What is the difference between Cast Iron and Wrought Iron? Cast iron objects are created from molten metal that has been poured into a mold and allowed to harden. In contrast, wrought iron items are individually created by bending pieces of hot, malleable iron.
The first simple metal castings date to the Neolithic period (6000 – 1800 BC). Through the following centuries different metals were discovered and new techniques were developed. Foundries were prevalent in Europe prior to the first settlers colonizing America, and the Pilgrims brought their knowledge of metal working to America with them. However, it was not until after the Civil War that foundries were well established in the United States. Until then, a blacksmith hand forged the metal objects needed for everyday use.
The most popular metals for casting have been iron, brass and bronze. Iron is the most common metal used for early American trivets. There were many shapes … spade, rectangular, circular, oval, and freeform. In the late 1800s to 1920s it was popular to apply a plated coating (nickel, brass or copper) to iron; the plating served to prevent the formation of rust. A Japanned (lacquer) finish was also popular during the same period and for the same reason.
One method of evaluating age in a trivet is by identifying the Cast Mark, which is the scar left when the downspout or gate is severed after casting. There will be one of three types of casting marks. The first two marks, the Sprue and the Wedge, were typical of trivets pre-dating 1865 and appear on the trivet center reverse. A Sprue mark is round while a Wedge mark is rectangular. The third mark, the rectangular Gate mark or marks, can be found along the rim and was seen in castings where two or more trivets were cast in one mold pour. Pronounced or incompletely filed gate marks are typical of castings predating 1895.
A cast mark is more easily identified on trivets made of iron and bronze, because the hardness of those metals made removing traces of the scar more difficult. Since brass is a softer metal, casting marks were more easily removed during finishing and may not be evident.
Some of the early foundry castings (1870s to 1920s) were thin and delicately formed, exhibiting sharp detail, an openwork design and occasionally letters and/or numbers. Others were more substantial and featured Pennsylvania Dutch designs such as the distelfink or the rosette. There were trivets cast for utilitarian use as iron stands or pot rests. Other trivets served as coffee, tea or table stands.
View the examples provided of the various casting marks, and from now on always examine trivets with an eye for identifying their birthmark!
Lynn Rosack is a Worthologist who specializes in trivets and kitchenalia.