John McLean and the American curtain bench
John McLean was a machinist and engineer working in New York producing more everyday industrial objects such as fire hydrants before branching out into decorative iron work. In this he followed the pattern of many others involved in the nineteenth century iron industry. In 1891 he received a patent for a cast iron bench ( see Barbara Israel "Antique Garden Ornament" p223), and produced a number of designs in the following years. He worked in the uniquely American style of the "curatin bench", which consisted of a formal three panelled back incorporating scrolling designs, each panel surmounted by a decorative crest. Typically there was an apron to face off the bench seat and sometimes decorative scrolling beneath the arm rests as well, and sometimes variation in the scrolling design between the three panels (see trocadero # 1068219 elsewhere on my website). As with many manufacturers his designs were not always his own and were reproduced by many others (see a bench in the same design trocadero # 1068222). Many makers did not bother to label their wares but John McLean did - as we can see stamped on the face of the this bench, and sometimes less obtrusively in the form of a sunburst on the back of the crest surmounting the central panel ( see # 1068219). Marking one's own work has to have been a sign of pride in one's workmanship, not to mention a useful way of advertising one's presence. Another sign of a quality product, and rare for its time, is the zinc coating applied after casting to prevent rust. We can see here that it has been quite successful. Zinc coating was used by the JL Mott foundry and Fiske in many of their products. Note that zinc coating is included as part of the re-finishing process by modern day quality media blasting and powder coating firms.