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England or America, dated 1697
Cast iron (made in a flood mold)
H. 24 1/2", W. 15"
Courtesy of Francis J. Purcell, Inc.

This is a rare, early survival of a cast-iron fireback. It is dated 1697 and the design is superimposed with the initials of the then monarchs of England, William and Mary. The decorative details are well defined and show a central motif of Aesop’s fable of the stork and the fox. The subject is surrounded with a course of fruit and flowers and the top is decorated further with flowers and filigree. The rear of the fireback shows the bubbly texture indicative of early sand-pit casting.

Firebacks were used to protect the soft brick at the rear of the fireplace hearth and to retain and reflect heat back into a room. Because cast iron is relatively brittle, the decorative fronts of firebacks are usually well worn from contact with extreme heat and knocks from wood and andirons; this example retains much of the original decoration. Firebacks were made in both England and America at the time this example was cast, but no furnace designation is included in the design to indicate its place of manufacture.

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