J. W. Fiske & Company


J. W. Fiske & Company

J. W. Fiske & Company of New York City was the most prominent American manufacturer of decorative cast iron and cast zinc in the second half of the nineteenth century. [The main source for this article, is Barbara Israel, "The metalwork of J.W. Fiske and Company," "The Magazine Antiques", March 2000.] In addition to their wide range of garden fountains, statues, urns, and cast-iron garden furniture, they provided many of the cast-zinc Civil War memorials of small towns throughout the northern states following the American Civil War. These were commonly painted to imitate bronze. [ [http://aic.stanford.edu/jaic/articles/jaic42-01-003_2.html Carol A. Grissom and Ronald S. Harvey, "The conservation of American war memorials made of zinc," "Journal of the American Institute for Conservation" 42.1 pp 21-38)]

The entrepreneurial founder, Joseph Winn Fiske (May 22 1832October 20, 1903 [Dates in: William Richard Cutter, "Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to Middlesex County, Massachusetts", vol. iv (1908:1535.)] , out-sourced the iron and zinc-alloy foundry-work itself, [Fiske had a long-term arrangement, established in 1869, with the foundry of E. G. Smyser of York, Pennsylvania, who contracted not to provide Fiske designs under their own name (Israel 2000). ] and concentrated on the firm's connections with modellers on the one hand and customer relations on the other. Fiske, of a colonial family in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, spent some years as a merchandiser in Melbourne, Australia, before returning to the United States in 1857. He founded his business, at first in partnership with hardwareman Thomas W. Brown, in Boston (by 1862) and New York, December 1863. The "& Co." was dropped in 1862 [Fiske had in partnership his two nephews, John Minot Fiske (1853- ) and Joseph Winn Fiske (1857- ): Cutter p. 1535.] in the business. Fiske's lavishly illustrated catalogues, issued at brief intervals, kept the firm in the public eye and incidentally show art historians how casually design patents were infringed in the nineteenth century.

Fiske's designs ranged from the naturalistic foliate designs that were the stock-in-trade of mid-Victorian style to sculptures after the Antique or neoclassical works of Antonio Canova or Bertel Thorvaldsen, suitable for park-like landscapes of estates and landscape cemeteries of formal schemes. Fiske was also noted for his hammered copper weather vanes, produced in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn.

Fiske's great rival in the decorative cast iron field was Jordan L. Mott's J. L. Mott Iron Works of New York City. [Israel 2000.]

Since the later twentieth-century, unmarked pieces of decorative cast-iron of appropriate date are commonly attributed to J. W. Fiske, to improve their market value. [Israel 2000.]

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