Article Submitted by Alice Paterra
Branch Manager, Worcester County Library, Berlin, MD
Back among the trees of the Pocomoke Forest stands a tall structure made of brick. The structure is what remains of an iron furnace; the furnace stack has been dormant since 1850, but between the years of 1831 and 1850 it was the center of a small, bustling town, thriving in the early iron industry of ante-bellum Maryland. The furnace, situated near Snow Hill, Maryland, was an important part of the industrial age, because of its contribution to technology of the time.
The furnace, called the Nassawango or Naseongo Furnace, was erected at the site of a grist and saw mill on 2,000 acres of land on Nassawango Creek. The land was formerly owned by Elijah Coulbourne, and was offered for sale specifically for the iron contained in its soil (Snow Hill Messenger Dec. 13, 1831). The land was purchased by the Maryland Iron Company, which had been formed in 1828 by the Maryland Legislature (A Bill). The new owners completed construction of the furnace stack by the spring of 1832 (Snow Hill Messenger May 21, 1832), only a few months after their purchase. Upon the completion of the furnace stack, the Maryland Iron Company purchased an additional 5,000 acres of land surrounding the original holding, and began the manufacture of iron.
The furnace was designed to smelt bog ore, which was gathered from huge beds in the swampy soil along Nassawango Creek. Every 24 hours, 3 tons of ore were loaded, or charged, into the top of the 35- foot-tall furnace stack. Three hundred bushels of charcoal were used to heat and melt the ore, and oyster shells were added to act as flux (used to force impurities in the iron to coagulate). Enormous bellows, powered by waterwheels, maintained the heat of the fire burning within the furnace. At intervals during each 24-hour period of firing, a lower tap near the base of the furnace was opened, and the molten iron was allowed to flow into molds set into floor of the casting house (Robbins). The molds were called “sows” and “pigs” because of their shape; the main channel, joined with smaller, perpendicular channels resembled a sow feeding her piglets.
The term “pig iron” was used to refer to the hardened, unrefined metal. The pigs, measuring approximately 2 feet in length, were taken to Baltimore and Philadelphia to be used in industry there, as well as in other parts of America. The smelting process used at the Nassawango Furnace was known as the “English” or “indirect” system. It employed two steps, smelting and refinement, but could produce more iron, at a higher quality, than the alternative, less expensive process known as the “German” or “direct” system. The “German” system was more often used in making casted materials, such as kettles or other implements not formed by a blacksmith (Robbins). Using the “English” system, the Nassawango Furnace was able to produce several hundred tons of pig iron each year (Harr), and because of the labor involved, a small village of furnace workers evolved from the tiny shacks huddled around the tall brick stack. Workers were supplied with shovels and axes, and labored in clothes of cheap domestic cloth. At the company store they could purchase such staples as sugar, coffee, and flour (Spence); they supplemented their simple diet with produce from small gardens in the little town.
A typical day’s work included chopping 2 1/2 cords of wood, for which one would be paid forty cents (Democratic Messenger May 20, 1832), or pulling several hundred pounds of bog ore from the watery beds near the Nassawango Creek. Men who chopped wood were required to stay two weeks ahead of production; in order to make the necessary charcoal, the wood was slowly charred. Men took turns jumping up and down on the smoky stacks to compress the burning wood.
Above the furnace, on a natural hill, charcoal, flux, and bog ore were loaded into huge carts and pulled by mule teams up a steep charging bridge. The charging bridge was a narrow, covered ramp which climbed from the crest of the hill to the top of the furnace stack. It was from the bridge that the furnace was charged with alternating layers of charcoal, ore, and flux. The mules were blindfolded, to keep them from bolting once on the bridge, and forced to back their way down to the bottom of the incline as each cart was emptied. Workers at Nassawango met with steady employment, at a fine rate of pay; because production levels continually climbed, positions were readily available. Initially the furnace workers, who came to employment at the furnace by answering advertisements in local newspapers, lived in identical buildings one and one-half stories tall with no windows (Harr). The owner of the furnace lived in a larger home, referred to as the Iron Master’s Mansion. By 1835, there were 25 of the little homes, housing 100 people. The workers continually supplied the furnace with the materials needed to operate; and the little town grew, eventually claiming over 100 homes, a general store, blacksmith shop, water and saw mills, a school, church and hotel. By 1838, over 400 people lived at Furnace Hill, as the town was called (Democratic Messenger April 21, 1949). However, despite the endless work of the residents, the Nassawango Iron Furnace failed financially.
The bog ore found under the banks of the Nassawango creek was of poor quality, being only 51% iron (Singewald), and was difficult to smelt and purify. Even though the Maryland Iron Company was able to produce great amounts of iron, the inferiority of the product made it worth very little. Unable to recoup their investments, the Iron Company was forced to sell the Nassawango Furnace. On August 4, 1835, the Borderer reported that on August 27, the furnace property, including 7,000 acres of land, mills, buildings, and other property would be sold. The furnace was purchased in 1836 by Benjamin Jones, from Philadelphia. However, his endeavor was similarly unsuccessful, and in 1837, the property was sold at public auction in Snow Hill.
On July 12, 1837, the Nassawango Furnace was purchased by Thomas A. Spence, for $3,000 (Worcester County Land Records). From Worcester County, Spence was a Circuit Court Judge who divided his time between homes in Princess Anne and Snow Hill; after buying the Nassawango Furnace, he also maintained a home in Furnace Hill. The deed for the purchase indicated that Spence acquired not only the furnace stack and its environs, but every item in the town of Furnace Hill. The inventory included such goods as mahogany tables, chairs, sideboards, beds, washstands, looking glasses, fire sets, one dozen “iron bound pales”, kitchen furniture, “60,000 bushels of coal in the houses”, “5,000 bushels in the pits”, “3,000 cords of new wood on the Dennis farm”, wheelbarrows, rakes, shovels, hoes, timber carts, ox and horse carts, wagons (with harnesses), scows and oars, farm implements, iron and tools in the blacksmith shop, 50 bushels of corn in the grist mill, livestock, fields of corn, 2,000 bricks, and “all of the iron ore raised at the beds and on the bank near the furnace.”
Spence, by some accounts, was misled about the quality of the bog ore and was determined to force a profit from his purchase. Over a ten-year period, he invested all the money belonging to his wife, Elenora Ellicott, into the production of iron (Prettyman). Spence was successful; by studying the technology of other furnaces of the 1830s, he found a way to make the production of iron more efficient and profitable. In England, iron furnaces were being fired with the new method of a “hot blast” system, whereby the blast air was raised to a very high temperature by being passed through a heat exchanger or “stove” heated by the hot waste gasses as they left the furnace. This accelerated the combustion process within the furnace and decreased the amount of charcoal fuel necessary to reduce a given quantity of iron ore, but most significantly, it appreciably increased the production of iron.
Spence installed a hot blast system on the Nassawango Furnace, and increased production to over 700 tons of pig iron annually (ASME 1-2) Because of Spence’s efforts the town of Furnace Hill, by then also called Furnace Town or Naseongo, prospered. New commerce included a shoemaker, a post office, and a bank, and the old iron master’s mansion became an inn and boarding house. Spence was encouraged by the success of the furnace and its town, and built a new, fourteen-room home for his family (Harr). He also maintained a profitable general merchandise store in the town of Snow Hill, five miles away, and used the store to supply necessary goods to the town at the furnace. Those goods included bricks for the construction of buildings and the upkeep of the furnace; shovels, hoes, picks, and axes used in the mining of the bog ore and chopping wood for charcoal; iron (perhaps in a purer state than the furnace could produce) for use in the blacksmith shop; over 3,000 yards of cloth (of various weights and hues) for the making of clothing, bedding, table linens, and window and floor coverings; as well as other items important to everyday life at Furnace Hill. The boarding house was kept in supply of candles, china, salt, ham, and blacking, while the general store was able to maintain its stock of such items as tobacco, snuff, powder (by the keg), sugar (in loaf form), coffee, buttons, pins, thread, shot, flour, shoes, etc. (Spence).
Because Spence was able to readily supply almost everything the villagers needed, from food to clothing, iron and other raw materials to brooms, the residents were able to eliminate the five-mile journey to Snow Hill to get supplies. The blacksmiths pounded out horseshoes, nails, fireplace implements and other tools; the boarding house became a popular stopping place for weary travelers; camp-meetings were held near the church (Harr 11); the town’s potter spun his wheel and supplied the villagers with everyday tableware, including jugs and bowls; the cooper, with supplies from the blacksmith and the sawmill, made his barrels; and the broommaker manufactured corn brooms for sale in Furnace Hill as well as other markets. Furnace Hill was a thriving community, sprawled over a broad plain once populated only by a forest. The trees were cut down to fuel the furnace, allowing the town to grow, and as the townsfolk worked to supply the furnace, the furnace maintained the town.
In 1840, J.H. Alexander, topographical Engineer for the State of Maryland, presented a Report on the Manufacture of Iron to the Governor, claiming that the Nassawango Iron Furnace was unique because not only was it the only iron furnace on the Eastern Shore, but it was also the only furnace in Maryland using bog ore. The Nassawango Furnace, one of the first in America to use the hot blast system, was finally profitable. Under the management of Thomas A. Spence, the furnace flourished for over ten years, until, inevitably, the bog ore was harvested to the point of exhaustion. By 1850, with $20,000 in invested capital, and 700 tons of ore (valued at $175.00), the furnace employed only ten men and produced only 400 tons of pig iron annually (Business Census). The manufacture of iron was more economical in other parts of the state; once again, the furnace failed, and Spence was forced to sell it. Thereafter the furnace changed hands many times, but was never again charged and fired (Prettyman); the production of iron ceased, and with Spence’s defeat, Furnace Hill became a ghost town.
The furnace stack deteriorated and fell to ruin; the canal, which once turned the waterwheel and pumped the huge bellows, filled with silt and debris; the few remaining villagers left their homes, which soon burned or collapsed under the weight of neglect; trees and brush grew up around the abandoned foundations, and the great Pocomoke Forest reclaimed its depleted beds of ore.
In 1962 the site was acquired by the Worcester County Historical Society, the furnace was stabilized and in the 1980’s a village of living history shops was recreated to mirror the original village of Furnace Hill. The site is now open to the public and is known as Furnace Town Living Heritage Museum. Since the Nassawango Iron Furnace is notable for being the earliest surviving hot-blast furnace in the United States, it was recognized on October 19, 1991 by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers as A NATIONAL HISTORIC MECHANICAL ENGINEERING LANDMARK (Bowie/Pohlsander.) Furnace Town National Engineering Landmark
Alexander, J.H. Report on the Manufacture of Iron. 1840 American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Nassawang0 Iron Furnace. ASME book Number HH 9110
A Bill, passed by the Legis1atur~ of Maryland, in their session of 1828,-chap. 171, to incorporate the Maryland Iron Company. Printed by Joseph Rakestraw Philadelphia, 1830
Biographical Directory of the American Congress. 1774-1949
Bowie, John R. And Dianne M. Pohlsander, “Nassawango Iron Furnace (1830) Recording Project”, Historic American Engineering Record MD-76, 1989 Furnace Town National Engineering Landmark
The Borderer.(Snow Hill) August 4, 1835, Census 1850
Democratic Messenger. (Snow Hill) December 31, 1831; May 20, 1832; January 17, 1914; April 21, 1949
Eastern Shore Times. July 28, 1977
Harr, Dorothy N. The Story of a Lost Village: Furnace Town. Furnace Town Foundation, Inc., Snow Hill, 1983
McGrain, John W. From Pig Iron to Cotton Duck. Baltimore County Public Library, Baltimore, 1985
The Messenger. (Snow Hill) May 21, 1832; August 31, 1950
Prettyman, Daniel T. Letter from the Worcester County Historical Society. May 6, 1971
Robbins, Michael W. The Principio Company. Garland Publishing, Inc. New York, 1986
The Salisbury Advertiser and Wicomico Countian. September 4, 1952
The Salisbury Times. April 10, 1954
Singewald, Jr., Joseph T. Maryland Geological and Economic Survey: Report on the Iron Ores of Maryland with an Account of the Iron Industry. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1911
Snow Hill Messenger. December 13, 1831; May 21, 1832; November 8, 1841
Somerset Herald. February 20, 1985
Spence, Thomas A. Daybook of 1838. Snow Hill, 1839
Townsend, George Alfred. The Entailed Hat. Tidewater Publishers, Cambridge, MD, 1995.
Truitt, Dr. Reginald V. and Les Callette, Dr. Millard G. Worcester County Maryland’s Arcadia. Worcester County
Historical Society, Snow Hill, 1977
Village Herald. November 6, 1827.
Worcester County Land Records, Deed between Benjamin Weston and Thomas A. Spence, July 12, 1837. Acknowledged by Cord Hazzard.
Worcester Democrat. July 12, 1940.
Worcester County Messenger. November 12, 1977.
Anyone who has picked up an old saw, plane, or knife soon looks for a trade mark or maker’s name. These can identify and sometimes date an artefact. But one often wants to know more about the history of the manufacturer or individual. Reference books and other published sources – such as newspapers and directories – can sometimes provide a lead. But they do not usually give much detail. Ideally, business records – letters, accounts ledgers, and old pattern books – should help. But not many tool and cutlery enterprises have left an archive trail. So where does one look?
In the late 1970s, I pondered this question, when I was researching the 19th century Sheffield cutlery and tool trades. I tried trawling through consecutive years of one Sheffield newspaper, but soon gave this up as too laborious. Trade journals seemed to offer a more focused source, so I began looking at leading Victorian periodicals, such as The Engineer and Engineering. These were useful and the volumes were often indexed.
However, the space devoted to hand tools and cutlery was inevitably limited. Perhaps surprisingly, Sheffield did not have its own trade journal, but I soon discovered that specialist iron and hardware journals had been published in England since the late 19th century. One in particular looked promising.
That journal was The Ironmonger. The only place it seemed to be available in a complete run was the British Library’s Newspaper Division at Colindale, north London. That was convenient in one respect, because I lived in London. But Colindale was on the distant reaches of the underground railway and a visit involved a three-hour round trip.
The Newspaper Division was an Aladdin’s Cave of newspapers and journals (put simply, its miles of shelving held runs of almost every British newspaper and journal ever published). But it was always a forbidding place to work. I once heard the head of the Division describe working there as like being ‘exiled to Siberia’.
The building was more akin to a depository than a library and in those days was devoid of facilities like a café or even a drinks machine. Worse, it was set in a residential suburb which was similarly devoid of shops and cafés. Volumes could only be ordered from the stacks a few at a time and photocopying was expensive.
It was soon evident, though, that The Ironmonger was a mine of information on tools, cutlery, and general hardware products. I opened my first volume and almost immediately in the issue dated 30 May 1863 discovered a detailed account of Mappin Bros – one of Sheffield’s leading cutlery factories. A quick look through the other volumes on my table showed that it was a journal thick with news items and advertisements on tools and cutlery.
It was like a mine in other respects, too, since it was also apparent that consulting its pages would involve a lot of hard digging. The issues were bound into volumes that were squat, bulky, and often covered only a few months.
Scanning every issue of more than a decade’s run of the journal would be a serious undertaking. Inevitably, I sampled the journal and, after turning up lots of useful information and references, turned my attention to other sources. I always promised myself that one day I would return to The Ironmonger, though I did not think it would be another thirty years before I did so.
In that period, much has changed. Computers and digitization have made 19th century newspapers more accessible, so that the extensive trawls of hard copy Sheffield newspapers I conducted at Colindale have largely become unnecessary. Indeed, Colindale library no longer exists. The British Library has abandoned it and dispersed its stock. Sadly, The Ironmonger has not been digitized and it remains a frustrating journal to consult, because so few libraries have a run.
However, I was recently able to re-acquaint myself with this journal after tracking down another set at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University. To look along The Ironmonger shelves at Reading is to be staggered by the sheer bulk of the journal. Not only are the volumes big and heavy (see photo above), but the run seems almost endless, spanning two bays of shelves.
I did not have time to count every volume, but the number certainly exceeds 200. The scale of this publishing undertaking generated a history of its own, which can be usefully explored before assessing The Ironmonger as a source.
The journal can be traced – perhaps appropriately – to an ironmonger. It was founded by William Vaughan Morgan (1826-1892), who came from an entrepreneurial Welsh family. In 1852, William acquired a hardware business in London and was soon joined by his brothers – Septimus, Thomas, Walter, Octavius, and Edward. (The group photo shows William seated in the middle behind the table). In 1855, the firm became Morgan Brothers.
The brothers issued a price list. As the business began to thrive, the Morgans expanded the scope of this list by adding items of trade news. The result was a monthly circular that was offered to ironmongers and tradesmen for a subscription. On 31 May 1859, the first issue of Morgan’s Monthly Circular & Metal Trades Advertiser appeared. Three months later it became THE IRONMONGER & METAL TRADES ADVERTISER.
Within a few months the circulation had rocketed from under a thousand to 10,000. By 1860, volume II had 112 pages and was priced at 5 shillings a year [25 pence/42 cents]. Almost immediately, the brothers launched another journal, The Chemist & Druggist, which was an offshoot of the druggists’ sundries side of the Morgan’s factoring business. The Morgans also started other long-running trade papers, such as The Grocer (1861) and The British Trade Journal (1863).
The Ironmonger was not a technical journal, but a trade paper, and as such was a pioneer. The publishers later claimed – with some justice – that it was the first trade newspaper. It was published in London and until 1930 the managers and editors were based at No, 42 Cannon Street, EC. By 1865, each issue had sixteen pages of news and 40 pages of advertisements.
In 1878, the journal began publishing weekly and in the following year The Ironmonger Diary & Hardware Buyers’ Guide was launched as a companion.
William Vaughan Morgan was briefly the first editor. But the family had other profitable interests (notably the Morgan Crucible Co, of Battersea, London). Eventually, other full-time editors and journalists were appointed, though the Morgan family remained involved in the 20th century. After the First World War, the firm was known as Morgan Brothers (Publishers) Ltd.
The Ironmonger was still going strong in 1959. A direct family link with the founders of the business was maintained. The journal had an editorial staff of ten, a supplements department, and an enquiry section with five full-time staff answering phone and mail questions from subscribers.
In that year, the publishers prepared a special Centenary issue. In true Ironmonger style, this was no mere pamphlet, but a glossy 328-page paperback, filled with advertisements and special essays – including a detailed history of the enterprise itself.
Sadly, the Centenary volume was a swansong. The disappearance of the traditional ironmonger in Britain, combined with the decline of so many of the country’s traditional hardware manufacturers, robbed The Ironmonger of its market.
The journal (and The Ironmonger Diary) disappeared in 1966 and Morgan Brothers was soon swallowed by rival publishing conglomerates.
The editors had a clear vision of the role of the journal. In the words of one director: ‘It is concerned with helping people to make a living’, by disseminating business news quickly and in a permanent form. Thus a large part of each issue has solid blocks of print, which present trade reports, information on new products, and tours of the latest exhibitions, both national and international. Most issues had trade reports from the hardware districts – Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Leeds, Cleveland, and Scotland.
The report (shown right) for Wolverhampton and district, 25 April 1885, commented:
The iron bolt door business lacks animation. Fish-tail bolts for South America have also become tame. Mr R. Lees is doing more on home than export account. The washer and kettle and bucket ear trade does not improve, and galvanised goods are particularly the subject of severe competition. This, at any rate, is the view taken by Lealey & Lees, who have an extensive connection.
This extract gives a flavour of the reports: broadly descriptive, often arcane, but useful. The range of industries covered by The Ironmonger is enormous. It is a major source on the history of the iron, steel, and gun trades. The staples of ironmongery – nails, buckets, pots and pans, lawnmowers, sanitary and plumbing requisites – are covered in overwhelming detail.
The journal is, of course, a treasure trove of information on woodworking tools. Makers of saws, planes, axes, and joiner’s tools feature in almost every issue. Company profiles and ‘tours’ of the works were an Ironmonger speciality.
Awards and official appointments were well ‘puffed’. In the late 19th century, the annual appointment of a Master Cutler in Sheffield (such as J.F. Atkinson in 1892) usually merited an article and an addition to the ‘Portrait Gallery’.
Besides the pages of gossip, ephemera, trademarks, and obituaries, one notable feature of the journal was the publication after 1868 of special supplements several times a year.
For example, a ‘Supplement on the Paris Exhibition’ appeared on 19 October 1878. It featured, inter alia, a discussion of the saws of Henry Disston, Philadelphia (while noting that leading English houses, such as Spear & Jackson, had not exhibited). This was a recurrent theme in the journal in the late 19th century: Britain’s standing in the world, compared with rivals in the hardware trade, such as the USA.
On 7 December 1878, for example, an article compared ‘English and American Axes’ and betrayed anxiety at US advances in the trade.
Perhaps the most striking feature of The Ironmonger is the amount of advertising. It was not called the ‘Trades Advertiser’ for nothing. By the 1880s, advertisements packed the back pages and took up a substantial part of the journal.
Even The Ironmonger Diary was dominated by advertisements. For example, one copy in the author’s possession (1952) has a diary section of about 100 pages; but advertisements cover nearly 600 pages! Victorian advertisements often included fine engravings, woodcuts, and fancy letter-work depicting factories, products, and trade marks.
By the next century, advertisements were becoming plainer, though even in the interwar period the art work (sometimes in colour) could be striking.
These advertisements are not simply visually appealing; they also help identify leading firms and products, without spending hours or days searching the journal’s text.
Of course, one should remember that The Ironmonger is not simply a source for in-formation on woodworking tools. Its pages are laden with articles and advertisements on general hardware products: everything from washing machines to vacuum cleaners; from chimney sweeping machinery to sanitary wares; from mousetraps to steel wool.
To turn the pages, even as late as the 1950s, is to be reminded of the vast range of products Britain once produced. It is a mirror for a vanished age, when manufacturing reigned supreme and when customers were spoiled for choice from a seemingly endless range of products.
Inevitably, that ‘mirror’ image is refracted through a particular lens. The journal was owned by self-made men and written for ironmongers, shopkeepers, and manufacturers of similar mind.
The tone towards captains of industry was respectful and often fawning. It is not a journal to read, say, for its reports on labour and health and safety issues.
One wonders, too, about The Ironmonger’s accuracy. Its editors were usually knowledgeable journalists – for example, William Edwin Frier (editor, 1878-98) had a wide experience of the Sheffield trade – but the journal must have relied on freelancers. The need to create ‘copy’ every week would have added other pressures.
The reports from the districts are sometimes bland and uninformative.
Not all the data and opinion can be taken as gospel, since often the main source was manufacturers and tradesmen themselves. Profiles of individuals and factories need to be read with caution.
Generally, the standard was good and the editors were not always afraid to take a strong line.
One of the most persistent Ironmonger themes was the threat of foreign competition and the failure of some British manufacturers to meet this challenge. Overall, one can make allowances for the subjectivity of the trade press. More difficult to overcome is the size of The Ironmonger and its availability.
Morgan Bros Centenary (1959) noted that since May 1859, 4,457 issues of The Ironmonger had been published. One might expect that runs of the journal and individual issues would be plentiful. But the journal is surprisingly rare. Perhaps the sheer volume of paper generated year by year meant that subscribers soon threw it out.
As far as I know, the libraries in the former hardware centres of Sheffield and Birmingham do not have a run. In nearly forty years of research, I have never seen a copy of The Ironmonger in Sheffield. It is sometimes possible to acquire second-hand copies of The Ironmonger Diary or the Centenary volume, but even these are less common than one might imagine.
The British Library retains the run of the journal I saw years ago at Colindale. Now that the latter has been closed, the journal can be consulted at the British Library’s main St Pancras site. London is crowded, expensive (especially for out-of-towners), and the British Library does not allow the use of digital cameras. So it is difficult to feel enthusiastic about working there.
I would, however, recommend the library of the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University (http://www.reading.ac.uk/merl). It is set in pleasant surroundings, the librarians are very helpful, The Ironmonger is on open shelf, and one can use a camera. Moreover, the library has runs of other journals, which vie with The Ironmonger for their coverage of the tool trades.
These include The Implement & Machinery Review and the Hardware Trade Journal. If one becomes bored with reading dusty old journals, then a tour of the Museum provides an excellent diversion.
Most of The Ironmonger has never been read by contemporary researchers. Its riches remain locked within its vast volumes. I have never had time to do more than sample its pages. This is due to its bulk, the lack of finding aids, and the Everest-like challenge of ever reading it from cover to cover. But the Museum at Reading at least provides comfortable surroundings for those who are mad enough to make the attempt.
Geoffrey Tweedale is a specialist in the Sheffield cutlery and tool trades.
His latest publication is Tweedale’s Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers 1740-2013: Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition (2014), pp. 740. This volume contains histories of over 1,600 cutlery manufacturers. It is available from LULU.com.
His previous publications include
© All Rights Reserved
The PDF version of this article is available here for download.
This article was authored by Wiktor Kuc and Joe Steiner.
Some time ago Joe Steiner (former partner at Sauer & Steiner Toolworks) sent me this email:
I don’t know if this interests you but here are some pics of a saw from a co. that is the first example I have seen (maybe you have some examples) but which I would think are relatively scarce. The saw was in rough shape and the etching was nowhere to be seen behind some very thick rust. I saw the handle in a pile of saws and it screamed special. Cleaned it a bit but didn’t want to go too far. It will never be a collector or even a user saw because of the unfortunate breakage on the nose but what a cool etch. I wonder if this was advertising in a useful form for their patented removable teeth in the circular blades that they may be more famous for. I don’t know if you want to include it in the stuff you have on the American Saw co site.
Specifics on the saw… 20″s now but has been broken so was a little longer, closed drop beech handle held on with 4 split nuts (2 on back MIA) and a graphic 1″ Warranted Superior medallion with eagle holding arrows below 8 (9?)Stars. Mr. FARMER was very proud of his saw because he signed it on both sides. The etch in the middle of the blade – “MANUFACTURED BY AMERICAN SAW CO, NEW YORK XLNT WARRANTED SUPERIOR EMERSON’S PATENT JULY 16th 1867”.
I don’t know if there was something special on that date but his patents weren’t on this date. I love the “XLNT”, short for excellent?
This handsaw was made by the company, known for their mill saws and saw maintenance tools. The handle is nicely shaped in traditional English style, with a well defined “lamb’s tongue”. Unusual etch in bold font with Emerson’s patent “loudly” pronounced and emphasized.
I believe this is very rare example. I have been asking some serious saw collectors about saws made by American Saw Co., but no one has seen this kind of saw. This rarity and unusual etch makes this saw, in my view, an important and valuable collectable item.
So, here it is…
|Blade Length||PPI/Mark/Type||Nib||Design Type||Blade Mark/
|Handle||Screws/ L. Screw||Estimated Prod. Date|
|none||Panel Saw||Etch||Beechwood||3/1||1867 – 1870|
The patent date referenced on the etch, July 16, 1867, refers to patent No. 66,692 received by Emerson for an “Improvement in Saw”.
Patent’s narrative provides, in part, the following information:
“The first part of my invention consists in providing the saw with apertures or perforations, a series or plurality of which extend consecutively and in a definite line from or near the throat or point of juncture each pair of teeth, and which subserve the purpose of facilitating the sharpening of the saw, as will be hereinafter more fully explained.
The second part of my invention consists in a novel method of forming the saw with clearing-teeth, in connection with chambers or openings in the blade, for purpose of removing the sawdust from the kerf, and cutting off the ridge which remains at the base of the kerf in consequence of the “set” position of the teeth. … It is of course to be understood that this embodiment of several varieties of teeth in a single blade is merely to condense the illustration, the individual saws, as manufactured, necessarily embracing but one kind of working tooth.”
It is obvious that the patent date in the etch has nothing to do with this saw and is pointing to a patent Emerson received for another of his many designs of circular and long crosscut saws and theirs teeth. I can only speculate a purpose for which this handsaw was made. The following comes to mind:
The 1867 was a special year for Emerson. The American Saw Company was formed in January 1866 and by the beginning of 1867 the management of the company decided to participate in The Paris World Exposition 1867. The Exposition opening was scheduled for April 1st and Emerson was preparing to make a mark at this exhibition.
The Trenton Daily State Gazette reported on January 3, 1867 the following: “An interesting affair occurred at the American Saw Company’s works on New Year’s Day. The employees of that establishment were regaled with a dinner served upon a mammoth circular saw about twenty-two feet in circumference, now in course of manufacture for the Paris Exposition. In connection with this reunion around the festive saw, a handsome saw and swage of solid gold were presented by the employees to Mr. J. E. Emerson, the director of the works.”
By the end of February the saw was ready and for one day was displayed in Trenton for public viewing. The Trenton Daily State Gazette posted following announcement on February 28, 1867: “The Mammoth Saw Manufactured in this city by the American Saw Company will be on exhibition at Brearley, Cogill & Co’s hardware store, this day and evening only, corner of State and Green street. This saw is seven feet and four inches in diameter and is designed for the World’s Fair in Paris.”
The 1867 was also a year during which Emerson was awarded seven (!) patents. Just in March alone, as he was finalizing preparation for the Expo, he received two patents.
It is clear that “our” saw is a commemorative of Emerson’s patent No. 66,692 and most likely was designed for marketing purposes. It is also possible, that the saw was designed to be a gift to a special attendee of the Paris Expo or to other prominent personality, associated with American Saw Company. It is unquestionable that the saw was made with special care and the whole design is a convincing argument of that.
How this saw landed in Canada where Joe Steiner found it is a puzzle for another article…
This medallion kept me at attention for a long time. There are variety reasons for that and I will explore them next.
Important note: the following analysis are my own (Wiktor), and for any silliness in my observations the reader might find here, I am the one that should take blame, not Joe Steiner. Critique and disagreements are welcome and should be also directed to me.
Here is the medallion from a panel saw made by the American Saw Company (for The Paris World Exposition 1867?) and discussed above.
Question: Where this medallion came from? Why the eagle is so different from the other we usually see on majority of American saws? Was it made in US or in England?
One of the observations I have is that this medallion is very rare. It was used on a saw discussed in this article and no other examples are known to me.
To analyze a bit further I reviewed all saws I have and then multiple websites, forums and blogs on Internet. I also used Google Image Search but no other examples showed up, except one. Here it is:
Although at first glance this medallion appears to be identical, there are small variations that, after close examination, are apparent. With that in mind, I assume that the creator of this medallion continued to use the same motive of eagle, but it was probably a different die, made at different time. He actually, in my view, came very close.
I found this medallion on a TreasureNet website/forum at this location. It was posted there with a request for info. Unfortunately, no explanation or further elaboration is available there.
My next step was to review again the type of Warranted Superior medallions used in US in early years. Below I gathered a few examples of Warranted Superior medallions from American saws – late 1840 to late 1860:
On occasion some saw makers and manufacturers use the same type of eagle with their name. Here are some examples:
To round up this review and assure the readers, I am perfectly aware of other forms of eagle use by some saw manufacturers in US. Here are some examples:
NOTE: The pictures of the medallions shown above came from different sources. Majority of them are my own. A few were taken for a Saw Medallions Reference Guide compiled by “summerfi” at lumberjocks.com. Thanks much for this resource.
Well, we are back, at the same point where we started and questions remain:
Where this medallion came from? Why the eagle is so different from the medallions we usually see on American saws? Was it made in US or in England?
Here again, is the medallion in question.
At this point I realized that there is one more forum I have to visit – the Backsaw.net. Although I knew that members there are mostly interested in English saws, it was still worth a shot. Here is what I found…
Medallion from a dovetail saw, stamped A. Rosling. This brand name was used by Beardshaw & Son and the saw is posted on the Backsaw.net forum by the member with id “kiwi”. The saw was found in Canada.
Taylor & Son medallion posted on the Backsaw.net forum by the member with id “dyounmoses”. Unfortunately, no description of the saw or where was it found was given.
The three medallions came together in perfect harmony. As you can see, the design of this medallion is almost identical. The differences are so minor that I am tempted to consider one source of manufacturing of these medallions. The minor difference, which definitely exist, are a result of different dies made over time to satisfy different needs and different customers.
Since two of the medallions are used on English saws, is this a proof the medallion was manufactured in England and then sold in US? That would be a quick and convenient conclusion, but I am not ready for it. What we have here is what we see – a design shared by three different saw makers.
And this is a good example of the difficulties that any research of sawmaking, when taken to this level of details, is faced with. There is not enough data to resolve some nagging questions – it is that simple.
To add some more to this realization, here is the last straw. Just as I was hoping to be done with this presentation, I remembered that there is one more source I should check – the JimBodeTools.com site. I remembered one saw on that site – a very high-priced, old, and beautiful saw. And there it was – a dovetail saw, made (most likely by Disston) for Dilworth, Branson & Co.
And what do we see on this saw… ? We see this:
This is the best resolution I can get at this time. Nevertheless, this is the same medallion design as the one on “our” saw.
The Dilworth, Branson & Co. was a name used by one of the oldest, if not the oldest, hardware house in US. Here is a snippet from Iron Age magazine, Vol. 61, April 21, 1898, p. 41:
“James M. Vance & Co. are recognized as the oldest Hardware concern in Philadelphia, and are probably the oldest in the United States. The present firm has no data as to the exact year in which the business was founded but they find among their records receipts dated in 1777.
The founder of the business was Samuel Dilworth, and after his decease the business was carried on by his sons, William and Charles. They were succeeded by William Dilworth, who afterward admitted Samuel Branson and the firm name then became Dilworth & Branson. About 1847 they admitted to partnership two young men, James M. Vance and Henry D. Landis, who were in their employ, the business after that date being carried on under the name of Dilworth, Branson & Co. In 1858 Messrs. Dilworth and Branson retired, and the business was continued under the name of Vance & Landis.”
Taking the above information into account, the saw was made most likely sometime between 1847 and 1858.
So here we are, with dates for “our” medallion ranging from 1847 to at least 1867 or beyond, and this is without taking into account the saws made by two English firms.
The resolution – NONE… Conclusions – NONE…
The questions still remain:
If you have a comment, data, or any other observations, please post them here or email to: info@wkFineTools.com. We will be very happy to hear from you.
Wiktor Kuc and Joe Steiner
Early American Industries Association
Regional Meeting – Perry Hall, Maryland
Lectures and Demonstrations on the American Blacksmith
& Foundry work: casting & molding metal
Saturday, September 13, 2014 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
At Windy Hill Forge in Perry Hall, Maryland
3824 Schroeder Ave * Perry Hall, MD 21128
Event Fee: $20 (early bird discount register by September 6) or $25 onsite registration
Lunch included: Maryland Crab Soup, BBQ Chicken, Homemade Salads, Corn on the Cob, Homemade Root beer & Lemonade
Free & ample parking.
8:00 AM Morning Tailgate, Registration & Continental Breakfast
10:00 AM Welcome
10:15 AM American Blacksmith Lecture and Demonstration
12:00 PM Lunch: Maryland Crab Soup, BBQ Chicken, Homemade Salads, Corn, Homemade Root beer & Lemonade
1:30 PM Foundry Sand Casting Lecture and Demonstration
3:45 PM Closing Remarks
Local Overnight Accommodations:
Additional Local Places of Interest & Events:
Spread the word:
The Chester Ranlett Tool Museum , Route 6, Eastham, MA
Located behind the Swift-Daley House Museum and adjacent
To the Eastham Post Office. Plenty of parking.
All are welcome to a gathering of tool collectors, anyone interested in sharing their knowledge and experience or just enjoying a part of the past in a setting committed to preserving old tools used by a variety of craftsmen.
Bring your old tools to Trade or Tailgate or describe as a “whatsit”
11 am to 1 pm Tailgate
1 pm Welcome by Mark Herman, Curator
1:15 pm Tours
Please get the word out to others. You can download a flyer for the event here.
I spent the past week out at Eastfield Village for a 5 day workshop on building a traditional fireplace and beehive oven.
The class was full of Carpentry and Preservation Carpentry Students from the North Bennet Street School in Boston.
We had a great time learning the ins and outs of building a traditional fireplace.
Most of the students were new to masonry work, so the results are a testament to the teaching and experience that Don, Billy and John brought to the class.
You can see a video recap of the week’s events on YouTube here:
Reprinted news brief from 2013.
Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Massachusetts—Plimoth Plantation announced today an appeal for white oak lumber to help repair Mayflower II, the full-scale reproduction of the Mayflower that sailed to Plymouth in 1620. The Museum hopes to promote an awareness of this need and to receive help in locating sources for these materials. Mayflower II is currently undergoing extensive repairs at dry dock in Fairhaven, Massachusetts at the Fairhaven Shipyard, and needs frames and planks replaced to make her seaworthy. These repairs are critical to the iconic ship’s return to her berth on the Plymouth, MA waterfront where she is a popular living history exhibit of Plimoth Plantation.
The 56 year-old wooden sailing ship requires very specific and often difficult to find wood to complete her repairs. The oak trees being sought are around 100 feet tall, over 4 feet in diameter and clear of any knots. “This wood doesn’t come from typical commercial sources,” said Peter Arenstam, the ship’s captain and manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Maritime Artisans program. “We are looking for very specific trees that need to be the right age, size and even have the proper bend.” The white oak is being sought to replace Mayflower II’s planks and frames. The final lumber for the planks will measure 24 inches by 30 feet and be 3.5 inches thick. The frame stock will measure 24 inches by 10 feet and be 8 inches thick. “These pieces are very long and must have no defects, making them not only extremely heavy, but very difficult to find,” according to Arenstam.
The Museum emphasizes that the sourcing of wood materials for Mayflower II must be carried out in a selective, environmentally-responsible way. All leads will be carefully considered to meet very specific requirements that will ensure the most effective use of resources. The Museum plans to implement a tree planting program to replace any trees which may be taken down to complete the ship’s repairs. Plimoth Plantation is making an appeal for white oak lumber or trees that would meet the specific requirements for creating frames and planks for Mayflower II.
Manager of Media Relations and Promotions
NOTE: The Museum is asking to be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Sarah MacDonald at 508-746-1622, Ext. 8206.
If there is content or features you’d like to see on this new website, please contact the web committee here.
NOTE: Hyperlinks from the old site will not work. The new site has all the same general content and back issue of publications that we had on the old site, plus new content. Publications can be found via the publications page here.
EAIA Web Development Lead