The primary function is to protect the masonry material inside the fireplace from the damaging effects of the constant heating and cooling of the hearth fires. The secondary benefit was the reflected heat into the room.
These firebacks were cast from iron. A design, usually carved in wood, was pressed into a form containing compacted moist sand. A negative image was then created and molten iron was poured into the mold. Floral motifs, coats-of-arms, historical and allegorical scenes were common designs. Some are embossed with the date or the iron furnace/foundry name.
Most of the decorated firebacks had an arch or other ornamentation to theirtops. Firebacks that are square or rectangular, without any projection on top,are likely to be salvaged stove plates. Many of these are from five-platestoves, common in colonial Pennsylvania-German homes. These stove plates often portray a biblical scene and verses of Psalms.
Both functional and decorative, cast iron firebacks are still popular today in traditional as well as modern hearths.
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