From at least the early 20th century, and especially since the emergence of the Studio Furniture movement, most furniture makers who use shop marking to identify squared faces and edges of boards and to differentiate and orient carcase and drawer parts, have removed these marks from their finished products through planning, erasure, or other means.  This was not the case in the 17th and 18th century; shop marks made with chisels, gouges, pencils, and chalk can be observed on the majority of furniture made before the 20th century.  They were accepted by makers and consumers alike as part of the making process as much as the marks left by planes and saws on wood surfaces.

Whether learned from their master or developed on their own, joiners and cabinetmakers had diverse methods of marking parts of furniture.  “BOTTOM” written on the outside surface of the bottom board of a carcase is a commonly seen mark on historic furniture.  Today this mark is easily understood, even by someone with no training in furniture making.  Other marks can be baffling, a puzzle to those who have no connection to the trade. Marks on drawer sides and backs in furniture documented and attributed to the shop of John Head have confounded observers who are surprised by their boldness, variety of shapes, and seeming randomness. But examination of multiple chests of drawers from the shop shows there was a method and structure to the marks that, like other workshop practices in Head’s shop, contributed to the efficiency of making.


In order to understand the marking system we need to first understand that the shop is simultaneously making drawers that are the same height as well as drawers of varying heights. Those two groups needed to be differentiated. Read on for an explanation of  the shop markings on drawers from John Head’s shop.


The placement of the marks on drawers of furniture documented and attributed to the John Head shop do not vary. They are always placed on the exterior surfaces of backs and sides – at the center of backs at the top edge, and the at the rear of the sides, also at the top edge.  The long drawers at the left of the above image have a half-circle with a vertical slash on the backs.  The drawers at the middle of the image have a half-circle mark without the slash. This is one method by which multiple chests of drawers being made at the same time could be kept separate.


Marks on the sides of the long drawers could be similar from drawer to drawer because drawer parts could be easily identified by their different heights.  In the above image, all three long drawers from the same chest have V marked on one side.  What the mark was – its shape or design – was unimportant, what was important was its placement at the top rear on the exterior surface.  The reason for this is discussed below.


In the above image, the proper right drawer in the top tier of a chest of drawers attributed to John Head’s shop has chalk shop marks at the same locations as seen in the previous images.


It is imperative that the marks on the proper left drawer of similar height in the same chest be different as the drawer parts would not be interchangeable during joint cutting or assembly.  It doesn’t matter what the marks are – only that there are different marks on the corresponding parts of same size drawers.


Views of both sides of three drawers of the same height from the same chest show how this system works.  The marks on each side of a drawer are identical but each drawer uses a different mark on the sides.  The drawer on top has a complex circular design, the mark on the middle drawer is a double slash, and the bottom drawer has a mark.  The marks on the backs of the drawers are all different as well, unlike the long drawers of different heights seen in the images above.  Head routinely paired side V marks with half-circles on the back and has done that here on the bottom drawer.  On the other two drawers, the same mark on the sides is used on the backs.

Head’s shop only needed a limited set of marks to identify drawer parts.  A V, a double vertical slash, a half-circle, a half-circle with a vertical slash, and a complex circular design.  These marks, their design and placement,  is one of the features that must be present for an chest to be attributed to the shop of John Head.


The marks on drawers from Head’s shop show how parts for individual drawers were kept distinct and they also give insight to the Head’s working method.  The placement of the marks reveal that the exterior surface and upper edge of drawer sides and backs were registration surfaces.  When woodworking with hand-tools, typically a face and edge of a board are brought to square and marked, sometimes with a mark on both face and edge, and sometimes as Head did, with the face mark placed adjacent to its squared edge.  Placing the marks on the exterior surfaces of the drawer parts towards the back of the drawer ensured they would not be visible when the drawer was ultimately in use by the consumer.


Many woodworkers mark and cut dovetail joints with the exterior, or show, surface facing them.  This mark placement gives you the advantage of always knowing what drawer part you’re working on and how it will be oriented during assembly.  In the image above, the V mark tells me that I have a side piece in the vise – not a back, whose marks are always at the center – that I have correctly laid out the dovetails on the show surface, that I’m cutting the dovetails at the back of the drawer, and that the top edge of the board is to my right.  A lot of information from a single chalk mark. (A penciled V in this case.)


The cuts to be made in the back and front for the dovetail recesses are transferred from the dovetails cut at the ends of the sides.  The shop marks make orienting the parts during this process easy to accomplish.  While reproducing a drawer from the spice box attributed to Head, shown in the image above, I instantly knew how to orient the back of the drawer and which side piece to place on it to mark the dovetails  (Undoubtedly, the hardwood drawer fronts were also marked, but the marks would be removed prior to finish being applied.)


At a glance, I can tell the drawer part in the image above is a side, that it’s the proper left side, and that I’m looking at the dovetails that are fit to the back of the drawer, not the front.  I also know which edge to round over before assembly.


Drawer parts were somewhat loosely fit to their openings in a carcase while the drawer front was carefully trimmed, allowing for only a slight gap around the opening.  The  front and back were joined to the sides such that they extend just slightly past dovetails, the dovetails of the sides extend at least a sixteenth of an inch past the back with glue squeeze out often visible.  Head did not plane the exterior surfaces of his drawers to clean them up or to fit them to the carcase.  That was an extra step Head, and most of his contemporaries, would likely have considered a waste of valuable time.  So the shop marks survive and a way of working wood that would have been lost can be reclaimed.  This way of marking drawers is part woodworking history but it is also a technique that works extremely well, is easy to teach and learn, and can be used by cabinetmakers today as another way to introduce efficiency in the process of drawer making.

Make a mark – leave a mark.



In January 2009, Christie’s, New York, sold a small spice box described in their catalogue as a Chippendale Walnut Spice Cabinet, Probably Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1740-1780.  Christie’s was not familiar with aspects of design and construction that could be found in work documented to John Head’s shop and missed an opportunity to attribute the spice box to a maker, place its manufacture in Philadelphia, and assign it a date of 1735 or 1736 based on entries in Head’s account book recording the sale of two spice boxes.  Examination of the spice box during the auction preview proved the design, materials, construction, and shop markings precisely reflected work documented and attributed to Head’s shop. Head, as did many of his contemporary joiners in Philadelphia, used hard pine for drawer sides and backs and riven white cedar for bottoms. Large white chalk shop marks for drawer part orientation are present on the all the drawers and are identical in design and placement to the marks on the documented Wistar family high chest and dressing table.  John Head’s shop made drawers that ran on their bottom boards as well as drawers with a deeper rebate on the drawer front allowing supporting runners to be added at the sides. The drawers of this spice box are made in the first, less expensive manner, the drawer bottoms are nailed to a rebate in the front and to the bottom edge of the sides and backs. Friction between a drawer bottom and dust-board was not a concern on such small drawers. The cornice and base mouldings on furniture attributed to Head are relatively simple and reflect the efficiency of Head’s design and production.  The cornice and base moulding on the spice box are smaller versions of the mouldings seen on other objects attributed to his shop. The design of the foot facings – made as one piece with the base moulding – is used on a clock case attributed to Head’s shop and, interestingly, in the design of the valances fit above the recesses in the writing compartment of the only desk that can be attributed to Head. (The lower half of the feet are later additions.) The long saw-kerfs extending past the gauged line on the interior surfaces of the drawer fronts are present, as they are on all lap-dovetails in furniture documented and attributed to Head.  Small drawers are arranged symmetrically around a center square drawer. The top tier is divided into two drawers but the brass placement on the long bottom drawer mirrors the pull placement on the top drawers allowing for a delightful, strictly symmetrical pattern of drawer pulls. The nine pulls, door escutcheon, door lock, and pair of decoratively shaped door hinges would have contributed substantially to the cost of the box.

Walnut spice box attributed to the shop of John Head. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1735. Christie’s, January, 2009.

Walnut spice box attributed to the shop of John Head. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1735. Christie’s, January, 2009.

Walnut spice box attributed to the shop of John Head. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1735. Christie’s, January, 2009.

Walnut spice box attributed to the shop of John Head. Made in Philadelphia, c. 1735. Christie’s, January, 2009.

These are the shortest drawer fronts having lap-dovetail joinery in Head’s surviving work.  The drawers on either side of the center drawer are just a few inches square. This presents a dilemma if we want to take our saw-kerfs past the scribe line when sawing the dovetail recesses on the drawer front.  How is the drawer front held when making the saw cuts? Even without extending the saw-kerfs, it is impossible to hold the drawer front in a vise the way described in every woodworking instructional treatise from the beginning of the 20th century to the present that I have consulted.

“Woodwork Joints” by William Fairham, 1921. This is how we are taught boards are to be held in a vise when cutting dovetail recesses for lap-dovetails.

“Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking” Tage Frid, 1979. Here Frid is sawing a lap-dovetail with a frame saw. The board is raised high in the vise. The arm and wrist are contorted, cutting at an extreme angle, and the saw must avoid striking the vise jaw and bench. Frid shows the use of a thin metal blade to slice the wood that would be cut if the saw-kerfs had been extended past the gauge line.

The images below demonstrate why John Head could not have positioned his drawer fronts in a vise as shown in the previous illustrations to make his saw cuts.  Instead, he likely rotated the drawer front 90 degrees, orienting the front of the drawer towards himself, angling the board for a better view of the gauged lines on the edge and allowing the tooth-line of the saw to remain parallel to the floor, just as when sawing through dovetails.  Problem solved. The drawer front is held securely in the vise, the jaws of the vise do not get in the way of the saw, and you can extend the saw-kerfs as far across the drawer front as you desire.  The most important scribe lines, those on the end grain of the drawer front, can be more easily seen and followed than when the drawer is held in any other configuration.

The saw blade is about to hit the jaw of the vise just as cutting begins. Extended saw-kerfs cannot be cut holding a board in this orientation.

Rotating the board 90 degrees with the inside surface of the board facing you still results in the saw striking the vise jaws and bench. The gauged lines are also difficult to see.

The board is held in the vise by its edges but has now been rotated 180 degrees. Gauge lines are visible and there are no restrictions when cutting long, extended saw-kerfs.  The saw blade is parallel to floor, there is no contortion of the wrist or arm, it is a natural sawing position.

It is impossible to make saw cuts like these holding a board in the “traditional” manner.

This is the payoff of extended saw-kerfs. I chopped nearly all of the waste from the dovetail recesses with no difficulty removing wood from the deep corners of the recesses.

This way of holding boards has an added advantage to a joiner working without electric lighting in their shop. If your bench is placed in front of a window, the side of a board facing you is in shadow when held in the conventional way.  But when rotated, a raking light falls across the joint you’re cutting, illuminating the lines you’re cutting to. I can see no other way these small drawers could have been held while the joints were sawn. The advantages of this method would also apply to long drawers of full size case pieces. Even when not extending the saw-kerf past the scribe line, I find this way of holding boards when working lap-dovetails beneficial for all the reasons cited above.

The completed drawer with a flush nailed on bottom. Head did not plane the exterior surfaces of drawers after they were assembled as we tend to do today.  This left the chalk shop marks intact.  Drawer bottoms were cut to length after being nailed on.  They were often left long and used as drawer stops.

In this orientation, the drawer illustrates Head’s carcase construction. Install three horizontal drawer dividers, throw on a cornice and base moulding, add feet, and you have the carcase for a chest of drawers.


John Head and his journeymen and apprentices knew how to make boxes.  They made scores and scores of boxes; carcases of chest on chests, high chests and dressing tables, spice boxes, desks, 4-tier chests of drawers, or the drawers they contained.  Hundreds of “boxes” were produced by joiners in the Head shop from the end of the 1710s to the mid 1740s. They needed to make them quickly and efficiently. Examination of carcases and the drawers in them documented and attributed to the John Head shop  show us some of the ways they did this. In many respects, their dovetailed box production was similar to the majority of work done in most British and British colonial shops but several of Head’s ways of working reveal he was ready to break with aesthetic tradition to produce boxes more quickly than his competitors.  Head may have had training in veneering carcase work before he immigrated to Philadelphia, but after he arrived here he would only work with solid wood carcases and drawer fronts. This required lapped, or half-blind, dovetails cut at the front corners of drawers, the top of chests, and the front and rear corners of dressing tables, as these joints would not be covered with veneer and the end grain of the dovetails would otherwise have shown in the finished work.

High chest and dressing table, made in Philadelphia, 1726, by John Head for the German immigrant Caspar Wistar and his wife Catherine Johnson (or Jansen) Wistar at the time of their marriage. Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Solid black walnut carcase and drawer construction.  Lapped dovetails at the drawer fronts, at the top of the upper case of the high chest, and at the front and back of the dressing table carcase.

Chest of drawers, attributed to John Head, Philadelphia, circa 1725.  Chests of drawers were constructed in an identical manner to the upper carcases of high chests of drawers. The sides of the chest are lap-dovetailed to the top.  In other words, the dovetails are cut on the sides and the pins are cut on the top board.  The cornice moulding covers the joint along the sides.

Most important for efficiency in producing carcase work with drawers was the fact that in Head’s shop, carcase construction and drawer construction were nearly identical.  If you taught an apprentice how to design, mark out, and construct a drawer with a lapped dovetail front, that would be all they needed to learn to produce any carcase or drawer in the future, for the carcase is just a drawer stood on end and turned round.  The front of a drawer corresponds to the top of a carcase, the sides of the drawer correspond to sides of the carcase, and the back of the drawer, to the bottom of the carcase. The bottom of the drawer is equivalent to the back of the carcase.  This is not particular to Head’s shop, other joiners worked this way. But many British joiners making veneered carcases cut the dovetails on the top and bottom boards of a carcase. Head reversed this so the dovetails were cut on the side boards so that the dovetails were lapped to the top and not visible when looking at the top board of a chest of drawers, high chest, or spice box, making the construction of a carcase equivalent to that of a drawer.

The sides of the upper carcase of this high chest are lap-dovetailed to the three board walnut top. As with the previous chest, the cornice covers the joints at the sides.

Anyone who cuts lapped dovetails knows the greater difficulty in removing the waste of the dovetail recesses in the pin board then when cutting through dovetails.  To decrease the difficulty, Head continued his saw kerf well past the gauged line on the interior surface of the drawer front. Other joiners did this as well and it is sometimes seen in London work but it is rare any joiner exceeds the lengths of Heads kerf cuts which often extend over two-and-a-half inches past his gauged layout line.  Many joiners chose not to saw past the gauge line for what must only be aesthetic reasons.  And no woodworking student has been taught to run saw kerfs past the gauge line for many decades.  Even slight over-cuts are today considered sloppy work.

Drawer from a chest of drawers attributed to John Head. Kerf cuts on the interior surface of the drawer front extending several inches past the gauged or scribed line that indicates how far the side is set into the end of the drawer front.

Kerfs extending nearly a third of the way across the interior of the drawer front. Head and the other joiners in his shop routinely sawed the dovetail recesses in the drawer front in this manner allowing the waist then chopped out of the recesses to be removed more quickly. Head’s customers obviously accepted this appearance, the outcome of his method of working.

Not all of Head’s contemporaries over-cut the gauged lines on their drawers.

With the enormous amount of carcase and drawer work produced in Head’s shop, there would have been many occasions when more than one chest was being constructed at the same time.  The chalk shop markings seen at the back of drawers on Head’s documented work and work attributed to his shop, facilitated an efficient work flow. Not only did they help identify the numerous drawer sides and backs in piles on the bench waiting to be worked into drawers, but the size and shape of the markings helped in quickly identifying and orienting the parts during joint cutting.

Chalk shop marks occur on the exterior surfaces of the backs and sides of all drawers documented and attributed to the Head shop. Four drawn shapes are associated with the shop.

Similarly placed, but differently shaped chalk marks appear on another drawer from the chest in the previous image.

Other shops besides Head’s used drawer part identification systems, at times on the exterior surfaces as Head did, but also on interior surfaces.  Sequentially numbering the interior corners of the drawer parts was, and still is, a common way of orienting drawer parts.  Here it is done in white chalk as Head’s shop used.

This joiner used pencil to to sequentially number the drawer parts. Most of the time the numerals are found at the tops of the drawer parts.

In the next post I’ll make a small drawer in the style of John Head as a way of investigating the drawer construction process.  How was the drawer front supported while sawing, how were the shop marks used to rapidly select and position drawer parts during joinery and assembly?  Knowing vs. Doing?  Doing is Knowing?

This is the center square drawer from a spice box attributed to John Head I will reproduce for the next blog post.

The center drawer from the spice box. Chalk shop marks and long kerfs on the drawer front interiors.  I’ve made many boxes and cut hundreds of dovetail joints in my woodworking career, but we’re always learning.  So perhaps the better title for next time is “Doing is Learning.”


993790On April 25, 2018 Freeman’s sold a black walnut chest-on-stand with a provenance in the Moon family of Lower Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  For the third time in a year and a half, Freeman’s, had offered at auction a previously unpublished furniture form made in the Delaware River Valley in the first quarter of the eighteenth century.  A spice box sold in December 2016 and a chest of drawers followed in November 2017.

Very few chest-on-stands made in the Delaware River Valley survive and less than a handful have been published.  This contrasts with the much greater number of surviving high chests made in the region in the first decades of the eighteenth century. The Moon family chest-on stand is in some ways stylistically similar to high chests from this region. Both the case of drawers and the frame it sits on use dovetailed box construction while the case of drawers of three other published chest-on-stands are constructed with frame and panel sides that sit on mortise and tenoned frames.

One feature of construction the Freeman’s chest shares with the frame and panel chests is the way in which the interior drawer supports and dust-boards are formed.  The dust-boards sit slightly below the runners at the side and the drawer dividing rail at the front.  This allows the nailed-on flush drawer bottoms to run on the side runners without binding on the dust-boards.  The bottom does continue to run on the three-inch-deep front rail. The solution in British case forms to the flush drawer bottoms binding on the dust-boards and front rail was to move the bottom up into the drawer and add runner strips at the sides of the drawer bottom.  John Head was taught this manner of construction during his apprenticeship in England, roughly 1702-1709, and continued to employ it after he arrived in Philadelphia in 1717. The joiner of the Moon family persisted in fashioning “first-phase”, nailed-on flush bottom drawers after other joiners had adopted raised drawer bottoms with glued-on runners.  He did however, understand the impediment to a smoothly running drawer this created and crafted his own, if partial, solution.

I’ve called this form a chest-on-stand because a chest of drawers is placed on a frame with a single long drawer.  But how was this frame originally supported?  Currently the lower frame is fitted with six small turned feet as opposed to a taller turned legs joined by flat stretchers with turned feet below seen on contemporary chest-on-stands and high chests.  The feet are fit to the frame with separate dowels that pass through the feet and into holes bored in glue blocks at the corners of the frame.

The top board of the chest is hard pine.

The back of the lower carcase showing the dovetail box construction.

The bottom of one of the small drawers in the upper case. The riven Atlantic white cedar drawer bottom is nailed to the sides and back and a rabbet in the front. All the drawers are similarly constructed. A faint trace of the missing spring lock can be seen at the center/front.

The sides of the drawers are hard pine and many of the dovetails are wedged.

Another drawer side. The wedges are fit both to the center of the pins and along side them.

Drawer part orientation markings in chalk are visible on the exterior surfaces of drawers.

Interior of the upper case. The dustboards sit below the drawer runners at the sides.

A label on the interior with family history recorded.

Another inscription written on a dustboard in the upper case.

Underside of the lower carcase.


Detail of a turned foot.


Mouldings are pegged to the chest.

The interiors of the drawer fronts show no saw-kerfing extending past the sides.


Side view.

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

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

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

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 gifts for self-promotion and 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).