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Iron Pig

ca. 1723-1737
Origin: America, Virginia, Spotsylvania County
Overall: 36 x 8in. (91.4 x 20.3cm)
Cast iron, slag, and other impurities.
Gift of Mrs. Ivan Blickenstaff
Acc. No. 1980-197,1
Irregularly-shaped iron pig with ragged edges, clearly broken from the "sow" at one end.
Label:Once extracted from the metal-bearing rock known as ore, the first salable product of the process of iron refining has been known as a pig since the mid-17th century. This long-enduring nickname comes from the manner in which it was cast. Molten iron was flowed into simple channels cut directly into the sand floor of the furnace. Additional channels were dug at right angles to the main channel, and were filled with molten iron at the same time. To early furnace workers this large casting, before being broken up, resembled a mother hog suckling her piglets. Therefore, the castings from the offshoots of the main channel became known as pigs, while those from the main channel became known as sows.

It is in the form of pigs and sows that most iron was shipped as raw material, either within America or abroad. Heavy and compact, it was the perfect material to use as ballast in the hold of a ship returning to Europe. Many that survive have the names of the furnaces that made them cast directly onto their top surfaces, often bearing their date of manufacture too.

This pig, cast at Fredericksville Furnace, near Glenora, Virginia, bears the initials of its owner cast twice into its top surface. Operated by Charles Chiswell from the mid-1720s until his death in 1737, this enterprise produced about 800 tons of pig iron per year. One of the top three producers of the metal in Virginia, William Byrd II visited Chiswell at Fredericksville in the fall of 1732 and recorded his findings in "A Progress to the Mines," first published in 1841.
Mark(s):Charles Chiswell's initials "C.C" are cast into the top face of the pig in two places.