The State of the ‘Spin, January 2023

I have to start this post with a sincere apology for the radio silence over the last few months. If you’ve kept up with social media, you know that we ran into a big snare with our immigration status in Germany and chose to head back rather than allow our savings to dry up completely without any real promise of the situation being remedied. While we do fully expect to return to Germany, it’s not clear when. We are using our time back in the states to take care of a whole mess of stuff, as well as just generally enjoying our son being able to be close to family at such a young age.

Since returning there have been numerous things going on. My book, The Cast Iron Field Guide is doing remarkably well for such a niche topic. It’s fairly basic in most respects but I believe it lays a decent foundation on which the hobby can grow. It discusses the early developments in iron casting that allowed such proliferation of ingenuity in the American stove industry and sort of sets up time periods that are punctuated by changes in designs. In general it makes the case that early iron can be both dated and identified to at least a bit of a window.

I linked to the Amazon listing, but I do not recommend buying it there. Amazon needs a substantial amount from the sale and so there’s basically a floor to what I can charge. It’s $30 plus shipping there. Directly from me they are $25 shipped and I will offer a better deal with combined shipping when you order several copies (some people give them as gifts, some people offer them at their booths in antique shops, for all I know some people buy them just to burn them out of spite because they don’t like me, all of which are fine and I always appreciate the support).

In the very near future I’m going to be addressing the mess that is the online storefront for Anthrospin. The DVDs are cheaper since they’re old news. The books pushed the Big Cartel store to the point where I’ve gotta pay to host so many items. So there will probably just be some kind of generic page on this site that’s almost like a restaurant menu. Find what you want and let us know. We’ll get it out to you.

About the Cast Iron Field Guide. Several hundred copies are in the hands of cast iron enthusiasts all over. I don’t remember the furthest purchase but it was either Sweden or Switzerland. That’s very exciting. HOWEVER. The book has recently been updated.

There have been reactions to and misunderstandings of the book and what it is and isn’t, as well as what it represents. I think it’s fairly clear to anyone who has read it or who has read books on history or science that information can become outdated for a number of reasons. In the case of history (meaning this book), new information can come to light that can render old information less accurate or relevant.

So the book got a slight update for clarity. A couple of spelling errors were corrected (I really said something was “casted”….), one image that was captioned that a larger version was available in an appendix when it wasn’t was corrected, one name attributed to uncovering one bit of information was removed because the person named was not who found it, just who I’d gotten the information from. And lastly, a friend of mine found several prison manufacture catalogs, a few of which note and show their foundry goods.

That’s exciting because the only prison catalog that was well known is behind a paywall and honestly doesn’t show anything specifically great anyway. It’s an awesome record to have, but it’s always great to have more primary sources and this is a big lot of em. The most exciting thing about these prison catalogs is that one of them shows the handle I try to argue is sometimes but not always prison made. That emphasis is incredibly important because multiple firms had these patterns and having a depiction of something linked to prison manufacture does not mean it was the only place manufacturing them. So anyone who tells you that something is now attributed definitely to prison labor based on these catalogs is not being entirely truthful. It’s like saying a sedan is a Ford just because Ford makes sedans. A sedan is a common style. Other places make them.

Here is the handle shown in one of the catalogs. The top of the handle isn’t incredibly clear but the profile is unmistakable. And this catalog is from 1925. This is satisfying to me on several levels. If you read Crazy for Cast Iron Part 5: Griddle Me This, you know that the prison labor thing trickled on to my radar a couple years ago and that I checked out an early iron group and got a little bit of information, namely that the prison labor influence on iron started around 1860 and lasted “about 50 years.” By the end of my post I’d said the latest stuff I was finding was from the later 1920s and jived with a catalog image from 1929 that shows the same handle.

Well here’s that handle from 1925, showing that not only was it prison made, but that the dates I had gotten from that group were only good as a springboard into deeper research and not really accurate in the first place. Which is fine. Like I said, historical and scientific research is dynamic. It’s constantly updated as more comes to light. Any researcher worth their salt or who claims to care about what it is they’re up to will gladly share what it is they’re passionate about, though they’re not going to leak information on upcoming publications.

Which leads me to my next update!

If you’ve been following Anthrospin for any length of time, if you’ve been following my publications apart from Anthrospin, if you have encountered me in the cast iron world, or if you know me personally and have asked me “what’s up” any time in the last year or so, you know I’m writing a book on the Barstow Stove Co., Prov. R.I.. This book is a fun project for Anthrospin.

I first crossed paths with Barstow back in 2017 when working on Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution. If you remember that documentary, there’s a section maybe 20 minutes in where I’m sitting out front of an old mill building discussing Rhode Island’s manufacturing role in the American Civil War. I mention the Knight Company as making tents, packs, and bags and different textiles, and also several foundries as being critical to the war effort, manufacturing steam engines and hardware specifically for the Union Army.

Well, you can’t look into iron foundries in Rhode Island without turning up something on Barstow. At the time I didn’t care because I was researching the textile industry, and iron was only loosely related to a short babbling in one section of my documentary. Stoves and frying pans didn’t matter.

Well, now they do and I’m very happy to say that you can’t search for the Barstow Stove Company without finding your way to this site, unless you specifically filter this site out of your results. And, if you want to know something about Barstow, I’m not sure why you’d want to do that because I’ve been diligently working for a while now on fleshing out the history of that foundry and the people who worked there. And that fleshing out is now turning into a book whose manuscript is abooooout 50% complete.

It will be released in late June or (more likely) early July. It’s entitled, Lost & Foundry: Amos Chafee Barstow and Rhode Island’s Stove Industry, and the excitement I have for this book is beyond probably anything else I’ve done with the exception of Pedal for Pongo, which was immediately ruined by Covid.

This book covers roughly the same time frame as the Cast Iron Field Guide, but is much more specific and much more tied to the history than the iron itself. Rather than saying, “pans like this have traits that show up in catalogs published by the moon,” it talks about the names. It talks about the other firms in Rhode Island, the structure of labor throughout the 19th century, challenges faced in such a dynamic and ingenious industry, and generally fills in some blanks regarding Rhode Island’s impressive manufacturing past.

There is already a pretty decent following within the Rhode Island History crowd when it comes to Anthrospin. I’ve given a whole mess of talks and screenings about the textile industry and there is a good amount of people who look for what I publish specifically because it’s me who’s publishing it. And this project is no exception.

Though I am only halfway through the manuscript (and desperately need to sit down and outline the second half), there are three definite events happening regarding the book. I’m not going to get into specific details because dates aren’t set and who knows what can happen between now and then. But two historical societies, two libraries, one National Park, and one museum want to host talks. At least one of the libraries (combined with a historical society) want to host a temporary exhibit of my Barstow collection to accompany the release and talks.

I’m not sure the logistics of it–some of my collection is one of a kind and much of the iron is fragile–but I have no doubt that we’ll be able to set up something excellent with stoves, hollowware, and paper ephemera (or at least reproductions thereof…) for people to have a hands-on, immersive experience with an exciting part of Rhode Island History. And while the book was coming anyway, none of these developments would have been happening were we to still be in Germany. It may be bittersweet having to return, but all of this makes the sweet much sweeter, even if the bitter is still strong.

That’s about all I’m ready to share right now. There may be another move on the horizon. There may be another publication. Scrimshaw is on deck and ready to get moving again. But really, this is enough and more than enough to keep me busy for the rest of the year.

Please keep an eye on this site and the various social media related to it. If you’re interested in cast iron or specifically the Barstow Stove Co., I recommend joining my iron research group called The Cast Iron Historical Society, or The Barstow Stove Crew for an ever-growing community of friendly and knowledgable researchers who won’t get mad at you for being curious and maybe not knowing where to start. Lastly, please follow my author page for more frequent updates about specific projects.

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