Cast iron fireback, dated 1724, decorated with a basket with fruit surrounded by a beaded pattern and floral surround, which was found in Salem, Massachusetts. The earliest English fireback recorded by Dr. Henry Mercer in "The Bible in Iron" was dated 1548; he states that: "fireback, that is to say, heavy plates of cast iron (rarely of clay in Flanders) two or more feet square, generally decorated with coats of arms, dates, inscriptions, allegorical and mythological scenes, and placed against the wall in an open heath back of the fire, had been in use in England, Holland, Flanders, France and Central Europe since the middle or the end of the 15th century." That decoration on firebacks was produced by pouring iron into a mold made by a wooden pattern impressed into a box of damp sand. Earlier fires tended to be placed in the middle of halls with roof holes overhead. Firebacks became necessary when fires were moved to open hearths and chimneys, where besides being decorative, firebacks protected the soft, fragile bricks and reflected heat back into the rooms. As open wood fires were replaced by soft coal grates in England by 1800, especially in those homes of the wealthy, and by coal stoves and grates in America by about 1840, there are fewer 19th century firebacks.