Hold it right thar, yuh no-good, anvil-thievin' varmint

SAM MCMANIS; THE NEWS TRIBUNE :: October 21st, 2004 02:50 PM

cherished anvil

Photo courtesy of Richard Ryan Anderson Some brazen scofflaw made off with this cherished anvil. The owner fears for the antique smithy fixture.

Cyber-missives from the Tacoma Arts listserv arrive daily in my inbox. They don't languish there long. I read them all - the gallery openings, calls for submissions, concerts - but rarely is there an e-mail that requires immediate attention and swift response. One morning last week, though, a listserv posting arrived with this subject line: "Missing Anvil." Now I tell you, who wouldn't double-click on that, pronto?

Citizens of the Tacoma Art Scene,

Please be on the look-out for a stolen 145 pound anvil-a beloved family heirloom.

You can make a difference!

The e-mail included an address in Tacoma's North End, a phone number and Tacoma Police contact. It was signed "Ryan."

No deliberating; I had to contact the distraught anvil-less artist. After all, the anvil couldn't have gotten up and walked off by itself, right? And it's not something a thief could just stash underneath his coat. I mean, it takes some planning, some stealth, to steal an anvil. It's not something one enters into lightly. It's not my job to tell the Tacoma PD how to do its job, but I'd be on the lookout for any scofflaw with a hernia.

This anvil theft so upset me because I always thought Tacoma a friendly place. Turns out, it's a lawless town. First, they swipe an anvil from our neighborhood blacksmith; next, it'll be horse thievery at high noon from the hitching post outside the saloon.

I briefly thought of getting a posse together to hunt down the varmint, then I thought of putting the anvil on the back of a milk carton. Instead, I just called the number on the listserv posting. I got a phone machine with the following message: "You have reached the Richard Anderson detective agency and specialized services hot line. All of our operatives are busy right now, so please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as possible. Together, we can make a difference."

All righty then. Somebody hasn't been taking his meds, I thought. But then I remembered: These are artists; they can be eccentric.

I left a message anyway. And, within an hour, I was talking to Richard Ryan Anderson, 25, the victim of the purloined anvil. He sounded distraught when talking about the slab of steel that weighs almost as much as he does. Anderson is a multimedia artist who makes a living as a 3-D graphic designer and Web developer. Off the clock, he creates art for himself. And, yes, one such way is blacksmithing. He has pounded out knives, machetes and other artisan wares and had plans to do so much more. But now, sans anvil, he has nothing upon which to forge.

The theft, he said, happened at the end of September when he and some friends were moving out of a rental house on North 23rd Street. One night, Ryan (he goes by his middle name) spent the night at his new apartment. The next morning, he returned to pack and - gasp! - the anvil was gone from its perch on wooden blocks in the back yard. The thief also stole some scrap aluminum, but it was the anvil that weighed on Ryan's consciousness.

See, this wasn't just any old anvil. It was a Peter Wright-patented anvil, made in the mid-1800s in England and worth as much as $1,000, according to Anvil Magazine. (Yes, there is a magazine for anvil enthusiasts.) Plus, there was the incalculable sentimental value for Anderson.

"I was planning on passing it on to future generations," Anderson said. "It's kind of historic. It came from an old mine in Juneau (Alaska, where he grew up). When they destroyed the mine to develop the land (in 1996), the construction people sold it to my friend and I bought it from him. Anvils like this are old. They're all steel and shipped over from England a long time ago."

At this point in the conversation, I felt as if I'd stepped into an old "Northern Exposure" episode. Who, I thought, could get emotionally attached to an anvil?

"If somebody were to say to me, 'I've got your anvil. What are you going to give me for it?' I'd do it and pay a reward," Anderson said. "I'll never find another one of those. And it's special to me, a little piece of Alaska I brought here with me."

This prompted the question, how did Anderson get the anvil here from Alaska when he relocated in Tacoma in 2001?

Turns out, he was working for Horizon Air at the time and got an employee discount on shipping freight. "Oh, yeah," he said, "it would've been ridiculous to fly it down if I didn't have the super-sweet deal with the airlines."

Because it was such an effort to get the anvil here, Anderson isn't giving up without a fight to ensure its safe return. He called the cops, who took down the report and told him, "This is the first stolen anvil we've had here."

That, actually, might give Anderson some hope. He says he knows of no other artist in Tacoma who uses an anvil as a palette. So he's been on the phone asking everyone he knows if he or she has seen an anvil around town.

"I've called all the scrap metal places and they're on alert, looking for it," Anderson said. "I'm guessing that (the thief is) probably either a collector or just a guy snooping around my back yard and saw something cool."

I asked Anderson to send me a photograph of the anvil. Of course, he sent me five. It is an impressive slab of metal. One distinguishing characteristic: "I sprayed it in Alaska with zinc-based primer to stop it from rusting, so the anvil body is a dull gray color."

So consider this a South Sound-wide Anvil Alert. If you see said anvil, please call Anderson at 253-576-9022. Or you can contact the Tacoma police (the incident report number is 042741194).

But Anderson doesn't want you to become a vigilante. He's concerned with your safety.

"You might want to mention," he added in a later e-mail, "not to confront the people themselves as they are most likely desperate criminals acting void of any moral compass. Best call the cops. Also, the criminals responsible should know that, with help from my girlfriend's sister, the anvil has been cursed." Sam McManis is features editor at The News Tribune.

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