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    Auction Finds

    Finding beauty in clunky industrial mold patterns

    Those will probably go high, auction-goer Sly said as we stood looking at a grouping of wooden molds scattered on tables and atop bookshelves at the auction house. They were consistently painted in red, black and yellow, like some kid’s school art project.

    On first glance, I wasn’t exactly sure what they were, only that they were both pretty and unusual. A few were the normal round and square, but several were oddly shaped. Some were layered, with different shapes on top of a square or round platform. Most had indecipherable – at least to me – numbers and letters on them.

    What the heck were they?

    industrial mold pattern

    An industrial mold pattern with instructions.

    I finally looked at the catalog sticker attached to a round one and read:

    “14 piece industrial mold lot. All different shapes and sizes and painted yellow, black and …”

    The auction house’s online catalog provided the rest:

    “… red. Dimensions: H: 19 inches: W: 20 inches: D: 6.5 inches.”

    The catalog, like most, didn’t mention what product these molds actually made. I couldn’t figure out how solid blocks of wood could be a mold for anything.

    So, I went looking for answers and here’s what I found, to put it simply. These were patterns, forms or models that were handmade and meticulously done in wood (or metal). In a foundry during the casting process, bound sand was packed around the patterns to create a mold with a top and bottom. The mold was then filled with molten metal to make the desired part.

    industrial mold pattern

    An industrial mold pattern, double-tiered.

    The patterns were not painted just to be pretty; the colors were significant. They denoted standard specifications for assembling the product: for example, black meant the surface was to be unfinished.

    Now, the patterns are being sold as art. I found several on retail sites on the web that were advertising them as home decoration. An architectural salvage site was selling one (for $395) that was 38″ in diameter and 8″ thick, and suggesting that it could be used for a coffee table.

    Four years ago, an art center in Bangor, ME, sold mold patterns from a closed factory to raise money. The factory’s patterns were about to be dumped some years before when a local resident saved them and stored them in his barn. His wife later offered them to the arts center to be used as a fund-raiser. The pieces sold for $2 up to $300, according to an article in the Bangor newspaper.

    industrial mold pattern

    An industrial mold pattern, top and bottom.

    The center later held an exhibit of artwork by artists who had bought some patterns at the fund-raiser and made their own creations.

    You don’t need to be an artist to incorporate mold patterns into your décor. The auction-goer Sly suggested that they’d look good just as they are on a table in your home, and he was right. Or they could easily be hung on a wall.

    They are already painted, and some of their configurations are a work of art in themselves. These pieces may have been fashioned for industry, but with a little imagination they can have an after-life in a less intense place.

    industrial mold pattern

    Two industrial mold patterns. Could the one on the right have been made to create a pipe?

    The shapes of the pieces at auction indicated that some were likely used to make gears and pipes. The 14-piece lot sold for a total of $25, the going price for just one of them on some retail sites.

    Can you guess what metal components these may have made? I’m at a loss on most of them. Write your answer in the Comments box below.

    industrial mold pattern

    Two small industrial mold patterns with handles.

    industrial mold pattern

    Two industrial mold patterns of very different designs.

    industrial mold pattern

    Top and bottom of an industrial mold pattern.

    industrial mold pattern

    Industrial mold pattern.

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