D. Golding could not be better. They are beautiful and are a perfect match to the text. The book is to be commended for its mix of photographic images, providing examples of many different types of ironwork, primarily by Philadelphia firms and located in Philadelphia. Chapters focus on various applications of iron such as for facades of building, gates and doors, fences and railings, window and door grilles, and decorative features for streets, parks and gardens.

I very much enjoyed this book and will treasure it. It is one of the finest books that I have read on nineteenth century American ironwork, and it is the best book that deals with the role that Philadelphia played in creating cast and wrought iron in America. It is very readable and informative and a visual feast as well. A copy should be on the bookshelves of every person who appreciates and values the beauty in cast and wrought iron.

review by Sergei Troubetzkoy
19TH Century, Spring 2001, a periodical publication of The Victorian Society in America

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