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What is Ironmongery?

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  • Written By: Adam Hill
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Ironmongery is a traditional and somewhat antiquated term for iron goods that were made for use in households, rather than industry. It has since come to mean more, and now includes not only iron, but other metals and plastic. In Great Britain, the word "ironmongery" still has this meaning, although in the United States, the term "ironmongery" has been replaced by "hardware." Additionally, the term "ironmonger" has evolved in some places as a slang term for a weapons dealer.

The production and sale of ironwork has a very long tradition, going back at least a few thousand years. In the Middle Ages, ironworkers and similar artisans were able to benefit from the advances in ironwork that had taken place over the centuries, and produced highly prized work. These items included weaponry, but also tools and other domestic implements.

The term "ironmonger" usually was used simply to indicate one who sold iron products, but in some areas it indicated a manufacturer who used the domestic system. Under this system of subcontracting, the manufacturer distributed raw iron to blacksmiths, or those who made nails or other iron products. These finished products were then distributed to retailers. The principal source of ironmongery in England during this time was a town's local blacksmith. This pattern remained through the beginning and middle of the 20th century, where each small town had a blacksmith and an ironmonger's, or hardware store.

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Eventually, large chain stores largely replaced locally-owned ironmongery shops. Even amidst this decline, though, there has been somewhat of a revival of interest in old-fashioned ironmongery, especially for use in the restoration of old homes. These homes are restored to their original character with the help of items such as iron door knobs, door knockers, cabinetry hardware, and electrical fittings, among other things. Even old-style blacksmith nails, made by hand with four sides, have become popular as a part of these restorations, helping to lend additional character to an old home or building.

The use of old-fashioned ironmongery is not limited to restorations of old or historically important buildings. Sometimes those living in contemporary homes use such materials as part of an overall decor. This new trend is helped somewhat by the modern techniques of powder coating and galvanization that aim to prevent these iron parts from rusting as they would otherwise.

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