There is, perhaps, no branch of English trade more prolific in design than that of the furnishing ironmonger. The variety of patterns which Birmingham and other manufacturing districts supply in the way of stoves, fenders, fire-irons, gas pendants, moderator lamps, coalscuttles, umbrella-stands, etc, etc, is truly astonishing. In a large establishment for the sale of such goods the eye is positively bewildered by a multitude of objects, most of them extravagant in style, and possessing that ephemeral kind of attractiveness which is the result of polish and lacquer. I have seen people in such shops perplexed and wearied with inspecting one article after another, as the shopman drones out his oft-repeated remarks that this is 'elegant,' that 'very handsome,' the other 'just the thing for a drawing-room,' and so forth. I have before me at the present moment the catalogue of a well-known firm at the West-end of town, which I have looked through without being able to discover more than one solitary instance (which, by the way, I may as well mention) of a tolerably good design. It is that of an ordinary sitting-room fire-place, executed in Berlin black iron, lined at the back with fire brick, fitted with a trefoilheaded 'drawer' and decorated at the sides with sunk fleurs-de-lis. Out of compliment, I suppose, to this latter ornament, it is called the 'Berlin black Gothic Register Stove,' but I would warn those of my fair readers who have mediaeval tastes, to be cautious of attaching too much importance to the mere name. Indeed, one of the next articles in the catalogue, described as of a 'handsome Gothic pattern,' though far more expensive than the last, is miserable in design.

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The fenders, as usual, are elaborately vulgar. Manufacturers will persist in decorating them with a species of cast-iron ornament, which looks like a bad imitation of rococo carved work. Almost all cast-iron ornament (excepting the delicate patterns in very low relief, such as one sometimes sees on an old Sussex stove) is hopelessly ugly. The crisp leafy decoration, and vigorous scrolls of ancient iron-work, were produced by the hammer and pliers. Bolts, straps, nails, and rivets, the proper and legitimate means of connecting the several parts, were never concealed, but were introduced and enriched in such a manner as not only to serve a practical purpose, but to become decorative 'features in themselves.

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By way of contrast to the unworkmanlike spirit of ordinary manufacture, I give two sketches of fenders for a dining-room and library designed by Mr. A. W. Blomfleld. They are exceedingly simple in construction, and fully answer the purpose for which (as its very name signifies) a fender is intended, namely, to protect dresses, etc. from such work as this with the tawdry decoration and un-picturesque forms which objects of similar use in England are allowed to assume, it is impossible to help regretting that the old traditions of design in our own metal work, based as they were upon propriety and convenience of form, have been of late years so much neglected. This Spanish brazier is worthy of the sixteenth century, and is probably identical in general form with the 'chafing-dishes' of that period. It is admirably adapted for its purpose, which the manufacturer has kept steadily in view no less than the nature of the material with which he has had to deal - the essential element of all good design.

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The chance of becoming ignited by close contact with the fire - an accident, unfortunately, of too frequent occurrence while the dangerous and ungraceful crinoline was in fashion. The next illustration is that of a charcoal brazier, in the possession of Lord Mount Edgcumbe at Cothele. It is of modern Spanish manufacture, and was purchased at the International Exhibition of 1862. When we compare I remember seeing in the Cathedral of Orvieto an iron gate of exquisite workmanship, which, being very heavy, required the support of what is called a stay-bar, or rod running in a diagonal direction from the hinge-post to the top rail. A similar contrivance may be seen in our own wooden field-gates. Well, the old Italian smith, though quite an artist in his way, sternly bore in mind the real purpose of his stay-bar, and instead of twisting a serpent or a mermaid about it, as a modern designer would have been likely to do, he kept his rod stout and round except just at one point, where, in order to express precisely the sort of work it had to do, he fashioned the iron into the quaint likeness of a human hand nervously clutching at and holding up the gate below. Now, if we compare the apt ingenuity of this notion with the stupid wreaths and arrowheads and lictors' fasces which one sees introduced in the design of our iron railings, we shall, I think, see one reason why the spirit of old handicraft was superior to the pedantry and weakness of modern workmanship.

Among familiar objects of household use, I do not know a more contemptible instance of perverted taste than the ordinary tea or coffee-urn of an English breakfast-table. It is generally a debased copy from some antique vase, the original being executed in marble or earthenware, and therefore quite unfit for reproduction in metal. In order to add to its attractions, the lid and handles are probably decorated a la Pompadour, and, to complete the absurdity, a thoroughly modern tap is inserted in the bowl. What is, after all, the use of a breakfast urn ? If it is to contain hot water, a good swing-kettle with a spirit-lamp underneath is far more useful; if it is intended to hold tea or coffee, surely a teapot or coffee-pot is a better and simpler vessel for the purpose. The same sort of pseudo-classicism may be noticed in the design of gaseliers and moderator lamps. The urn-type not unfrequently reappears in them, combined with extraordinary versions of the inevitable acanthus-leaf, as if in the whole range of vegetable life this was the only kind of foliage worth imitating. There is a lumpy un-metallic look about the ornament, which no amount of elaboration can relieve. The reason of this is that it has been either cast in separate pieces and then chased up, or (in the case of brass) stamped out of the thinnest possible metal (often not thicker than a piece of paper), and then brazed together in such a manner as to look like a solid mass. Now, there can be no objection to a moderate thinness of substance in the execution of metallic ornaments. Indeed it is, as I have said, one of the legitimate conditions to be observed in the artistic treatment of this material; but then one ought to be able to perceive at once that it is thin, and quite independent of the main construction. To invest metal-work with forms which might be as well executed in wood or stone, is to lose sight of the first principle of good design.

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Both gaseliers and moderator lamps are of comparatively recent origin, and belong to those requirements of modern life with which our forefathers managed to dispense.

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There is, however, no reason why their design should not be treated quite consistently with mediaeval principles, as the examples here illustrated, from the manufacture of Messrs. Benham and Froud (of Chandos Street), will show. Specimens of work executed by the same firm are represented on the last pages of this chapter - viz. three candlesticks and two chimneypiece spill-vases, made of brass, two of them being decorated with a pattern in encaustic colour. The door-bolts at page 125 are also of their design.