Ken Finkel’s post on the “Rise and Fall of PhillyPalladian” on the PhillyHistoryBlog along with the upcoming Beer Mansion Mash at Mount Pleasant this Saturday encouraged a visit to the house this week to check on recent developments. There is a cleaned up and restored path on the back/river side of the house but most striking – the two tall trees which have obscured the view of the west façade since at least the early twentieth-century are gone!

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Photographing the west side of the house that faces the Schuylkill River has been a challenge if you didn’t want two large trees masking the view.  You could work around them with wide-angle lens but couldn’t escape them in long views.

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View of Mount Pleasant through railing of a reproduction pagoda c. 1930.

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Even with the leaves off the trees the view of the Schuylkill River side of the house was marred.

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Mark Reinberger in his recent book, “The Philadelphia Country House” was challenged photographing the less formal side of Mount Pleasant.

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The setting sun lights up the west side of Mount Pleasant but the out of place trees distract.

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Until at least the middle of the nineteenth-century the bluff leading down to the river was clear of trees. Even in the summer the river could be seen from the second story. It can still be viewed in the winter from the Venetian window as seen here in an image from five years ago, but today the river is completely obscured in summer.

During the eighteenth-century trees would never have been allowed to grow immediately behind the house as the views towards the house and to the river from inside the house would have been of fundamental importance to the owners and those they wished to impress.  Mount Pleasant’s Palladian or Venetian windows, constructed 10 years after the Venetian window on the State House stair tower which Thomas Nevell also worked on, are central to the history of domestic architecture in Philadelphia if not the American colonies. They are the earliest Venetian windows in Philadelphia for a private residence – and there are not one but two – designed using three Classical Orders –  creating the extraordinary architectural experience in second story hall.

I’m thrilled that I can now make the images I’ve always seen in my mind’s eye. Here are some of the first from this Wednesday.

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In this blog I don’t write about my day-to-day work with the Dietrich American Foundation’s furniture collection that we are in the process of researching, photographing, and conserving. That will remain proprietary to the Foundation as we gear-up to go live with a website of the Foundation’s collection in the near future. Findings from the furniture survey will also hopefully find their way into publications in various formats. I have relied on my extra-curricular activities and earlier years involved in the conservation and restoration trade for material for posts. This post is a slight divergence.

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Un-crating the D.A.F. Goddard family bureau at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Later this month the exhibition “Art and Industry in Early America, Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830” opens at the Yale University Art Gallery. The Dietrich American Foundation’s four-shell Goddard family bureau was loaned to the Art Gallery for the exhibition and I was in New Haven this week attending the bureau’s installation at the end of a line of four other three and four-shell bureaus made in Newport in the second half of the eighteenth century.

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The line up of Newport three and four-shell bureaus.

“Daniel Goddard His Draugh” is written in white chalk on the back of the top long drawer.

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The back of the top shell drawer of the D.A.F. bureau.

Did Daniel participate in crafting the bureau, did he carve the shell drawer, or was he the owner? Was it made in Newport in the shops of the Goddards and Townsends or in Nova Scotia where Daniel appears to have moved sometime after 1779? The early provenance of the bureau is unclear, we can only go back to its discovery in London in 1968. It possibly left New England with Daniel Goddard when he moved from Newport to Nova Scotia. If that was the case, this is likely the first time the bureau has been in back New England in over two hundred and twenty-five years.

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The D.A.F. bureau as you will see it in the exhibition.

You can read more about the bureau at the Rhode Island Furniture Archive here.

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The D.A.F. Goddard family bureau.

 

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Carving gouges with shoulders and the imprint of C. Maiers.

Responding recently to a question about the quality of carving gouges marked C. Maiers, I noticed that in the post I wrote two years ago about some of the C. Maiers tools I own and use I said I had never seen a C. Maiers tool with a shoulder. Since then I’ve acquired two Maiers carving gouges that do have bolsters and have seen images of several others. The first is one of the larger Maiers tools I’ve come across, a fishtail gouge with a 9/16″ cutting edge that is about a number 6 based on the Sheffield list of edge profiles. Second is a 1/4″ front bent gouge that corresponds to a number 29 on the list. What I still haven’t seen are C. Maiers carving gouges marked with numerals that link them to the Sheffield list.

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Detail of the shoulders.

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The handle of the front bent C. Maiers gouge.

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Two of the seven C. Maiers carving gouges in this lot for auction on ebay have shoulders.

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On February 13, 1776 Thomas Nevell credited Thomas Proctor for a “Uniform Coat” and Edward Bonsall for a “pair of Lether breechs”. July was six months off but the Continental Congress had previously met in Philadelphia at Carpenters’ Hall, which Nevell had helped design and build, in 1774 and 1775. In December 1775, John and Margaret Macpherson’s son John had been killed in the Battle of Quebec, perhaps the first commissioned officer from Philadelphia to die during the Revolution. Nevell anticipated war and readily took up the patriots cause, serving for several years as an officer in the Continental Army. He ordered and paid for his own blue coat and leather pants, the uniform of the day. A uniform we have all been reacquainted with thanks to a extraordinary recent Broadway play.

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There is a gap in the entries in Nevell’s daybook from November 9, 1777, less than two months after the British Army began their occupation of Philadelphia, until January 12, 1780, when there is one entry, then another gap until August 16, 1782.

After the war the scope of Nevell’s business changed. He was 62 years old in 1783 and now began spending more time measuring other tradesmen’s work than on arduous building projects.

411 Triumphal Arch

In 1784 Nevell was given a last, large project by the State of Pennsylvania, building Charles Wilson Peales Arch of Triumph across Market Street celebrating the end of the war. We will leave that story, and the story of its “miscariage” for another time.

411 Triumphal Arch copy

 

More information and photos of the carved mahogany stove plate pattern at the Burlington County Historical Society.

The size of the pattern is 26 inches high and 33 inches wide. The ground of the relief carving is on the shy side of 5/16 of an inch below the upper surface. I don’t believe a router was used to lower the background. It’s difficult to see in the photographs but the ground has an undulating surface, even with some areas of slight tear-out as the flat carving gouge used to produce the ground was worked across the grain, the carver knowing the tear-out would disappear in the iron casting.

At the HABS site I found photographic copies of older photographs of the carved pattern now at the Burlington County Historical Society and a six-plate stove that used the pattern for the sides. I had previously believed that no stoves made with this pattern survived, but one did, at least until sometime in the late 19th/early 20th century. It appears to be in an advanced state of deterioration and I do not know of its present whereabouts. We also now know that a side pattern for a 10-plate stove was at times adapted for use in a 6-plate stove. And we know the design of the front plate pattern that accompanied the sides, a large urn with trailing leaves and flowers.

Pattern. HABS photo

6-plate stove made with pattern in the Burlington Historical Society.

6-plate stove made with pattern in the Burlington Historical Society.

Thanks must go to Charles Cunningham who donated the pattern to the Burlington County Historical Society in 1934. I wonder if it could be found out how he came by it. Picked it from a pile of discarded wood patterns at Batsto?

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Pattern label

No discussion of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stove plates can fail to mention the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a little over 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Among the tens of thousands of artifacts Henry Chapman Mercer collected for his museum were hundreds of stove plates. You can examine them in the “stove plate room” at the top of the museum.

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A corner of the Stove plate room at the Mercer Museum.

It was over 30 years ago that I photographed the carved mahogany front plate pattern for a cast iron stove, seen below, when it was displayed in a Plexiglas vitrine in the center of that room.

I’ve just done what the HABS photographer did in the 1940s, made a photograph of a (my) photograph so the image in it could be freely shared and not lost to time.

Front plate pattern. Mercer Museum

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Detail of BCHS pattern.

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Detail of BCHS pattern.

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Detail of BCHS pattern.

I recently spent the day working at the Burlington County Historical Society in Burlington, New Jersey. While there I was able to examine and photograph what is, for me, one of the treasures of their collection – a carved-wood pattern used to produce one side of a ten-plate cast iron stove. A small number of complete cast-iron stoves along with numerous chimneybacks and disassociated stove plates made in the Philadelphia region during the second half of the eighteenth century survive, but less than a handful of the carved wood patterns used to make an impression in moist sand into which the molten steel would be cast are extant. Primarily produced in furnaces in the Schuylkill Valley and West Jersey, or South Jersey as it is known today, six-plate stoves were introduced about 1760 and ten-plate stove were probably being made by the early 1770s.

In 1766 a dam was built on the Batsto River near its junction with the Atsion and Mullica rivers and the Batsto Furnace was established. The mahogany side-plate pattern at the Burlington Historical Society was probably carved in Philadelphia c. 1775. Its low-relief blend of rococo and neoclassical elements marks the end, in the eighteenth century, of carving playing the primary role in the decoration of furniture and other objects produced for, and desired by the gentry. The winds of many changes were blowing.

Enjoy the photos, they will open to full size when clicked on.

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There were several questions I didn’t have the answer to during my week teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I’m using this post to correct that with the hope that those who attended the class stop in here from time to time.

Several years ago I decided to make an another attempt at finding a business that would produce a name stamp I could use on tools, particularly carving tools, but other tools I’ve made or collected as well. Until recently I had hadn’t been satisfied with what I found offered, mainly because I couldn’t find stamps with classically formed letters with serifs. Having collected historic tools for decades and using primarily historic carving tools, I’ve long been acquainted with the custom of owners stamping their names on tools to identify them. Many of the tools I use have owner’s stamps, a number of them more than one. One chisel had three previous owner’s names stamped on it and it now has a forth, mine. While I signed wood tools that I made from the beginning, I was hesitant for years about marking tools that others had manufactured. In truth, I didn’t even think about. Perhaps it was a bit of not feeling worthy of the tools or not knowing if I was using them to their full potential. But as time goes on, you develop your skills and the tools that have come along on that journey with you become old and familiar friends. With carving tools in particular, you grasp the handle – where the owner’s names are stamped – and there is an intimacy with an object and the past that is rare in today’s world. The old line carving tools them being extensions of your hand is not an exaggeration or a nostalgic tale. You carve with your whole body, arms back, and legs.

My tools are in perfectly restored condition, can do anything a carver asks of them, and the years I’ve used them has deepened their patina. If I stepped away from them tomorrow, I would be proud to have my name on them in the condition I left them. It was time to find a stamp.

As we all know, this type of search is easier than ever to do today and I quickly identified a business I thought could make the stamp I wanted. Buckeye Engraving in Kent Ohio, makes hand stamps, dies and brands exclusively. There is even someone on the other end of the phone to discuss the process and clearly no job is too small, all I was ordering was one stamp with six letters and a period. You send a drawing or word document of your design, they send you a PDF at actual size as they will produce it. You can print it, cut it out if you want to see how it looks where you will use it, explain any changes or modifications and in a week or so your stamp arrives. It was a great experience. Look them up if you need something similar. www.steelhandstamps.com

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A previous owners initials “JS” on the handle at top.

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A Gramercy Tools dovetail saw from Tools for Working Wood with a homemade handle.

The topic of contemporary extraordinary carving commissions came up and I could not remember the name of the British carver who recently completed a reproduction of the Uppark House Servery Table, a pair to the table being lost in a fire in the house in 1991. It was Peter Thuring and his shop who took on this once in a lifetime project. The result is stunning. See it here. The craft continues.

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