Unfinished Research

Carpenters’ Company Records

I took that picture in 2004 or 5 in London. Back when I was in museum work, I was researching the Joiners’ Company Records, looking for the names of London joiners who went to New England. This image however is from the Carpenters’ Company records, it’s too long a story to go into now. I eventually published a little of that research – I recently re-found it online here https://www.incollect.com/articles/connecting-a-london-trained-joiner-to-1630s-plymouth-colony

But I have spent part of this morning looking back on a different article I worked on for years but never finished and thus never published. The subject was too broad – and kept going off in great tangents – it was to be about 17th-century apprenticeships, journeymen and the trade “companies” of London (and elsewhere in England). Apprenticeships of course were used here in New England too, but the other components -journeymen and trade companies (today we’d call them “guilds”) didn’t really transfer over here. So I opened my notes from reading The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History by A.C. Stanley-Stone, (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925) 

van Vliet’s turner, 1635

 “ …no person using the misterie (the craft) was to be allowed to be a master workman, or set up a shop for such work, until he had satisfied the Master, Wardens, and Assistants that he had served seven years as apprentice and two years as a journeyman, and had also made such pieces of work as might be comanded.”

I take this to mean that a turner working within the city limits had to show his “indentures” – papers proving he’d served his time, additionally, at times he might be directed to make what the company elsewhere refers to as a “proof piece.”  Here’s two examples of these situations: 

“11th November 1614  Lawrence Clarke was fined £3 for setting up his shop without having served two years as a journeyman and was directed to make for his proof piece a linen wheel and bring it to the Hall. On the same day, Thomas Fawken…was ordered to make for his proof piece a man’s arm stool.”

What an “arm stool” is I don’t know. Today we don’t think of stools as having backs, let alone arms. But backstool is a common term in 17th century England and New England. This might be the only time I’ve seen the term arm stool.

Back to Stanley-Stone’s book:   

“There was a certain amount of fear that some of the proof pieces produced by applicants for membership might have been made by someone other than the applicant, and to meet this, on the 20th May 1617 it was ordered that there should be a lathe, a cutting block, and a winding block set up in the warehouse to make the proof pieces by such as were appointed to make them. The lathe had not yet been set up on the 13th July 1617 when Richard Chamberlain was ordered to make…a high stool for a child.” 

Well, I know what a lathe is – and I’m pretty sure what a “cutting block” is – but the winding block I still don’t know & won’t guess.

Moxon, pole lathe

Randle Holme illustrated a turner’s chopping block, described as a “Block is made of Elme tree, or some other Soft wood set on three feet. Some Turners use in stead a peece of a trunk of a tree of a foot and a halfe high or more from the flore.”

Randle Hole, turners’ chopping block

I’m glad for these histories of the trade companies – but it’s important to keep in mind that the author(s) are at times quoting the period records, at other times summarizing them. There’s one I’ve used many times – this record about the Company seizing chairs – 

“20th February 1615 It was directed that the makers of chairs about the City, who were strangers and foreigners, were to bring them to the Hall to be searched according to the ordinances. When they were thus brought and searched, they were to be bought by the Master and Wardens at a price fixed by them, which was 6s per dozen for plain matted chairs and 7s per dozen for turned matted chairs. The effect of such an order…all chairs which came into London had to be submitted to the Company and if approved, were taken over at the fixed price. The Turners reaped the benefit by the removal of possible competition.”

The definition of the word “foreigner” varied quite a bit, in some cases it refers to  “persons not owing allegience to the British crown,” in other cases, a countryman come into London for work, “non-freemen of the city and Companies.” In either sense a foreigner was often treated harshly. These notes are from E. B. Jupp, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, (London, Pickering & Chatto, 1887). “The former were constantly the objects of popular persecution, and sometimes fell victims in the unequal struggle. The latter were obliged to take up their freedom, or were fined for daring to exercise their calling.”

These chairmakers bring their chairs to the city, thinking to sell them, but the Company seizes them & pays for them at prices determined by the Company!  Then there’s the whole “plain matted chairs” versus “turned matted chairs” issue. I have taken this to mean some of these chairs are shaved rather than turned. Matted chairs have fiber seats, often rushes. I used to make versions of them based on a few surviving examples and Dutch art – & collaborated with Bob Trent & Jennie Alexander on this article about that type of chair – https://chipstone.org/images.php/581/American-Furniture-2008/Early-American-Shaved-Post-and-Rung-Chairs

PF rush-seated chair, before 2003

A common problem was turners working for joiners or carpenters. One fear was that the joiners or carpenters were learning to turn their own work. And it seems the Company would look the other way if a fine was paid:

“12th November 1622  William Gryme was charged for putting his apprentice to work at the trade of Turning within a joiners to make Turner’s work for the joiner, and was ordered to take him home … 6th July 1630…Christopher Bere was charged with working in a joiner’s house and teaching them the trade of Turning.”  

“…it was ordered that every Turner who worked and turned in the shop or other rooms of any Joiner, Carpenter, or Coachmaker should pay ten shillings for every week he should continue so working after being warned.”

Stent panel, England, early 17th century

Outside of the city, joiners and turners worked side-by-side – or were even one person. The well-known Stent panel clearly is not London-made – or if it is, then a fine was paid for these two workmen to be working together. When I first learned about the London Companies, or trade guilds, I thought they were nice succinct packages – turners here, joiners there, that sort of thing. But one catch is that a tradesman only needs to be a member of a London Company – it doesn’t have to be the one aligned with his trade. 

“7th March 1625…complaint of the Master and Wardens of the Company of Turners against Richard Newberrie and others free of the Company of Salters, but using the trade of a Turner, for making, as they alleged, “insufficient bandeleeres” and for refusing to bring their wares to the…Turners Hall…”

Another of Stanley-Stone’s summaries is worth looking at:

“18th February 1629…a Petition…that the Company of Turners “is verie smale,” and consisted altogether of “handy trades men”; that within the last five years about thirty householders free of other Companies had earned a living by turnery, and were not under government as regards their trade, but took as many apprentices as they liked to the great harm of the Company of Turners…”

Early Planemakers of London

That can really throw a monkey wrench in research. If you wanted to know about joiners in London at that time – you’d think if you learned all about the Joiners Company, you’d be covered. But somehow you have to cast your net wider. The most detailed example of this sort of thing is the book Early Planemakers of London: Recent Discoveries in the Tallow Chandlers and the Joiners Companies by Don & Anne Wing (the Mechanick’s Workbench, Marion, Massachusetts, 2005) The Wings got through this problem backwards – they found an “early” plane marked with the name John Gilgrest – and by searching his name found him listed in the Tallow Chandlers Company – the whole story (as of 2005) is outlined in their excellent book. 

A trip down memory lane

My kids, as part of an on-line history class, are watching the PBS series Colonial House. I keep interrupting to say “I made that [chair/chest/stool/table/bench/bed]” etc. The museum where my wife & I (& most of our friends) used to work collaborated on the project – the period carpenters built the houses, I made the furniture – that sort of thing. I think we worked on it in 2002/3.

screen capture from Colonial House

I’ve been sorting through old files here at the same time – and have run into some turned chair photos from 15 or more years ago. The chair above (with a servant sitting in it, while the head of the household sits on who-knows-what) is made from ash, with oak slats and a rush seat. Here it is when I photographed it back at the museum – after the series was done shooting. I “made it up” – by that I mean it’s not a copy of any particular chair from the early 17th century. I measured chairs when I could, studied a lot of Dutch art – and then came up with something plausible.

Ash & oak turned chair

It’s made using techniques I learned when making chairs with Jennie Alexander and Drew Langsner – some basic principles still apply. All the wood is riven and then turned green. I used to dry the rungs near the potters’ kilns then – and I bent those slats before they went in the chair. Below is a typical press or form for bending slats. JA didn’t use this setup because the slats of her chairs each have a different bend.

slat-bending press

This is a different chair – but here I’m boring it vertically – with a spoon bit. Those large-diameter posts are an easier target than JA’s 1 1/4″ posts. More room for forgiveness.

boring with a spoon bit

Assembled the front & back first, then bored & fit the sides together. That top rung (in my hand) is not turned, but just shaved. The seating will cover it.

knocking the front section together

The other extreme is the shaved chair pictured here – another screen shot – same notion; using techniques from working with JA I often made these simple chairs – shaved & hewn posts, left square. Mortises made with a spoon bit and tenons shaved at a shaving horse. Rush seat. At this fellow’s right foot is something that never seems to have actually made it to New England – a three-legged board-seated turned stool. I got real interested in making them and the chairs with the same construction. But probably shouldn’t have. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to have been made here. The 3-legged turned chairs are found a lot in England – but not New England.

a “plain” chair with a rush seat

Four-legged versions are found in New England – some years ago I made this copy of a famous one at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth. Ash with an oak seat. Heavier than all get-out. Pilgrim Hall has a couple of them – worth a look when you’re in town – https://pilgrimhall.org/

PF copy of Gov Bradford’s chair

I hope this photo below is a test-fit to get the size of the seat. The seat is a beveled panel that fits in grooves in all four seat rails, so it has to go in during assembly.

test-assembly

And for scale – here’s one of my JA chairs beside my copy of Bradford’s chair. Yes, that JA chair is the standard-size, 34″ tall. Note the seat height of both is about the same.

two chairs, 2018

a reminder & some wainscot chair photos

Yesterday I went shopping for some quartersawn oak for my carving class this spring at Lost Art Press – this is the reminder that tickets for that go on sale tomorrow, Thursday Jan 12 at 10am eastern time. https://www.tickettailor.com/events/covingtonmechanicals/827443/#

Today I’ve been shifting those boards around trying to find space to store them in the shop. More of that tomorrow. By mid-afternoon I had enough and turned to some housekeeping in my photo files. I was trying to organize the folder “chairs” – I think I have “boxes” mostly sorted. I found a chair I totally forgot about that has some carvings on it that might show up in that class.

detail PF chair 2013

This is a chair I “made up” = in that it’s not a copy of any particular 17th century wainscot chair. I took the measurements from a surviving chair, but super-imposed carvings on it from here & there. I made this back when I worked in a local living history museum, but have no memory of what it was for, where it went, etc. It’s certainly the last one I made there.

PF wainscot chair 2013

The format of the chair was taken from one I copied some years before that. Made in Hingham, Massachusetts, descended in the Lincoln family – this is my copy of that chair – now in the public library there. You can go sit in it if you like.

Lincoln chair, red oak, walnut & maple

That carving in that chair is unlike most others – most of it is done with just a V-tool. Maple & walnut inlay for the barber pole accents.

carved panels and crest rail Lincoln chair

These chairs are beastly to sit it. Worse to lump around the house, they weigh a lot. I made one in 2020 that I kept here, much to my family’s chagrin. It’s the best carving I’ve ever done – so I’m hanging on to it. This one is almost a verbatim copy of 2 chairs attributed to Thomas Dennis – one at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and the other at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. I have made 4 versions of it – this time I made up the rear panel and changed the crest rail’s pattern a bit.

PF wainscot chair 2020

Here’s the panel.

panel, PF wainscot chair, 2020

One of the exercises in that class in April will hopefully be strapwork – the carvings with the connective bands running through them – like the vertical panels in the first chair – or the top rail of this chair

strapwork carving on top rail, crest rail above that

But for a comfortable wainscot chair, nothing beats this next one – another chair I made a few times. I guess I made this one about 20 or more years ago. Bob Trent showed me the original it’s based on and that led to me writing an article about it once. https://chipstone.org/article.php/347/American-Furniture-1998/A-Seventeenth-Century-Carpenter%E2%80%99s-Conceit:-The-Waldo-Family-Joined-Great-Chair

But the carving on this is nothing to speak of – the others have so much space to fill. This one is different in many ways.

3 legged wainscot chair

Carving class at LAP in April 2023

UPDATE – Got a note from Megan, they’ll announce it on their blog tomorrow (Thursday Jan 5th) and sales will go live on Thursday January 12th at 10am eastern time.

I just sent Megan the details on a 4-day carving class I’m going to teach at Lost Art Press in Covington, KY starting on Monday April 17th. She’s going to post it soon on their blog – (maybe later today) so watch that space if you’d like to come bang around on a bunch of oak. https://blog.lostartpress.com/

Space is limited to 6 students. This class will allow us enough time to delve into some stuff that I usually don’t get to – maybe you want to try strapwork like that above – or a panel like this one below:

carved panel

We’ll cover a lot of ground in that time – I’ll have my usual pile of reference materials and carving samples. Some will want “ear defenders”! Details to come on https://blog.lostartpress.com/

Video trailer and drawings-sale extended

I knew Jennie Alexander for almost 40 years and worked closely with her for 30 of them. About 10 years ago I started making versions of her chair again and then after her death in 2018 I collaborated with other friends as Lost Art Press put together the 3rd edition of her book Make a Chair from a Tree. As she would say, “It’s been quite a journey.”

I’m planning a vimeo-on-demand series about making the chair and today put together a draft of an introductory section on the chair and some of JA’s ideas and techniques. Not sure how much of this will end up in the video itself – once I get talking I tend to go on & on. Right now I have rough edits of about 4 1/2 hours. Today I’m going to the shop to hopefully do the full assembly of the chair.

shaving chair parts

I’ll post updates on the progress, my goal is to have the full video done and available for purchase in the 2nd half of January. I expect it’ll be somewhere around 8-10 hours. I’ll have it all done at once, unlike my chest series that came out in dribs & drabs. Here’s the intro draft

CHEST PLANS & CARVING DRAWINGS

The chest plans and carving drawings have been on sale at a discounted price – as well as the video series on building the joined chest. I’m going to extend those prices til January 15. Details for the drawings are here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/ And for the video series – here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest

JA’s book is here https://lostartpress.com/products/make-a-chair-from-a-tree

The evening grosbeak and her allies are wolfing down the birdseed, so the proceeds will help keep my feeders full.

evening grosbeak, female

Beginning the 2nd hundred boxes

Shot some proper photos today of the carved boxes I made recently, before they’re out of my hands this week. These ain’t oak – they’re butternut with pine tops & bottoms.

RF box, butternut, oak & pine

I’m not a terribly organized person but sometimes I wish I was. Lately I’ve been trying to organize/catalog the furniture I’ve made. I’ve made some headway with the carved boxes – the two here are #s 103 and 104 of boxes I have photographs of – I know there’s easily two dozen that “got away” without photos. Maybe more. Every now & then I think “Oh, yea, I made so & so a box…” – I used to be called on to make them as presentations at the museum where I used to work.

RF box, till

Mostly I make them up – by that I mean I’m not copying an existing box but using techniques and designs from the period pieces I have studied over the years. Most New England ones, with a few exceptions, are not carved on the sides. Seems such a waste, I almost always carve mine there. Mine are glued and pegged at the rabbeted corners, most, but not all, period ones are nailed. When I’m copying an existing box, I use what that box used – nails, pegs, hinges, etc.

RF box, side view

I almost always make a wooden “pintle” hinge. I learned that hinge from studying some old boxes, but I’ve only seen it on a few period boxes. Most have iron hinges I call “gimmals” – usually now called snipe-bill hinges. Here they are on a chest https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/setting-gimmals-you-might-know-them-as-snipe-bills/

here’s the companion to the box above –

DF box

And its till, the lid of which was a leftover practice piece.

DF box till

And just for the completists, the end

DF box, end view

Here’s an example from about 4 or 5 years ago of copying an existing box as best I can – some construction, decoration, etc. But I told you I’m not terribly organized – I made two versions of this – but only have notes of one going to a customer. But they’re both gone. Time to go sifting through my records some more…

box w drawer

thoughts at the lathe

lower case pillar

I spent some time at the lathe recently, starting to turn the pillars for the lower case of my cupboard. (here’s a look at last year’s version to show you where these go https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2021/11/19/test-fitting-the-pillars/ )

While I was turning this pillar, I got to thinking about Nehemiah Wallington (1598-1658). I often prattle on about how we don’t know what period makers or users had to say about the furniture, the work – any of it. Except for Wallington. He was a turner in London, clinically depressed and obsessive about writing his thoughts in notebooks. Several of which have survived. Maybe 25 or so years ago I read a book called Wallington’s World: A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth-Century London by Paul Seaver. Seaver pored through the available notebooks and captured a lot of Wallington’s thoughts. So at this point, all I have is Seaver’s filter – what he chose to capture and put in his book. He does sometimes touch on Wallington’s work – a little. A little is better than nothing. The first thing I remember is this – he didn’t care for it.

From Seaver’s book, my emphasis: On one occasion Wallington confessed: “At night after examination how I have spent the day, after a chapter read I went to prayer with my family; then I went into my shop to my employment more out of conscience to God’s commands than of any love I had unto it.”

Mostly Seaver makes note of Wallington citing hazards in the shop – another Seaver quote, partially quoting Wallington:

“…but the shop in particular remained a place of danger. On a Saturday late in November 1630, when all but the infant Samuel were in the shop – Wallington and his father, Grace and little Sarah, and the two apprentices, Obediah Seeley and Theophilus Ward – who was showing chairs in the back room, dislodged a heavy one with his “bustling” about, apparently one at the top of a stack, which crashed down into the shop through the doorway and demolished a powdering tub that Wallington was in the process of selling to another customer. “It was God’s great mercy that it hit none of us, for if it had, it would have maimed us, if not killed us.”

Well, I’ve made some heavy chairs that could kill if they fell on people.

PF copy of Gov Bradford’s chair

But I’d love to know more about Wallington’s – and what a stack of chairs looks like. They don’t stack well. And how about showing a customer a tub when all of a sudden a chair falls on it & destroys it? Pretty exciting shopping experience.

One more –

two years later while “my sweet child Sarah was playing in the shop, and as I was shewing of bed staves” to a customer, a huge ash log, propped against the wall, was dislodged and fell towards Sarah and “had I not by God’s providence caught hold of it – it would have knocked her down and killed her” 

Wallington’s father John was Master of the Turner’s Company of London for some years. Nehemiah entered the Company through patrimony, that is, his father was in the company so he in turn could be. He didn’t finish his apprenticeship, but once he settled down he remained working in his trade throughout the rest of his life. I was thinking about him selling a powdering tub – a term usually referring to a tub for salting meat – Randle Holme is probably being facetious when he describes a doctor’s tub as a powdering tub –

Doctor’s tub

…a Doctors Tub, (otherwise calle a Cleansing Tub,) Hooped. In this Pockifyed and such Diseased Persons, are for a certain time put into, to Stew, not to Boyl up to an height, but to Par-boyl); from which Diseases of Morbus Gallicus, Noli me tangere, Miserere mei, &c. and from such a Purgatory, Libera nos Domine; let it be the Prayers of all good people to be delivered from such a Poudering Tub.”

The bigger question there for me is what is a turner doing selling tubs? Assuming they’re coopered, I would think the coopers would have something to say about it. We know turners sold lots of goods not made in their shops. Wallington mentions several times buying wares from “chapmen” – who traveled into the city selling goods to shop-keepers.

The Turners’ Company ordinances of 1608 run down a lot of the possible items to be found in turner’s shops – not necessarily made there. These documents always sound like they’re written by lawyers – but they’re an interesting look at the period just the same:

“The Master & Wardens together with so many of the Assistants as they shall appoint shall four times in the year or oftener if necessary at convenient times, enter into the Shops, Sollars, Cellars, Booths and Warehouses of any person using the Misterie who shall make, buy, or sell anything thereunto apertaining within the City or suburbs, either Free or Foreign, there to search & survey all manner of Bushel measures, Wood Wares, Works, and also their Journeymen, Servants & apprentices and all their staffs & workmanship and if in their search they shall find any shovels, scoops, busheltrees, washing bowls, chairs, wheels, pails, trays, truggers, wares, wooden measures or any other commodities belonging to the Misterie slightly or not substantially & workmanly wrought with good and sound stuff or any other matter of abuse or misdemeanor, either in Master, Mistress, Apprentice, or Servants, it shall be lawful for those making the search, to seize and carry away the same faulty & deceitful wares, into their Common Hall, that the same may be considered & defaced if cause shall appear and the Master, Wardens & Assistants or the greater part of them may assess a reasonable fine upon the offender so as it exceed not 40 shillings for any one offence, so that others may be warned from making or selling deceitful ware to the discredit of the Misterie, and if any whether free or foreign, be found disobedient to the Master Wardens and Assistants or any three of them in any of their searches, he or they shall be fined not exceeding 40 shillings for every offence.”   (The Worshipful Company of Turners of London – Its Origin and History A.C. Stanley-Stone, (London: Lindley-Jones & Brother, 1925) pp. 264-5.

They left out pulleys and blocks – both of which were found in great quantities in London. Other records from the Company make frequent mention of block-makers/pulley-makers. A wood carving from Rotterdam in that period shows a block-maker’s shop

blockmaker’s sign, 1690s Rotterdam

And look – there above the lathe, the skew chisel

detail, blockmaker’s sign

Then I got to thinking about how guilty Wallington must have felt when he cursed after losing control of a skew chisel. All it takes is a fraction of a section’s inattention…shit, we’ve all done it.

skew finish

I got away with it yesterday.

LINKS

Here’s the link to more about the carved sign https://museumrotterdam.nl/collectie/item/11320

Some of Wallington’s notebooks have been transcribed. The hardcover is too rich for my taste, I did get a kindle rental (I hate reading that way & have hardly ever done it) – and found no references to his work yet. I got the kindle rental through amazon. Here’s the hardcover https://www.amazon.com/Notebooks-Nehemiah-Wallington-1618-1654-Selection/dp/075465186X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1671548053&sr=8-1

The manuscript notebook I got through here https://www.englishcivilwar.org/2011/11/diary-of-nahemiah-wallington-available.html and here https://luna.manchester.ac.uk/luna/servlet/view/search?q=wallington&os=0&pgs=50&res=1

William Savell, Sr. and his sons John & William

“To tables stooles chayres chests & wooden ware £08-04
to cart wheeles plow chaynes with joyners stuffe & ceder boults £19-03-06″

William Savell, Sr. probate inventory, 1669

Picking up the story of the Braintree chests I started in a previous post, here I’ll cover what we learned about the people who we think made them. The snippets of family histories pointed to the town of Braintree in Massachusetts Bay Colony as the place these works were made. Here’s the first post – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2022/12/12/a-look-at-the-braintree-joined-chests/

I should take a moment to tell you where 17th-century Braintree, Massachusetts was – it’s much smaller now than then. South of Boston, a coastal town. Its northern end was nearly up to the south side of the Neponset River below Dorchester, down to Weymouth and its western edge was over near the Blue Hills in Canton. It encompassed the present towns of Braintree, Quincy, Randolph and Holbrook. 

So the search turned to who in Braintree might have made them. We did this research the old way – pre-internet. In the early years of this project I didn’t even have a computer. Took notes long-hand. I started by reading the town records – births, deaths, marriages – looking for any indications of someone who did woodworking. Then I read all the probate records for the town by browsing through bound volumes of them in the state archives. I made notes of any furniture forms and tools listed for anyone in Braintree. (the woodworkers got condensed into an appendix in the article Alexander & I wrote – https://chipstone.org/article.php/222/American-Furniture-1996/Seventeenth-Century-Joinery-from-Braintree,-Massachusetts:-The-Savell-Shop-Tradition

I forget the order in which we found stuff and most of my notes on this research are filed away in deep storage. An early discovery was this from the Braintree Town Records:

“John Savil Joyner died 19-9-1687”

It’s the only mention of a joiner in the town records for the 17th century. John Savell was born in Braintree in 1642,  the eldest son of William Savell and his wife Hannah (Tidd). In 1694, a note of a payment the town made for one of its poor citizens:

“five pounds to John Belcher’s widow’s maintenance, and thirty shilings to Thomas Revill for keeping William Dimblebee, and twenty-five shilings for the ringing of the bel and sweping the meeting-hous in the year 1694, and eight shilings for mending the pound, seven shilings to William Savill for dimblebe’s cofin, and eight shilings to constables for warning the Town, and five shilings for the exchang of a Town cow to Samuel Speer, and ten shilings to Thomas Bas for dept for ringing the bell formerly, this to be raised by rate.”

The William Savell who made Dimblebee’s coffin was the youngest son of William Savell. He was born in 1652 – (not 1650 as the town records cite.) So this family became a focus. What of William Savell, Sr.? He first shows up in New England records working on the “college” that later became Harvard University. In the Notebook Kept by Thomas Lechford is a petition of “William Savil, of Cambridge, joyner” essentially for under-payment for work done for Nathaniel Eaton, the first president of the college. The petition is undated, but seems to be from about 1641. 

No indication of a result was recorded by Lechford. The next we see of Savell is when John was born in Braintree just a year or so later. Why did he move from Cambridge to Braintree? No way to tell, but his sister Ann lived there, married to Samuel Bass. They had first lived in Roxbury, and were among the earliest people established in Braintree. 

William Savell lived there the rest of his life. He was married three times, first to Hannah Tidd, second to Sarah (last name unknown) and third to the widow Sarah Gannet, who was originally Sarah Mullins. William Savell’s death is listed in the Braintree records: 

“William Savill dyed the 2 mo. 6, 1669” 

Savell never held any office in the town, and there is no record of his receiving a grant or being made a freeman. However, he owned a considerable amount of property when he died in 1669. The total value of his estate was 798-17-00. On the 19th of February 1668, William Savell Sr. wrote his will. In it he left to his son John:

 “the whole House & barn & shop & tooles, stuffe as Timber pertaining to his trade…”

Included in the will is:

“my sonn William savel is to live as an Apprentice with his (i.e., William Savell, Sr.’s) sonn John Savel…until hee bee 21 years of Age”.

The inventory included:

the house and barn & a bitt of meadow                  £90-00-00
John’s house shop barn & land about 3 Acres      £120-00-00
Tables stooles chayres chests & wooden ware       £08-04-00
Cart wheels plow chaynes with joiners stuff & ceder boults         £19-03-06

Wm Savell’s inventory

The photo below is probably the first house William Savell lived in at Braintree.

Savell house, c. 1899

It was located on what is now School Street in Quincy, Massachusetts. Taken down in 1899 when they widened the street. That photo and this diagram both came from the Quincy Historical Society.

1899 widening of School St Quincy, Massachusetts

 In an article of agreement in connection with the will, the sons of William Savell, Sr. agree that the widow, Sarah (Mullins Gannett) Savell shall have:

 “…her whole estate returned to her that she brought to Our ffather for her own use & to dispose of forever with a chest with drawers & a Cubbert…” 

The details of the will provide some useful information; namely the use of cedar as well as “joiner’s stuff”, (another name for oak) and the listing of the chest with drawers, plural. There are two examples of the Braintree chests with two drawers (see the previous post). About 20 years ago, I got to see a 20th century sideboard that included a pair of drawers salvaged from one of these chests. The piece descended in the Hayward/Baxter families of Braintree and Quincy. 

detail of one of 2 drawers incorporated in a 20th c sideboard

The cedar bolts could be for fences or for joinery work. Some of the Braintree chests have what I think are riven cedar floorboards and drawer bottoms. Atlantic white cedar and Northern white cedar both rive very nicely in straight sections. 

The note about his son William living as an apprentice with John is because the son William was only 16 or 17 years old at the time. In New England apprentices usually were at least 21 at the end of their term. 

John Savell died as noted above in 1687. His will leaves to his “only son John Savell all my housing both dwelling house shop & barn…formerly given me by my father…” We never found any indication that this John Savell practiced joinery. 

William Savell the younger did joiner’s work. As noted before, the town paid him for making a coffin for William Dimblebee. Any woodworker could be called upon to make a coffin. But Savell’s probate inventory taken when he died in 1699/1700 records some interesting things. 

a green carpitt & covers for chairs                            £01-08-00
a douzen painted chairs & a sealskin trunk              £01-18-00
a wainscott chest and a box                                      £01-01-00
a square table a wainscott chest and a bedstead       £02-12-00
tooles                                                                         £02-10-00
timber and weare begun                                            £03-00-00 

These are the only references in all the Braintree probate records I read that include the word “wainscot” – here to designate these chests as distinct from other chests. Usually meant to be a paneled or joined chest, usually in oak. Also the value assigned to the “wainscot chest and a box” is approaching the value of a dozen chairs and a trunk…so clearly a nice chest.

Like his brother John, William had a son who did not seem to follow in his trade. Back when we wrote the article, I added this: “Another joiner who was part of the Savell shop tradition is Joseph Allen (1672–1727). He probably trained with William, Jr., before marrying his master’s niece, Abigail, in 1701. Allen’s estate included “3 chists and one box,” two axes, a hand saw, and “joyner tools.” – I wouldn’t make the claim today that Allen “probably trained with Willliam…” too much speculation. He was a joiner, he married William’s niece. But beyond that…

Saffron Walden

Now – where did William Savell, Sr come from? Saffron Walden, Essex in England. There are records there of his baptism, his sister’s as well – and her marriage to Samuel Bass. The baptism record of William Savell in 1604/1605 in Saffron Walden lists his father as William Savill (1564-1639). 

24 february William the sonn of William Savill

William Savell married Margaret Parker in 1592. He died in 1639, by which time his son William was already in Cambridge Massachusetts. His daughter Ann was born in 1601. She married Samuel Bass in Saffron Walden in 1625 and they were first in Boston, then Roxbury, then Braintree. 

The Essex Country Record Office in England has a “counterpart lease for 20 years” dated 2 April 1623. The lease is from a list of people to “William Savell of Walden, joiner and w. Margaret.” So the assumption is that William of Braintree learned his trade from his father in England. Then taught his son John in Braintree and perhaps began the training of his son William. 

As we broke the surviving chests into three main groups, they fit a scenario like this:

The Winterthur cupboard and the Smithsonian chest we attributed to William Sr. These are, in our eyes, the most developed carvings. These two objects share a trait as well – board carcases with joined fronts pegged on.

attributed to William Savell, Smithsonian Institution

Interestingly, this construction is found in Saffron Walden specifically – but the chests from there look nothing like the Braintree chest. Just the board case/joined front combo. 

Below is a photo from Penny Rumble’s article “Some East Anglian Chests” in the 1991 edition of Regional Furniture. She illustrated two chests with this construction, one found “amongst deceased effects in Saffron Walden” and this one, her fig. 7 was in the church at Saffron Walden. I seem to remember more of these turning up after this article.

The body of chests that use the convex molding, the plain bottom front rail, drawer fronts with four pinwheels instead of 6 – those we attributed to John Savell. I think he’s a great carver. There’s some differences between these panels and those found on the previous two pieces – the main one being the spandrels around the arches. Simpler here. Start with what we think is the father – the Winterthur cupboard panel:

Winterthur panel, spandrel detail

Then a chest we think is John Savell:

attributed to John Savell

Then what we think is the younger William:

William Savell (1652-1700)

Then we come to the chests with the flat plow & cove molding, run on the bottom rail as well. 6 pinwheels between the rosettes on the drawer front. These we consider to be the work of young William. Why? Well, for one thing the carving is more stiff, less fluid. Spandrels again – somewhat willy-nilly. The “S” curves in the panels are abrupt. We offer the explanation that he didn’t train with his father – but with his brother. But we just also said his brother was excellent. So what does that mean? It means we’re guessing. But we have three joiners, we have three groups of furniture – all related. All three men worked for around 25-30 years here at their trade.  

————

Another New England joiner came from Saffron Walden. Nicholas Disbrow was born there in 1613/14, the son of Nicholas Disberow. Starting with a 1610 will of William Disberowe of Walden, joiner” that mentioned his wife Katherine and “Nicholas Disberowe my son” – the next record is a marriage between this son Nicholas and Mary Gilbye in 1610 and four years later their son Nicholas was born. He’s the one who came to Hartford. 

The elder Nicholas Disberow was paid by the churchwardens of Saffron Walden for “mending of the pulpit & a seat” and for “mending of seats & for nails” in 1628 & 1629. 

The following is from:  Patricia E. Kane “The Joiners of Seventeenth Century Hartford County” in The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, v.35, #3, July 1970:

“NICHOLAS DISBROW is the first joiner known to have come to Hartford. He emigrated first to Dorchester, Massachusetts, and in 1635 to Hartford where, as a proprietor, he lived on a six-acre homelot in “the north side.” In 1660 the townsmen of Hartford allowed Disbrow to build a shop.  He was working as late as 1680 when he made a bedstead for John Talcott, a Hartford merchant.  The high price of £1-08-00 which he billed Talcott suggests that this was a wainscot bedstead, a form in American furniture which has not survived.

Disbrow’s inventory, taken after his death in 1683, is the single Hartford County seventeenth century joiner’s inventory in which his tools are enumerated.  They included:

plane stocks and Irons, seven chissells passer [piercerl betts and gimblets     £02-11-06
a parsell of small tools & two payer of compases & five handsawes —          £01-05-06
two fros, a payer of plyers, two reaspes a file, and a sett —–                 £00-10-06
two passer (piercer) stocks, two hammers, and fower axes                              £00-18-00
two betteles and fower wedges a bill and five augers                              £01-04-06
…two payer of Joynts & a payer of hooks and hinges
…Joyners timber and five hundred of bord.

I  dug out Kane’s dissertation and found that the bedstead reference is recorded in a notebook kept by the customer Talcott, a merchant. In New England furniture studies, Nicholas Disbrow is most well-known for something he did not do. A discovery in the 1920s of a chest  inscribed with the legend “Mary Allyns Chistt Cutte and joyned by Nich.  Disbrowe”  was shortly thereafter deemed a forgery (the signature, not the chest.) Although it has been dismissed as fake, the signature is sometimes still cited as the first piece of signed American furniture. See what happens when stuff gets in print?

Kane also recorded a bit from Cotton Mather about Disbrow:

“In the year 1683, the house of Nicholas Disbrow at Hartford, was very strangely molested by stones, by pieces of earth, by cobs of Indian corn, and other such things, from an invisible hand, thrown at him, sometimes through the door, sometimes thro’ the window, sometimes down the chimney, and sometimes from the floor of the room (tho’ very close) over his head; and sometimes he met with them in the shop, the yard, the barn, and in the field. There was no violence in the motion of the things thus thrown by the invisible hand; and tho’ others besides the man happen’d sometimes to be hit, they were never hurt with them; only the man himself once had pain given to his arm, and once blood fetched from his leg, by these annoyances’ and a fire, in an unknown way kindled, consumed no little part of his estate. This trouble began upon a controversie between Desbrough and another person about a chest of cloaths, which the man apprehended to be unrighteously detain’d by Desbrough; and it endured for divers months; but upon restoring of the cloths thus detain’d the trouble ceased.”

Well, that’s enough of that. There’s more excruciating details. But now my desk is covered with stuff that needs to go back in file cabinets. Here’s some old posts looking at the three types of carvings in the Braintree works.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/three-hands/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/three-hands-carving-again/

a look at the “Braintree” joined chests

detail of my recent copy of a “Braintree” chest

Once this was going to be a slide-lecture included in the video series I did this year. As it is I spent almost 3/4 of a day working this blog post version up, and didn’t feel like doing more work on it to turn it into a video/slide lecture. But it’s a subject that I love and I hope it’s of some interest. It’s long – you’ve been warned.

Spending much of this year either making what I call a Braintree chest with a drawer (named for the town where they were made. Sometimes a Savell chest, named for the joiners who made them – but that’s next time) or working on the videos of that work got me thinking about my relationship to this group of 17th-century chests and boxes. I’ll try to tell the story without too many detours. Many of the photos here are from old 35mm slides. The video series about making one is available at this link  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/follansbeejoinedchest and plans for making one here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/carving-drawings-plans/

It started with the door of the cupboard in Winterthur’s study collection.

door to Winterthur cupboard

The door was disassembled, maybe by Benno Forman, then a curator at Winterthur. Jennie Alexander used to show a slide lecture about the mortise & tenon joints in that door – somewhere around 1988 that was my introduction to oak furniture of this period. JA & I went around & around about it in the years that followed, I swear she never showed us the whole object. But I will.

Winterthur cuboard

The door is a simple frame & panel – moldings on the frame, a carved arch/leaf pattern on the panel. The cupboard is not original – its format is conjectural. But the construction is correct – a joined front attached to a board carcass. The front frame is attached to the edges of the board cupboard with 3/8″ square oak pins. We’ll see more of this later.

Savell chest, joined front fixed to board sides

 Some digging showed a couple of well-known chests that use the same pattern on their panels. Wallace Nutting published one in his 1920s books Furniture of the Pilgrim Century and Furniture Treasury. This chest is part of the Nutting collection at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

Wadsworth Atheneum chest with drawer, Nutting collection

There’s two very similar chests in Boston, one at the Museum of Fine Arts and another at the Isabella Gardner Museum. 

MFA chest w drawer
Gardner Museum chest w drawer

All three of these chests have a single full-width drawer under the chest section. The Gardner has 6 lunettes across its top rail, as opposed to the 5 on the other two chests. All have 7 rosettes on the drawer fronts with 6 pinwheels between them. The rosettes are doubled-up versions of the lunettes. The construction and format are identical on all three chests. For instance, two vertical panels over one horizontal panel on the ends:

Gardner chest, end panels

And a single pine panel in back.

a related chest showing the pine panel in back

And none of those three have any recorded history. All were collected in the early 20th century. 

Henry Wood Erving, a contemporary of Nutting’s, had a similar chest, but with two drawers. He called it his “Windham” chest, having bought it in the eastern part of Connecticut. And so they all were considered Connecticut chests at that point. His was published as figure 17 in Luke Vincent Lockwood’s Colonial Furniture in America. (I’m looking at the 1913 edition – the book went through a few revisions. The chest is fig. 17 in all of them I think.) I think it’s now part of the Chipstone collection in Milwaukee. It has some differences from the others that make it stand alone to an extent. This photo is from an auction catalog when it was sold a few years back. Maybe quite a few now.

formerly Henry Wood Erving’s chest

In 1988 Sotheby’s had a similar chest offered for sale with a family history citing as the original owners John Bass and Priscilla Alden. They were married in Braintree, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1657. This chest, now in a private collection, differs in a couple of minor ways from the three previously cited. A different molding runs on the framing parts – this one is the same molding shown on the Winterthur cupboard front. Bottom rail under the drawer is plain – the others are molded. The handling of the carving is different, but the exact same layout and format. Construction is the same. (this photo from the 1996 American Furniture article Alexander & I wrote.)

John Bass/Ruth Alden chest w drawer, private collection
convex molding with quirks from a related chest

With Bob Trent’s guidance, Alexander and I used the Sotheby’s chest’s history as a starting point and researched the group as best we could. That meant tracking down as many of the chests as we could and collecting any known histories attached to them. In addition, we measured every chest we visited. 

Although the Gardner Museum had no records about their chest, in their files was a 1930s photo of a similar chest with no drawer with a note from its then-owner, Cornelia Fiske, who lived nearby. I copied that photo and letter and began researching that chest. Where did it come from? And where did it go? I think I figured out the answers to both of those questions, but it took some time. The owner died in 1945 if I remember right. Searching her will, I made a list of names and began tracking those people. 

1930s photo Fiske chest

After many dead-ends, I made a cold phone call to information for anyone in such-and-such a town with the surname ______. (this was the early 1990s – no computer, just a typewriter and telephone) And I got one. Called the number and a very patient man listened to my long-winded explanation of my research project. After lots of back & forth, he asked me to describe the chest again. And so I did. He called me back the next evening & said he tried to contact the owner of the chest, but she was not at home. Turns out it was his mother, he told me “I’ve known that chest all my life.” I eventually met his mother, photographed the chest, got her story about it – a great result for months of searching.  

the Fiske chest, photo early 1990s

The chest was removed from a house in Medfield Massachusetts in the 1880s. Tracing the history of the family in that house showed several connections to Braintree – a town about 20-25 miles away. The chest is the first (of 2) that we saw that never had a drawer. It’s an excellent example, uses the same molding as the Winterthur cupboard and the Bass chest. 

Winterthur’s files led us to a chest and a desk box at Aetna Insurance in Hartford. The chest is refinished, but just about the same as the Bass chest. Both the Aetna and the Fiske chest have the six lunettes instead of 5. We’d later find out this is, as far as we can tell, random. 

Aetna Insurance c. 1992

So we were beginning to divide them up into two sub-groups – based on the molding used and the handling of the carving. For example, the drawer fronts – those with the “Winterthur” molding have the three middle rosettes bumped together with no pinwheel between them. And a plain bottom front rail.

drawer front detail, no middle pinwheels

Those with the other molding alternate the pinwheels and rosettes all across the drawer front. And the bottom rail is molded. 

Wadsworth Atheneum chest detail

Another lead from Wintethur was the other “no-drawer” chest in a private collection. It had been re-worked badly – new lid, refinished. But it has some great features – one is brackets under the bottom rail. No other we’ve seen yet had these, though they are common enough in 17th century oak furniture. I have wondered about the paint on this chest. I’ve hoped it’s following a period treatment, but have no evidence one way or the other. It also had some history tying it to Braintree – the chest was a wedding present to Charles French of Braintree in 1915. His uncle found it in a barn in the town. 

“bracket” chest
detail of one of the brackets under the bottom rail
a panel from that chest

Somewhere along the line I picked up a general book about antiques that showed a photo of an assortment of antiques in a home. It included a carved chest that looked like one of these. Turns out it was in the Smithsonian, so Alexander and I went there to see it one day.

Smithsonian chest

And that chest was something new – sort of. A joined front attached to a mill-sawn oak carcass. Pegged on with square wooden pins. So this gave us a piece directly related to Winterthur’s cupboard front. It was collected in Medway, Massachusetts in the 1930s. 

We found another two-drawer example in Connecticut, it had been collected there in the 1890s. Refinished and some drawer bottoms and the lid replaced, but its construction was intact. It’s by the same joiner/carver as the MFA, Gardner, Wadsworth, etc. Not too long ago this chest was auctioned – I grabbed this photo from Doyle Auctions.

braintree chest w drawers

In 1996 our article was published in Chipston’s journal American Furniture. And since then, there’s been several more that have come to light. I bought a heavily (and incorrectly) restored example in 2005. Then there were maybe 3 or 4 more that have been sold at auction, one of which I got to replace the lid for.

Well that’s the chests. There’s a couple of obvious boxes – the MFA Boston has one, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY has the other.

Metropolitan Museum of Art box

And the desk box at Aetna. All are pegged, not nailed together like most 17th-century boxes. All have two lunettes across the front. The MFA & Met boxes have a single related lunette on the ends. The desk box has a large rosette on the end, plus some filler from the chest-panel pattern. 

desk box
PF copy of the desk box

Then there was a box I almost missed. Trent & I were studying a private collection one day in the late 1990s. Just before we were to leave, either he handed me this box, or I saw it on a table. It’s pegged with square wooden pins. The ends are carved similarly to the MFA & Met boxes.

“opposing lunettes” box
end carving of the box above

The front has a pattern very different from what we’ve seen thus far. But the treatment is similar. A few years ago the box was sold and I got to see it one more time in NY. Our thought is that this box  comes from the same hand as the Winterthur cupboard and Smithsonian chest. 

Next time I tackle this subject here I’ll write about the joiners we think made them. 

Maureen’s shop update & some white pine work

This might have been a couple of blog posts, but I didn’t get to it. So folding them into one.Sometimes I catch these carvings in light that reminds me they were originally made to be seen in natural light. And as that light changes in the day or in the year, so too the effect of the decoration changes. It’s fun to think about.

late in the year, late in the afternoon.

First off – Maureen let me know she’s done the next update to her Etsy site – thanks again to those who help support the other half of our craft-world here. Here’s what she sent: “Newly added items include: wide shibori-style print silk scarves, that can even be worn as a shawl and frame-ready matted botanical eco prints dyed from late summer garden flowers and foraged plants.  There are also a few new knitted items as well as wool felted ornaments. Thanks for supporting my handwork!” https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts

one of Maureen’s recent scarves

Now to what’s happening out in the shop. I had the cupboard’s lower case test-assembled so I could layout the notches for the drawer runners.

marking drawer runner notches

Because the two middle drawers are not as long as the top & bottom drawer, transferring the layout from the wider front stiles to the narrower rear stiles is a bit tricky, but manageable. Then comes sawing & chopping those notches. The photo below is the finishing touches – I can tell because the piece is not held down to the bench with the holdfasts.

drawer runner notches

Next I put the rear frame together to get the dimensions for the rear panels.

test fitting the lower case’s rear frame

Recently my friend Ted Curtin forced me to take a bunch of wide pine boards he’d been saving for 30 years. By the time they were in my shop for one day I had them all designated for different projects. I don’t have much room to store boards, plus I don’t have 30 more years.

Ted’s gift

Some ended up as the rear panels of this cupboard- first I planed one edge –

planing one edge

Then I ripped it to width before cutting it in two.

ripping to width

But that was late in the day, so the light was fading. Then I quit & worked outdoors sorting firewood for next year. The next day I finished the panels. For just one weak moment, I thought wouldn’t it be nice to build something with plain pine panels like that – then I got over it. This is the back after all. But it is a favorite wood of mine. These panels are 18 1/2″ wide. About 21″ tall/long.

clear wide pine

Some of Ted’s pine is going to be a table top for Heather’s new studio that’s underway. The wider of those boards is 21″ wide. Both are over 6′ long. This is next, after the cupboard is done. Here’s her studio underway – https://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/

HN table

The table will be something like our kitchen table. Which never ever looks like this. It usually has a cat on it. And lots of other stuff. This photo is make-believe.

kitchen table

After I got those rear panels fitted, I switched gears back to Xmas presents long over-due. More pine, the bottom & lid to this butternut box. In better light.

RF box

Back at it today, leap-frogging from one project to the next. Some chairs, the cupboard, the boxes. I can think of worse ways to spend my time.