Hibernia Furnace (American, active ca. 175985)
Morris County, New Jersey
Cast iron; 12 x 29 3/4 in. (30.5 x 75.6 cm)
Purchase, The Dobson Foundation Inc. Gift, 2006 (2006.548)
Firebacks and single plates from stoves are about all that survive to remind us of the great iron foundries of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania that were part of the largest industry in colonial America. The ornamental plates, though of the basest of metals, were cast from mahogany patterns, the handiwork of the best furniture carvers. Early examples were decorated with biblical quotations and static arrangements of hearts and tulips that followed German precedents. Plates made after 1770 and decorated with the playful naturalistic motifs of the English Rococo, dismissed as decadent by early twentieth-century collectors, are now exceedingly rare. This front plate of a Pennsylvania fireplace is the simplest but best preserved of three recently acquired examples in the Rococo taste. (The other two are side plates from freestanding stoves of the 1790s.)
In 1744, Benjamin Franklin published "An Account of the New Invented Pennsylvanian Fire-places," describing the iron fireplace insert, today called a Franklin stove, whose "Front Plate is arched on the underside, and ornamented with Foliages, &c." This plate, without foliage, features a ribbonlike banner inscribed "ross & bird + hibernia furnace 1782." George Ross and Mark Bird Jr., leading entrepreneurs in the Pennsylvania iron business, operated the Hibernia Furnace in Morris County, New Jersey, in the 1780s.