Iron and Aluminum are two very distinct types of metal, quite different from each other, that display a number of varying properties. One of the first differences that you’ll notice between the cast iron beds from the 1800’s and the modern reproductions that are made of aluminum would be the significant discrepancy when it comes to their weight. Cast iron is certainly much heavier than aluminum. Because of the fact that aluminum is so lightweight, it is often used today in place of cast iron, in not only beds, but also in building all sorts of machinery as well as automobiles.
Cast iron or grey iron, as it is sometimes referred to, is part of rather large group of alloys that turn solid through a eutectic. One way of identifying which alloy you’re looking at is through the color of its fractured surface. There is one type that’s referred to as a white cast iron because of the white surface that shows when it is fractured. Grey cast iron, as the name suggests, has a grey fractured surface. As for strength, cast iron does have a tendency to be brittle. The only exception would be malleable cast irons which have a significantly lower melting point, castability, good fluidity, wear resistance, excellent machinability and resistance to deformation. This is why this type of cast iron is often used as an engineering material with a variety of different applications. This includes the creation of automotive parts, pipes, various machines, cylinder blocks, cylinder heads as well as gearbox cases despite the fact that its usage has significantly declined over the years.
Aluminum, on the other hand, is one of the most abundant metals found in the earth’s crust. As a matter of fact, about 8% of the Earth’s solid surface is made up of aluminum. However, it is too chemically reactive to occur as a free metal in nature. Instead, one would find it mixed in with about 270 different minerals which the chief source being bauxite ore. Besides being known for having a low density, aluminum is also remarkable for being able to rests corrosion. Because of this, it has become a vital component when it comes to creating many different things which are used in construction, transportation and even aerospace. Another amazing bit about aluminum is the fact that it is among the best thermal and electrical conductors. As a matter of fact, it has the capability of becoming a superconductor.
Aluminum, unlike most other metals, is nonmagnetic . Also, the stronger a piece of aluminum gets, the less corrosion resistant it becomes. The best way to tell if a bed you’re about to buy from a private individual is an antique iron bed or an aluminum reproduction is to put a magnet on the castings. If it sticks…….you can pretty much be assured it’s an old iron bed. If the magnet does not stick to the casting, it means it is a reproduction.
Although some reproduction companies have done an admirable job in duplicating the castings and design of the original old beds, the strength and structure of a a newly made bed can’t be compared to an old original bed. A point of fact: Once a reproduction aluminum bed is sent through a roto-blaster or sandblasted for prep to be painted, the manufacturers have to be sure and not leave the bed in the roto-blaster for fear of the aluminum castings definition and detail wearing away to near nothing. A solid old bed, could set in a roto-blaster for hours and the castings wouldn’t be effected.
One of the other differences between an old bed and new reproductions is the size tubing that was used in the 1800’s. Back then it was the standard to use thick wall black pipe. Today’s beds are made with thinner wall steel tubing. This difference also adds to the structural stability of an old bed that has movement by the occupants.
One of the final differences between new reproductions and old beds is the price. There are a couple of obvious reasons for the difference in price. Mass production of new beds as oppose to one at a time hand crafted old beds in the 1800’s. Unless you’re talking about near slave labor conditions in a third world country, mass production is going to be able to manufacture a new bed, far more efficiently than “back in the the day”. So you can anticipate paying a little less for a reproduction than an original. Notice I said a “little difference”…….not a lot. Taking into account inflation over the past 150 to 200 years, the collectability and appreciable value of the old bed vs. the new reproduction, the clear winner is the original that continues to go up and up in value because of the finite numbers all antiques were made in. Those finite numbers no longer exist with old beds being made today. Consequently newer metal bed frames are worth a fraction of what you pay for them by the time you get them home.
Not much of a contest when you add all the variables up. Antique vs. Reproduction…………the clear winner is Antique .