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What is an Ironmonger?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term “ironmonger” is used both in the traditional sense to refer to someone who works with metals, especially iron, and in a more modern sense to refer to a retailer who stocks hardware. Because most iron products are manufactured on an industrial level today, it is rare to find a traditional ironmonger who forges and sells such goods, and the term is more commonly used in reference to the proprietor of a hardware store.

The suffix “monger” is derived from a Latin word meaning “dealer or trader,” and it can be seen in similar word constructions, such as “fishmonger” for someone who sells fish. Many of the words which include this suffix sound archaic, and their usage is in decline. In fact, the suffix has acquired pejorative overtones, as in “fear monger” for someone who deals in and trades on fear.

Humans have been working with iron for thousands of years. This metal has a variety of uses, including weapons, construction hardware, and cooking utensils. Historically, iron goods were fabricated by hand by skilled metalworkers who could design pieces for custom use, or manufacture generic products for sale. The ironmonger could potentially hold a very high social status in a community, because iron goods were so critical.

Over time, the production of metal goods began to shift to more industrial applications. As a result, the working ironmonger began to be a more rare figure, with people purchasing domestic goods made from iron from retailers and factories which produced them. As a result, people started using the term “ironmonger” to talk about someone who only sold iron goods, rather than someone who made and sold them.

Ironmongers can stock things like hardware and cooking supplies, and some work as tinkers as well, selling and repairing metal goods. These salespeople typically work with many metals, not just iron, and their work today has expanded to include other materials such as plastics. A hardware merchant usually stocks a range of products for consumers, and has the capability to order pieces as needed for specific uses.

In the late 20th century, a resurgence in interest in traditional metalwork began to emerge, and as a result, ironmongery experienced a renaissance. While there are far fewer working ironmongers than there used to be, these professionals can do things like hand fabricating metal components for new construction or matching existing samples of metalwork for the purpose of restoration. These professionals also work in the film and television industry, fabricating props and components of sets.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jcraig — On Mar 11, 2012

I find all this debate interesting, but what I would like to know is what specific jobs can one get for being an iron monger?

I know the article describes some of the things these people do, but it does not list specific job titles.

As some of these people simply metal workers or welders, or are they completely different types of people in different professions that deal with other trades?

I am only wondering because this is way too broad of a term to understand exactly how one deems themself to be a true expert in the field of iron and can call themself a true iron monger.

By stl156 — On Mar 11, 2012

To answer everyone's question a monger of any kind is simply a broad term to describe anything of what anyone does and should not be taken so seriously.

Also, as far as iron mongers go it all depends on who you talk to to get expertise. A person working at a hard ware store that sells a lot of different items over the course of the day is not going to have as much expertise knowledge as someone who works directly in the iron industry or deals with just selling to product to people.

As far as iron mongers go the term can include anyone who sells or deals with iron, but if someone is looking for expertise they need to forget the term and simply find an expert to ask.

By Emilski — On Mar 10, 2012
@titans62 - I agree with you. Whenever I think of a monger I think of someone that is an expert in whatever type of monger they are described as being.

I feel like the term is a bit over used and a bit tricky as it can fool someone into thinking the person is an expert in the matter when they are merely selling the material, like how you described with your hard ware store reference.

I guess it could simply be seen as a word and that someone should not take it so seriously to think that someone is an expert in something, but it is sure played off to sound that way.

By titans62 — On Mar 09, 2012

I feel like the term "monger" is very over used as it can be used to describe literally anyone dealing with anything.

Someone who deals cheese is known as a cheese monger and someone dealing with fish is a fish monger. That would mean that someone who is a cashier at a grocery store can technically be described as being both of these.

I find that the term can be stretched to include any number of things, such as with iron monger a hard ware store employee can be called as such if they simply sell some iron, but have really no expertise in the matter, they are nearly the merchant and carry it in their store.

I really feel like that this term is really overused and that it makes it sound like anyone deemed a monger would have expertise in the matter, despite that obviously not being the case.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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