A reader recently commented that it is “always interesting to see what others find on the Addis family”. I second that thought, and the extended Addis family has heard us! Several current Addis family members have been updating the Addis family tree on the website Ancestry.com.

Though both S. J. Addis and his younger brother J. B. Addis lived well into the age of photography, to date no photographs of them have been published. But two of their siblings sat for portraits, a brother John Hadzley Addis (1815-1874) and a sister, Mary Ann Addis (1842-1876). John Addis is listed in the 1841 census as a whitesmith, in the 1851 census as a smith, with his son William, age 14, living at home also listed as a smith. In the 1861 census he is listed as a blacksmith, his son William was still living at home working as a blacksmith with younger brothers Edmund and Samuel, ages 19 and 15, also listed as blacksmiths. Three other sons listed as ages 11, 9, and 3 had not yet entered the trade. In 1871, John is again listed as a whitesmith with three sons ages 21, 19, and 13 also listed as smiths.  As John was never listed as an edge tool maker he must have worked in another branch of the smithing trade but would have learned his way around a forge alongside his brother S. J. Addis in his father’s shop on Church Street, Deptford. In turn he trained many of his own sons starting their training when they were as young as 13 years old.

John would have been between 40 and 50 years old in the photograph. There is no way of knowing how closely he  resembled S. J. and J. B. Addis, but they likely shared a similar physique from years forging at the anvil.

John Hadzley Addis 1815-1874. Deptford, London, England. c. 1860.  John Addis spent his entire career in Deptford. He died at age 59. Image from Ancestry.com.

St. Paul’s Church, Church Street, Deptford, London, England. c. 1835.

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James Bacon Addis (1829-1889) was the younger brother, by 18 years, of Samuel Joseph Addis. He was a third generation carving tool maker – his father, Joseph James Addis (1792-1858), was master to his older brother and his grandfather, Samuel Bayton Addis (1768-1832), had worked in the trade since the 1780s. He might have been able to make a claim of being a fourth-generation maker as his brother S. J. Addis would have been in his early 30s when James began his apprenticeship – practically a generation removed – and James would have had the benefit of studying with two generations of highly skilled edge-tool makers. Indeed, it is not clear who James  apprenticed with. James, his brother, and his father may all have worked together for a period of time. When S. J. Addis moved to Lower Fore Street, James could have served his apprenticeship in either his brother’s place of business or his father’s shop in Church Street or could have divided his time between them.

As Geoffrey Tweedale describes it, S. J. and J. B. Addis lived complicated lives and the relationship between them was often difficult and byzantine. Did the 22-year-old James win his Prize Medal at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 through deceit? That may be impossible to ever know though James continued to win prize medals at international exhibitions including the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. Despite the medals won and his apparent gift for self-promotion his finances were problematic. In 1864 he looked to the Sheffield firm of Ward & Payne for employment, ultimately spending the rest of his working career in that city. After a litigious time working for Ward & Payne he was on his own again by at least 1876, advertising against imitation ADDIS tools and complaining to a Sheffield newspaper at the time of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (where carving tools made by the Ward & Payne firm that included the imprint of S. J. Addis were also exhibited) that “…no goods bearing my brother’s mark can possibly equal my own…” His two sons, James Bacon Barron Addis (1852-1909) and George Kennedy Addis (1869-1915), joined him in the trade (coincidentally there is almost the same age difference between them as there was between J. B. and S. J. Addis) and continued the manufacture of J. B. Addis & Sons carving tools after J. B. Addis’s death in 1889. After the death of James Bacon Barron Addis in 1909, his widow Elizabeth became the governing director of the firm until her death in 1933.

While dating some J. B. Addis and J. B. Addis & Sons carving tools can be fairly precise, it is difficult to present a concise chronology for the tools made after the mid 1870s. The dates given in the captions for the tools  is open to revision should new information come to light. There are a number of variant J. B. Addis imprints recorded on carving tools that are not illustrated in this post.

A carving gouge with a J. B. ADDIS JUNr imprint. Like his brother S. J. Addis, J. B. Addis used the junr designation when he began marking his tools. This gouge would have been made at the end of his apprenticeship but before he began adding a PRIZE MEDAL imprint for the award he earned in at the Great Exhibition in 1851. 1849-1851. Storb Collection.

The J. B. ADDIS JUNr imprint on the reverse of the carving gouge in the previous slide. This is the only recorded tool I’m aware of with this mark. I have seen one tool with the imprint J. B. ADDIS without JUNr. Storb Collection.

After being awarded a prize medal at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, J. B. Addis andded the imprint PRIZE MEDAL to his tools. On this tool he continued to use JUNr following his name. 1851-1858. Web auction image.

J. B. ADDIS over PRIZE MEDAL imprint. Without the JUNr imprint, this tool was probably made after J. B. Addis’s father ended manufacturing edge-tools but before J. B. was awarded a second prize medal. 1858-1862. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS over PRIZE MEDAL imprint on the reverse of the gouge in the previous slide. 1858-1862. Storb Collection.

What must be the most ornamental imprint ever used on a carving gouge. This is the only recorded tool with this imprint. The owner published this amazing survivor on his blog in 2012. It can be seen here. After 1852.

In 1862 J. B. Addis was awarded a second prize medal at the International Exhibition in London. This is a V-tool that appears to have been reshaped into a long bent tool after originally being forged as a straight tool. This created a slight arch in the name imprint. 1862-1870. Web auction image.

PRIZE MEDALS imprint on the bottom of the V-tool in the previous slide. Web auction image. 1862-1870

J. B. Addis continued to collect awards, adding the dates of the prize medals to his imprints. Medals won in 1851, 1862, 1870, and 1871 are recorded in this imprint.  J. B. Addis and his family moved to Sheffield in 1864/5 and the tools in this and the following slides were manufactured in that city, not London. 1872-1876. Storb Collection.

The reverse side of the gouge in the previous slide. By the early 1870s at least one son had joined J. B. Addis in business. 1872-1876. Storb Collection.

A carving chisel made by J. B. ADDIS & SONS with a clearer imprint than the tool in the previous slide. 1872-1876. Web auction image.

A carving gouge made by J. B. ADDIS & SONS. This imprint adds the date of the medal awarded at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. 1877-1878. Web auction image.

This imprint records medals awarded to J. B. Addis and J. B. Addis & Sons at 7 exhibitions spanning the years 1851-1878. 1878- mid 1880s. Web auction image.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD imprint. The city of origin imprint was likely added to tools in the late 1870s. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

Reverse of the tool in the previous slide. Listing the years in which prize medals were awarded had become unwieldy. A new imprint, 9 PRIZE MEDALS over 51 & 62, replaced the long string of years imprint. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS used different size stamps to imprint various sizes of carving gouges. Three sizes and two layouts are used on these gouges. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

Two sizes of the 9 PRIZE MEDALS over 51 & 62 imprint. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD imprint. 1890-1900. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD imprint. Detail of the tool in the previous slide. 1890-1900. Storb Collection.

10 PRIZE MEDALS over 51 & 62. Reverse of the tool in the previous slide. This is the first tool illustrated that was probably made after the death of J. B. Addis. 1890-1900 Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND and a sweep number. Sweep numbers are presumed to have never been imprinted on tools made by the J. B. ADDIS & SONS firm before the death of J. B. Addis. The country of origin may have been added to the tools in the mid to late 1890s. 1895-1910. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND and a sweep number. Detail of the carving gouge in the previous slide. 1895-1910. Storb Collection.

Reverse of the carving gouge in the previous slide. 10 PRIZE MEDALS. The 51 & 62 dates have been eliminated in this imprint. 1895-1910. Storb Collection.

 

Hammacher, Schemmer & Co. is a New York City store that specialized in hardware and tools when it was founded in the mid nineteenth century. The company name used on the label in this box of carving tools was adopted in 1883.  The boxed set of 12 tools likely date before WWII. J. B. ADDIS & SONS LTD. continued to operate into the 1950s. H.S. & CO. can be found stamped on many early twentieth century tools, hardware items, and workbenches. Web auction image.

The boxed set of carving tools includes Arkansas sharpening slips and a woodcarver’s stamp for frosting backgrounds with the imprint BUCK BROTHERS, an American edge-tool manufacturer. A quite proper Edwardian woodcarving set. Web auction image.

 

 

If you’re a carver, woodworker, or interested in the history of edge-tools you will recognize some or all of the names in the title of this post. “ADDIS” in one form or another was imprinted on edge-tools produced in England, primarily woodcarving tools, for well over a century. Many of the carving tools made by members of the Addis family survive and are sought out and used by professional and amateur carvers. The Herring Brothers may be less well known but edge-tools with their imprint are as well regarded as any produced by the Addis family. Indeed, one of the Herring brothers moved from Sheffield to London to apprentice with Samuel Joseph Addis. Ward & Payne is known as a Sheffield edge-tool manufacturer that employed one member of the Addis family and bought the rights to use the name of another member after his death.

There are many reasons why we might choose to use historic tools today. Carving tools made in England in the nineteenth century have the reputation of being the best ever made, superior to tools available today. There is a romance and nostalgia about tools used by prior generations of carvers whose names are often found stamped on their handles – wishfully thinking some of the skill of a bygone master will rub off on us. But I own and have used carving tools from all the nineteenth-century makers as well as most manufacturers making carving tools today and find a properly shaped and sharpened modern tool works as well as its historic counterpart whatever the metallurgical differences between them may be. There are real, factual differences however that would warrant seeking out historic tools, but the main reason I started acquiring them was the pricing. Carving gouges continue to be labor-intensive to make and as a result are expensive. This is often an impediment to someone starting out in the field or to someone who might want to try woodcarving but is unsure if they will enjoy it and wish to continue with the practice. Used or second-hand tools, for which both historic and contemporary tools qualify, are (with some exceptions) typically less expensive than new tools – often by half.

But when, after many years, you have built up a sizable collection of old tools, the historian in you wants to know more. Who were these makers?  What years did their working careers span? Are there other makers I don’t know about because I have never found one of their marked tools? What were the “prize medals” we see imprinted on tools from several makers awarded for? And why so many different imprint versions, especially in the case of S. J. Addis (1811-1871) who seems to have purchased a new stamp every several years to imprint his tools?

Several studies of the Addis family, which also touch on the family’s connection with Ward & Payne and the Herring brothers, have been web published and they inform the captions for the following illustrations. The links are here:

Addis History and Carving Tool Imprint Overview by Gary P. Laroff.

Addis: A Famous Name in Carving Tools by Geoffrey Tweedale

More Addis Questions by Don McConnell

Gary P. Laroff published his overview in 2006 and I know from correspondence with him that he has gathered additional information since then including previously unrecorded imprints.

Though I had not known it before I read Laroff’s overview, I was not surprised to find the Addis family of edge-tool makers worked in Deptford, a district in south-east London that from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries was a Royal Dockyard town. It was in Deptford that Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) family had settled and where he may have worked in ship carving before catapulting to fame with encouragement from the connoisseur and diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706). Historically, carving tool makers would be best served working in proximity to the end users of their products. A close working relationship between the carvers and tool makers was useful and necessary in London from late seventeenth into the eighteenth century when intense technical demands were placed on woodcarvers, particularly in the case of the Gibbons shop. With carving tool makers and carvers living and working within blocks of one another, experimentation with new shapes and sizes of tools could happen in real-time

The histories concerning the Addis family as edge-tool makers take us back not much earlier than 1792 when Samuel Addis (1768-1832) is recorded working in Church Street, Deptford. It is uncertain if earlier generations of the Addis family worked in the trade or how long the family had been in Deptford prior to this time. Late nineteenth century advertisements proclaim the Addis family tradition of edge-tool making was “Established in 1717” but there is no published evidence for this.

It is undeniable, however, that forging, hardening, and tempering carving tools is an exacting Art and Mystery and a trade whose secrets were handed down through generations. Whenever the Addis family began their tradition of making carving tools it is cannot be a coincidence that the most successful dynasty of carving tool makers hail from Deptford, the parish that launched the career of the “Glorious Grinling Gibbons”.

The following images are a collection of imprints on carving tools made by Joseph James Addis (1792-1858) and his son Samuel Joseph Addis (1811-1871).

ADDIS imprint, with no initials, address, or sweep number. This is thought to be the earliest imprint of the Addis family. It is most likely the imprint used by Joseph James Addis (1792-1858). Joseph James was apprenticed to his father Samuel Addis, an edge-tool maker in Deptford, who apparently left the trade by the time he is listed as working as an auctioneer in the 1820s. It is not known how Samuel Addis marked his tools. Did he also us an ADDIS imprint and if so, is there any way to tell whether father or son made a tool so marked? A small number of ADDIS imprinted tools survive.  Storb Collection.

A carving tool with the imprint ADDIS. This is a clear ADDIS imprint on a tool that has survived in very good condition. Private collection.

ADDIS SENR imprint. Thought to be the imprint used by Joseph James Addis to differentiate his work from his son Samuel Joseph Addis (1811-1871) after S. J. Addis completed his apprenticeship and went into business for himself. This tool may date from the late 1830s to the mid-1850s. Storb Collection.

This S. ADDIS imprint is a bit of a mystery. The font, size, and neat placement of the imprint are similar to S. J. Addis imprints but it is not clear where it fits into the chronology of the following illustrated carving tools. I know of only a handful of tools with this imprint. Storb Collection.

S. J. ADDIS JUNr imprint. One of the first imprints used by Samuel Joseph Addis. Possibly late 1830s to the mid-1850s. Storb Collection.

A carving gouge with the imprint S.J. ADDIS JUNr and a Deptford address imprint on the reverse. This tool was for sale on the web several years ago. Private collection.

The reverse of the tool in the previous image with the imprint 12 DEPTFORDGREEN. To my knowledge no information about S. J. Addis at this address has been published.

The imprint LONDON often accompanies the S. J. ADDIS JUNr imprint. Mid-1840s to mid-1850s. Is S. J. Addis the first carving tool maker to add the city where he worked to his imprint? This may be the imprint used on the carving tools S. J. Addis displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Storb Collection.

From the early 1850s to 1863 S. J. Addis is listed at 20 Gravel Lane. The tools produced during this period have 20 GRAVEL LANE and SOUTHWARK LONDON imprints. Storb Collection.

The reverse side of the tool in the previous image. 1853-1863. Storb Collection.

A variation of the 20 Gravel Lane imprint. This imprint was also used on plane blades.

In 1862 S. J. Addis moved to Worship Street, Finsbury, London. A new stamp with that address was ordered to imprint the tools. 1863-1869. Storb Collection.

S. J. ADDIS over LONDON imprint followed by a crossed compass and square. This is the only carving tool I have seen with the crossed compass and square following the name imprint. This arrangement is said to occur on tools that also include WORSHIP ST over FINSBURY though this tool is not imprinted with an address. 1863-1871. Storb Collection.

Compass and square followed by S. J. ADDIS. This imprint is more commonly found than those on the previously illustrated tools.  Carving tools with this imprint are also found marked with the Sheffield/London sweep numbering system.  It may have been made shortly before S. J. Addis’s death or by the Sheffield firm Ward & Payne who purchased the rights to use S. J. Addis’s name from his widow. Storb Collection.

This is a carving tool made by the Sheffield firm Ward & Payne whose imprint, W and P on either side of an anvil below two forging hammers, precedes S. J. ADDIS over CAST STEEL. This tool has a sweep number and ENGLAND stamped on the reverse. 1895-1915. Storb Collection.

Up next – James Bacon Addis (1829-1889).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to thank my colleagues at The Magazine Antiques for highlighting this blog when featuring the spice box sold at Freeman’s last December in their #antiqueoftheday Instagram feed!

I also want to make one correction – I am not the one treating the spice box, that project is being carried out by another, very experienced, conservator. The tantalizing questions concerning the form of the original door, given the questions raised by the construction evidence presented by the box, got the furniture sleuth in me going and I was fascinated by the unusual twist that the door might have been panel-less.

To be clear, this image is a composite image produced in Photoshop where a door frame from another spice box was selected, manipulated in size and color, and layered over an image of the Freeman’s box, made to illustrate I believe the original door may have appeared. This is not, to my knowledge, what the spice box sold at Freeman’s last December looks like today.

Nice to see this spice box being appreciated. It makes a wonderful antique for any day.

The Brewster Collection spice box. Freeman’s, 15 December 2016, lot 24.

I noted the spice box that sold at Freeman’s last December was missing its door. The contents of most spice boxes were protected by doors having iron locks that could only be opened by someone in possession of the key. (Two surviving spice boxes are made in the form of a chest of drawers on stand but with the drawers arranged in typical spice box fashion. Though lacking doors, metal locks in the central drawers, spring locks on the drawers above, and hidden drawers, protect the contents of five of the eleven drawers of these boxes.)

There is no way to know exactly what the lost door looked like. Witness marks from the missing hinges show that the door was hung on the right (proper left) side and was flush to the outside of the case – the door closed on top of both sides, it did not fit into rabbets created on the front edges of either side.  But the construction and design of the spice box offers several clues that support a theory that the original door was something out of the ordinary.

First, the single arch drawer dividers are flush with the double arch moulding worked on the front edges of the sides. The drawer fronts sit just slightly behind the plane of the front of the single arch moulding. As a result, there is a clearance problem for the brass pulls and their cotter pin attachment on the drawer fronts.

The Brewster Collection spice box with the drawers removed. The drawer dividers are flush with front edges of the sides.

Next, a spring lock secures the central square drawer, accessed through the long drawer below. The long drawer has a large, stamped brass escutcheon but there is not now, nor ever has been, an iron lock present. Once the door was opened, the spring lock would be superfluous. It would not protect the contents of the drawer as the long drawer would be easily accessible. Additionally, the expensive stamped brass escutcheon is pointless, especially if hidden from view much of the time.

Bottom board of the central square drawer with the cavity that contained the wood spring lock. The thin, wood lock is missing.

Finally, the boring for the pulls on the bottom drawer appears inexplicably high.

Two extant spice boxes suggest the plan of the missing door. The doors of both these boxes lack panels in their mortise and tenoned frames. The drawers of the boxes are secured by the stiles and rails of the frames and cannot be accessed without first unlocking the door.

Lee Ellen Griffith. The Pennsylvania Spice Box, Paneled Doors and Secret Drawers, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1986, p. 63, no. 15.

Sotheby’s. New York, New York, The Highly Important Americana Collection of George S. Parker II from the Caxambas Foundation, 19 January 2017, lot 2019.

A panel-less door for the Brewster collection spice box clarifies all the construction and design features described above. The box would not need to be designed with clearance for the brass pulls when there is no panel to get in their way. The central drawer would not be secured by a frame without a panel, so a spring lock would necessary on that drawer. Access from the drawer below was prohibited by the door frame and its showy brass escutcheon would be permanently on display, never hidden behind the panel of a door. The high boring placement for the pulls on the bottom drawer would be necessary for the frame to clear the drops.

With liberties taken in Photoshop, perhaps this composite image gives some clue to how the Brewster Collection spice box may have appeared originally.

A composite image of the Brewster Collection spice box with a panel-less door frame and brass pulls manipulated in Photoshop.

Humor can be hard to detect in furniture from this time and place. It is not the first characteristic attributed to members of the Religious Society of Friends – Quakers – during the first decades of the eighteenth century. But it’s not hard to imagine the original owners of the spice box enjoying watching and waiting for others to discover all may not be what it seems.

Lightening has struck twice. At least it has at Freeman’s in Philadelphia. Another object that can be attributed to the Bartram Family Joiner is scheduled to be sold in their auction American Furniture, Folk, and Decorative Arts, 15 November 2017. In December 2016, less than a year ago, Freeman’s sold a spice box attributed to this same anonymous shop, the first of that form to be recorded. Freeman’s now has the privilege of presenting a second previously unrecorded form from this shop, a chest of drawers. It is somewhat of a surprise that a chest of drawers from a shop that may have been an important competitor of John Head’s (Suffolk, England 1688-Philadelphia 1754) has not been seen before as it is a form that was a sought out by Head’s customers and is commonly present in contemporary household inventories. Without the benefit of a surviving account book for this shop, we have no insight into the type and number of objects it produced. There is not presently documentation as to where this shop was located or whether the principal joiner was an immigrant who received his training in Britain as John Head was, or had either been born or immigrated to America at an early age and received his training here. There has been speculation that James Bartram (October 6, 1701-August 5, 1771) made two objects attributed to this joiner, a dressing table, inlaid with the initials of his future wife, Elizabeth Maris (1704-April 23, 1771) and the date 1724, and an oval table, which is inlaid with both James and Elizabeth’s initials and the year of their marriage, 1725. But much is known and has been written about James Bartram, the younger brother of the famous botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) whose first wife, Mary Maris (about 1703-1727), was the sister of Elizabeth. To date there is no indication that James apprenticed with a joiner or pursued a trade other than farming, an occupation he, like his brother, prepared for. An attribution of these objects to James Bartram would beg the question who would he have apprenticed with during the years 1716-1723 and what would the objects from that shop look like? And how, a year after the end of his apprenticeship, he could have produced the most opulent object made in the Delaware River Valley that survives from the first quarter of the eighteenth century? The sophisticated joinery and inlay techniques and the imaginative and individual turning of this group of objects, which include the two Bartram family objects, oval (gate-leg) tables, square tables with and without drawers, a spice box, and now a chest of drawers, suggests that the master of the shop immigrated to Philadelphia fully trained, perhaps after also having spent time working as a journeyman in Britain after his apprenticeship. If this is the case, his career would have closely resembled John Head’s though for unknown reasons, fewer surviving objects can be attributed to this presently anonymous shop. There are numerous points of interest to be found during an examination of the chest of drawers that I have not covered here. It will be on view on the third story of Freeman’s through 5 o’clock Tuesday, November 14. While you’re there, you might imagine the spice box sold last December perched on top of the chest. I know I did.

Chest of drawers. Made in the Delaware River Valley, c. 1725. Attributed to the Bartram Family Joiner. Black walnut, hard pine, Atlantic white cedar, yellow poplar, sweet-gum, iron.

The tops of the dovetailed backs and sides are mitered on all the drawers of objects attributed to this shop.

The two short drawers run on their bottom boards and the bottoms are fit to rabbets on the front, back and sides. Runners were later added to compensate for wear. Spring-locks prevented access to the two short drawers without unlocking the iron lock of the drawer below.

In this shop dovetails are routinely wedged.

The brass on the drawers is replaced. Evidence for original single drop pulls can be seen of the exterior and interior surfaces of the drawer fronts.

Various chalk shop marks, including numbers, squiggles and here, “X”‘s can be seen at the interior corners of the drawers.

There are currently no dust-boards in the case but grooves plowed in the back edge the drawer blades indicate they were present originally.

Several of the long drawers have dramatic grain. The base moulding is identical to that on the spice box sold at Freeman’s last December.

Dowels fit to holes bored in the turned feet secure the feet to the bottom of the chest.

The distinctive turning style produced in this shop can be seen in the idiosyncratic design of the feet. The turner employed flattened ball shapes that are closer to discs than spheres and pronounced scoring lines are added to small rings that other turners left unadorned. On the largest spherical shape of every turning from this shop, a deep score line is flanked by two thin scored lines.

The strip of wood supporting the front base moulding is oak and the bottom is made of two boards of yellow poplar.

There is a clear witness mark from the original escutcheons on the drawer fronts.

 

The original escutcheon from a square table with drawer attributed to the Bartram Family Joiner confirms the appearance of the missing escutcheons on the chest of drawers.

The original locks are present on the three long drawers.

The wood species red-gum is used for the vertical divider between the two drawers in the top tier.

The two board sides of the case are flitch-cut. The boards on the other side of the chest are identical and in the same orientation.

 

 

 

“The history of the John Grass Wood Turning Company points out the great

changes that have taken place in the manufacturing process over the past century and a

half. The fact that the structure and machinery are in essentially the same place and

condition as when the firm was founded is remarkable. Both the skill and the work-ethic

of the men involved are also a part of the story. We are stronger in going ahead if we

know where we have been.

The challenge to preserve the John Grass site with all its components is a serious

one and is not to be taken lightly. Today’s method of computer-controlled mass

production of wood turned objects is a far cry from what was the norm at the time when

the John Grass Wood Turning Company was a flourishing industry in the Old City

District of Philadelphia. Without action at this time, this part of our industrial history will

more or less disappear, only to be read about in books.”

Jane Mork Gibson, John Grass Wood Turning Company Historical Background

The quote above are the concluding remarks of an essay written c. 2008 by Jane Gibson which appears on a website of the John Grass Task Force, a group connected with the Center for Art in Wood that sought to preserve the building and contents of the John Grass Wood Turning Company, located at 146 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, which had ceased business operations in 2003. A timeline of the John Grass Turning Company on the same site ended with this:

“2010 – The Philadelphia Chapter of the United Carpenters and Joiners of America, one of the earliest supporters of the Center’s John Grass efforts, purchased the building and all of its equipment from the descendants of John Grass who owned the facility. This purchase ensures that the Center’s efforts to both preserve and raise awareness about the Grass building have contributed to its future rehabilitation and use. Stay tuned for future update.”

There have been no further updates to the site but the final chapter of the history of the John Grass Wood Turning Company can now be written. Earlier this year the Philadelphia Chapter of the United Carpenters and Joiners of America sold the building at 146 North 2nd Street and last Friday September 15, 2017, the contents of the building was sold at auction to a single bidder. Unfortunately, this is another disgrace for the cause for preservation in Philadelphia where the pressure from developers has been assuring the rapid destruction of the historic fabric of the city. The John Grass Wood Turning Company building is now next in line and only waits for the removal of the contents to be razed. What happened between 2006 when the John Grass Task Force was created and today? And why did the sale of the building and the dispersal of its contents receive zero press when it was one of the most remarkable survivors of the city’s industrial past, a city at one time known as The Workshop of the World? At the auction preview the Thursday before the sale, it appeared I was the only one who showed up for one last look.

The history of the John Grass Company can be found on several sites listed below so I won’t go into detail of the company’s history here except to say John Grass immigrated from Bavaria in 1853 at age 15 and first appears in the city directories as a wood turner in 1872. The company moved the North 2nd Street address in 1916.

Click to go to the link.

https://centerforartinwood.org/johngrass/history.html

Historical Background by Jane Mork Gibson

Hidden City Philadelphia

Save John Grass on Youtube

Below are a selection of my photos of the exterior of the John Grass Wood Turning Co. made in 2009 and interior images made September 15, 2017.