Rural Missouri - February 2014 - (Page 36)
N E I G H B O R S
by Jason Jenkins
o untrained eyes, it's just a chunk of iron
or steel. Cold to the touch. Unwieldy.
Blemished by time and tools. Most have
been relegated to the corner to gather
dust, a seemingly obsolete implement in a hightech world.
But it's a different story for Bill Bench. When
he sees an anvil, he sees history. He sees beauty.
"If these anvils could talk, there's no telling
what kinds of stories they could tell you," he says
as he gazes down a line of farrier's anvils in his
home workshop outside of Rogersville. "Just look
at that one. Now that's a beautiful anvil."
For the past 20 years, Bill has collected the tool
once responsible for making all other tools. Today,
his collection comprises nearly 200 anvils of all
shapes and sizes, varying from less than a pound
to 750 pounds.
"I've always been around tools," says the master mechanic who retired from City Utilities of
Springﬁeld after 24 years. "Tools made me a living,
and I just wound up getting into these things."
Bill's foray into anvil collecting began in the
mid-1990s after a trip to the Tennessee theme
park Dollywood. Among the attractions is an
area devoted to traditional craftsmen, including a
master blacksmith who created a tomahawk from
Bill Bench of Rogersville has traveled the nation for the past 20 years, bringing home anvils of all shapes and
Damascus steel that caught Bill's eye.
sizes. His collection of nearly 200 anvils contains many styles produced in both the United States and Europe.
"I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd
ever seen," says the Webster Electric Cooperative
member of the smith's handiwork. "I wanted to
learn how to make something like that myself, so I
started getting into blacksmith stuff."
Bill assembled the tools for his home blacksmith shop, including a forge, hammers, tongs
and of course, an anvil. As he delved deeper into
his new hobby, two things became clear.
"I'm not a very good blacksmith, I found
that out real quick. There's a whole lot of work
attempting to prevent their enemy from
Fords, certain models look really
involved. I guess I still like using all the modern
neat to you."
ways," says the 60-year-old, who maintains a
The size of Bill's collection has varied
Bill is particularly fond of Amermembership with the Blacksmiths Association of
over the years. He estimates he curican-made blacksmith and farrier's
Missouri. "But I did like the look of that anvil."
rently owns about 120 anvils weighing
anvils produced between the 1870s and
Pretty soon, a second anvil found its way to
25 pounds or more, with another 50
1920s. His favorite anvil manufacturer is
Bill's shop. "When I got the second one, my wife,
weighing less than 25 pounds. He
Hay-Budden, which made wrought anvils
Judy, said, 'You're addicted,'" he recalls. "I said,
says miniature anvils produced for
during this time period in Brooklyn, N.Y.
'No I'm not. It's only two.' Well, it turns out I may
watchmakers, jewelers and others
His collection also includes other Ameribe addicted just a little."
are highly collectible, as are small
can nameplates, along with English, GerWhile he may not ﬁsh or hunt, Bill certainly
replica anvils that were used as salesmen's samples
man and Swedish brands.
began hunting anvils. He'd attend auctions and
and promotional items. "In the miniatures, you
Over the years, Bill has hauled anvils back to
estate sales, scour ﬂea markets and pop in on
do have to worry about counterfeits," he says.
the Show-Me State from
machine shops and other
Like other collectibles, the price for antique
as far away as Maine and
businesses where anvils
anvils is dependent on the condition and qualFlorida. He once chased
might be hiding. At ﬁrst,
ity of each anvil, as well as the number available.
a 575-pound Swedish
he says, anvils were anvils.
The largest and smallest anvils were produced
Kohlswa anvil for nearly
"You just didn't want one
in smaller quantities, so they command higher
ﬁve years as it changed
that was broken," he quips.
prices. While a "working" anvil costs about $1
hands, ﬁnally buying
As his knowledge of
per pound, Bill says he's seen miniatures go for as
it this past June from a
anvil manufacturing grew,
much as $1,500. Recently, a rare large anvil was
collector in New Jersey.
he learned to be more disrumored to sell for $10,000.
Part of the fun of colcerning and began to develEventually, Bill would like to own a small,
lecting is hearing the stoop his own taste, something
medium and large version of each of his favorite
ries behind the anvils. Bill
he likens to car collectors
anvils. "They don't eat much, and you don't have
has heard all sorts of tall
having varying afﬁnities for
to take them to the vet," Bills says jokingly. "All
tales, from an anvil placed
different automotive manuthey need is a little oil, a little rub, and it doesn't
on the railroad tracks
hurt to tap them with a hammer once in a while
to derail a train to three
"How do you get interto make sure they're still alive."
anvils ﬁshed out of a well
ested in collecting anymore than 100 years after
thing?" he asks. "I don't
Miniature anvils, such as this Fisher & Norris,
You may contact Bill Bench at 417-840-1142 or
they had been dropped
know. They just catch your
are highly collectible. Bill says counterfeits are
in by Civil War soldiers
eye. Just like Chevys and
something of which collectors must be aware.
For Rogersville man, it's more than just a heavy hobby
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - February 2014
Rural Missouri - February 2014
Ministering to motorists
A mid-winter read
Fighting more than fires
Out of the Way Eats
Metal & music
Hearth and Home
The Missouri Dinosaur
Rural Missouri - February 2014