Cast iron fireback with a half-length, left profile of Major-General James Wolfe (1727-1759). Wolfe was placed in command of the British forces in the expedition against Quebec in 1759. His troops successfully attacked Quebec on Sept. 13, 1759; five days later, the French surrendered ensuring the English control of Canada. However, the battle took the lives of Wolfe, the French commander, Montcalm, and 1500 French soldiers. Wolfe became a hero in England, and his prints and other commemorative items were also popular in the American colonies. The rectangular fireback has a bewiged Wolfe in an oval at the top over crossed British flags, canon, and war trophies; and "G.R." (George Rex - King George II who reigned from 1727-1760) in an escutcheon at the bottom. An inscription surrounds the fireback scene: "In Memory of Mag. Gen. JAMES . WOLFE died at Quebec Jun. 1759." According to research by Donald Fennimore: "The location where this fireback and others like it were cast is unknown; however, a possibility is Boston, through an ironmonger like Joseph Webb (1734-1787)." Webb's trade card offered "Chimney backs of all sizes", and pictures an arch-headed example depicting a military figure in profile, closely related to the image on this fireback. This fireback does not seem as well cast as the Winterthur example shown in Fennimore's book. Joyce Volk's "The Warner House" shows a similar fireback now attributed to Joseph Webb, which was owned owned by the the socially prominent Warner family of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 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 few 19th century firebacks.
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