Saturday, July 16, 2011

What is "Hammered Aluminum?"

What is "hammered aluminum?"
         The short version would be that hammered aluminum is a group of decorative items made by a process of hammering a design into s a sheet of metal of no special rarity or high value, and then shaping this sheet over a wooden mold into the desired shape.

     The long version includes much more.

       The metalworking skills that produced our prized aluminum items had their roots in those of antiquity. Centuries ago highly skilled workers made beautiful items from the metals available at that time; gold band bronze. These items can be seen around the world in wonderful displays of the metalworking art.
Tools displayed at show
Wooden mold and other tools in show display
       In the beginning of the Wendell August Forge's long history of production, it was immigrant workers who passed on these skills which were adapted to use on a metal previously thought unsuitable for this type of work. We, who have been drawn to the soft glow of aluminum, have benefited from their skill in creating detailed motifs and shaping the lamps and vases that have a part of our collections.
      Besides the skills that have gone into our aluminum, think back to the period it was first produced. Generally spoken of as being in 1930, we know this was a time of extreme stress for both businesses and people needing jobs. These were the days of the Great Depression and although not given away as a gift like the Depression Glass often was, aluminum gift ware occupied the same time slot. In addition, unlike Depression Glass, early aluminum gift wares were completely hand crafted.
A hot fire is a necessity.
      There are so many steps in creating each piece of hand made hammered aluminum. First, there must be an artist to create the pattern or motif. Then the pattern is is transferred,,  into a large piece of steel by carefully cutting each tiny detail of the pattern into the steel. The die is carefully examined for flaws before being placed on a work table with a piece of aluminum laid on the engraved die. At this point, the sheet of aluminum is carefully hammered, creating a raised design from the incised design on the die. This technique is called  repousse.
      At this point the piece has become slightly uneven so it is laid on a leather covered table and flattened with a nylon hammer and then edged with a hammer and anvil. It is now ready for the coloring which takes place over a coal fire. The fire remains at the proper temperature only a short time, but cooling racks are soon filled with ugly sooty objects resembling nothing a person would want in their house.
      The next step involves a carefully cleaning of each piece, leaving only enough of the darkening to enhance the pattern. The Forge switched to chemical darkening in recent years and may or may not still be using that process.
      Yet another step awaits the piece of aluminum. This is the molding which may be done with a press or upon a wooden mold. The piece is now is awaiting its final finishing touch...a polishing and waxing that produced the piece that may now be sitting on your shelf.
      It deserves the admiration we collectors give and as either a uniquely crafted item or as mementos from  50-80 years ago, it is a collectible to use and enjoy.

The July 15 Auction

       Years ago I took part as a phone bidder in an auction. It was exciting and produced not near as costly a phone bill as I had expected. I was able to successfully bid on a table lamp and a table, both made by Wendell August. I found out later that for the lamp, I was bidding against Bill Knetch of the Forge. Although I have forgotten what I paid and seem to have conveniently failed to enter the prices on my inventory list, these pieces were nothing like the bargains I watched flash by in yesterday's auction of the Dan Overmeyer collection.
      I watched the bidding progress online and found it almost too fast to keep pace with. As the catalog portrayed, most lots were large...much larger than many of us would have preferred. I have had no report from other online watchers but can tell you that two prospective bidders had either registering glitches or computer problems that prevented any personal participation.
      In reviewing the entire auction from an online viewpoint, I can see that I had not made proper preparation to be a participant. After all, I do have a few pieces of aluminum cluttering up the closets and shelves and have little room for more, so I had not thoroughly investigated this method of auctioning and the options offered in the catalog's information section. Other than my personal problems, I judged the auction to be a well planned, efficiently carried out operation.
      Next, I am wondering about other collectors' reaction to the actual presentation of the collection. In my opinion, the usual lack of knowledge about the features that make an item valuable, hindered their best presentation. The lots were usually large, making the image of each item rather small and easily overlooked in previewing the catalog, and I feel certain that a few rather unique or old motifs slipped by unnoticed. In fact, compared to the lots of glass, which featured only one or two items in each lot, aluminum lots of six, twelve, or even more, appeared as an almost desperate attempt to bring order to a stack of aluminum that must have appeared mind boggling. Under the circumstances,  I can emphasize with that feeling.