The James Building Griffin

Visitors to METC can’t help but notice the four-foot tall terracotta Griffin that stands in our courtyard. This cast figure is one of the original three griffins that once stood atop the James Building.
 
The James Building was built at the request of Daniel Willis James in 1899. This was the same year the philanthropist began building the library that is now our home. The James Building has five peaks, three of which were topped with griffins. Local legend has it that in the 1920’s lightning completely destroyed one Griffin and, at some point, another one mysteriously lost a wing tip. The third Griffin remained intact.
 
Artisan David Finlay used the intact Griffin to cast three reproductions. These reproductions were placed atop the James Building. In May of 2000, the original Griffin that faced the library for so many years was installed on a pedestal in the courtyard of the Museum, a gift of the Solu family.
 
A Griffin’s lion-like body symbolizes strength, and its eagle’s head represents intelligence. Long ears and eagle claws complete their look of vigilance and readiness. Griffins were considered by the Greeks to be the embodiment of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution. The fierce-looking creatures were considered by some civilizations to represent satanic figures. Some cultures considered the Griffin a symbol of the dual nature of Jesus Christ – divine and human. Whatever its role or reputation, we are delighted to have the original Griffin on duty at the METC’s new conservatory entrance.

Governor’s Chest

UNLOCKING THE MYSTERY OF THE GOVERNOR’S CHEST

trunkbot

In the Museum’s collection is an old wooden chest.  It is well-weathered, has a broken lid, and only has remnants of a marbleized paper lining.  It is so unappealing that it was once questioned why it was even kept in the collection at all. The answer to this question was answered when the inscription. For His Excellency Governor / Jersey / New England / Baggage, was found on the bottom of the case
 
This was now no ordinary chest, but one that once belonged to a person of power, a governor no less.  However, this enticing bit of information opened man new questions…  Which governor? Why is it labeled Jersey/ New England? Why would there be a label on the bottom of this trunk?  How old is the trunk?
 
The construction of the chest provides some valuable clues as to how old it may be.  The simple wooden box is held together by hand-made iron nails. These hand-made nails were not commonly used once factories started producing them.
 
The style of the trunk is yet another clue to its age.  Its shape suggests that it was likely made in the late 18th century. The look of the letters written on the box is also in line with this time period.
trunkThis information narrows down the list of likely Governors.  It is here where the confusing addresses:  “Jersey/ New England” comes into play.  New Jersey is not part of New England, but two of her colonial governors have connections to 
both places.  William Franklin was the last colonial governor of New Jersey in 1776. After his term, Franklin was arrested and imprisoned by Revolutionary Forces in Connecticut, New England. Another candidate is Jonathan Belcher.  Before Belcher became Governor of New Jersey in 1747, he was governor of Massachusetts and New HampshirePerhaps, the “Jersey” added to the “New England” address reflected one of these governor’s moves.
 
There is even the possibility that the term “Jersey” is used to identify the cloth that was used during that time.
 
Why the chest has an address on it at all remains a mystery.  The search for similarly addressed trunks has so far come up empty.

The Zoetrope

The zoetrope (ZOH-uh-trohp) is an animation toys that became popular in the 19th century when people began to explore new ways to make images move.
 
The zoetrope first appeared in the United States in 1867; 33 years after it was invented by the English mathematician William George Horner, 1834.
 
Horner’s idea took the form of a drum with an open top. Around the drum, a hand-drawn sequence of images was placed.
 
As the drum spun, the imaged gave the illusion of movement through the slots on the paper.  This illusion, based on the persistence of vision (how the eye perceives light), is similar in principle to the operation of our present-day movies and television.
 
The Museum’s collection includes a zoetrope made by Milton Bradley & Co. of Springfield, MA. It bears the inscription “The Zoetrope or Wheel of Life, Patented April 23, 1867.”
 
Hundred-year-old zoetrope sequences are brought to life once more through the magic of computer animation.

Hash   Ocean

The James Building Griffin

Visitors to METC can’t help but notice the four-foot tall terracotta Griffin that stands in our courtyard. This cast figure is one of the original three griffins that once stood atop the James Building.
 
The James Building was built at the request of Daniel Willis James in 1899. This was the same year the philanthropist began building the library that is now our home. The James Building has five peaks, three of which were topped with griffins. Local legend has it that in the 1920’s lightning completely destroyed one Griffin and, at some point, another one mysteriously lost a wing tip. The third Griffin remained intact.
 
Artisan David Finlay used the intact Griffin to cast three reproductions. These reproductions were placed atop the James Building. In May of 2000, the original Griffin that faced the library for so many years was installed on a pedestal in the courtyard of the Museum, a gift of the Solu family.
 
A Griffin’s lion-like body symbolizes strength, and its eagle’s head represents intelligence. Long ears and eagle claws complete their look of vigilance and readiness. Griffins were considered by the Greeks to be the embodiment of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution. The fierce-looking creatures were considered by some civilizations to represent satanic figures. Some cultures considered the Griffin a symbol of the dual nature of Jesus Christ – divine and human. Whatever its role or reputation, we are delighted to have the original Griffin on duty at the METC’s new conservatory entrance.

Cabinetmaker’s Tool Chest

This beautiful example of a cabinetmaker’s tool chest was given to the Museum by Mr. Richard WanmakerWe believe that it was made by J. M. Ackerman, whose initials “JMA” are stamped on the lock plate. Such chests were often made during the apprenticeships of young cabinetmakers, and later used to house their personal tools.
 
Along with a beautiful veneer of walnut, the inside of the lid features a rectangle of plain wood, painted to represent fancy grain. This faux finish was a very popular form of interior decoration when the chest was made in the 1840’s.
 
The interior of the chest is beautifully fitted with tool drawers and compartments. Many fine tools bearing the initials “JMA” were still in the chest when we received it.

Bee Smokers

The beekeeper’s smoker, as the name suggests, douse bees with smoke to calm them and make them less likely to sting during handling. Smokers are essential to beekeeping and continue to be used by apiarists today. The smoker featured here consists of a metal fire pot with an attached canvas and wood bellows. The bellows pumps air into the pot to release a cool smoke from its spout.
 
According to experts on apiculture, smokers were invented sometime in the mid-1800s. Significant developments in beekeeping started in the United States in 1851 with Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth’s invention of the movable-frame hive. This was a new mechanism that helped to effectively house honeybees.
 
Before Langstroth’s invention, bees were generally kept in boxes or baskets. Wax and honey used to only be extracted by killing the bees or by driving them from their nests. This invention became the basis for modern beekeeping techniques and earned Langstroth the title of “Father of Beekeeping.”
 
Although it was not easy to harvest honey and wax before Langstroth’s invention, early New Jersey farmers did have some commercial success as beekeepers. In the mid-1700s, beeswax was used as a trade commodity in local New Jersey stores, and people in the area of Newark Township bought and sold metheglin (mead or honey beer)

Cabinetmaker’s Hand Planes

plow

 

For cutting grooves with the grain, a plow plane, like the one on the left, was used. The plane was equipped with a set of eight blades of varying widths so it could cut different sized grooves. It also had an adjustable fence which is held against the side of the work to ensure that the groove is cut parallel to the plank at the desired distance from its edge.

dado

For grooves cut across the grain, a dado plane, like the one at the right, was needed. Cutting across the grain will leave a splintered edge, so a dado plane was equipped with two knife-like cutters called knickers. Fitted on either side of the blade, parallel to the direction of the cut, these knickers meant that each plane could cut only a fixed size groove. A cabinetmaker needed a different plane for each size groove to be cut. Graduated sets of dado planes are on display at the Museum.

planesInterestingly, the toe of this dado plane bears the mark “Hammacher Schlemmer”. Before becoming a purveyor of expensive toys for young and old, Hammacher Schlemmer was one of New York’s major hardware stores.

This interior view of a 19th-century joiner’s tool chest illustrates how each individual craftsman needed a large collection of planes. Many of the tools in this chest are marked “A. Hinkley.”

Back to School

What was school like for children in America during the 1800s? Three objects from the Museum’s collection, a bell, an inkwell, and an 1857 edition of McGuffey’s New Second Eclectic Reader, shed some light on those days.

During the 1800’s in rural America, school bells were rung to summon students walking long distances to school. The loudness of the bell gave students an idea of how close they were to their destination.

Students practicing their penmanship in the first half of the 19th century would have used a quill pen and inkwell. Around 1850, steel nib pens were introduced, ending the need to sharpen one’s quill with a “pen knife.”

McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers were among the most popular 19th-century American schoolbooks, with over 100 million copies sold. Former teacher William Holmes McGuffey wrote his first reader in 1836 during the time when thousands of immigrants were arriving in the country. By including lessons on patriotism, texts attempted to assimilate these diverse groups into American culture.

Foot Warmers

Before the mid-1800’s, American homes and public spaces were often poorly heated. One device that helped early Americans keep warm was the foot warmer. Foot warmers are a box with holes poked in the sides and a tray inside for hot coals.

In the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, women and children carried foot warmers to meetings or to church. Women’s long skirts would hang over the foot warmer, holding in the heat.

Although improvements in heating occurred in the 1820’s, foot warmers continued to be used in sleighs and carriages. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, heated concrete blocks were used as foot warmers in automobiles.

Foot warmers were made of wood, tin, brass, or a combination of these materials. The holes punched into wood and tin foot warmers often formed a pattern or design.

birdhartThis example from the METC collection is likely from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, made of wood and tin. It has a sliding front panel that reveals a metal tray for the hot coals. Ventilation holes in the sides form decorative patterns, three of which depict a bird with a heart carved in its center. Popular in early America as wedding gifts, foot warmers were commonly decorated with hearts. The presence of both birds and hearts on this foot warmer is reminiscent of the use of hearts, birds, and flowers by German immigrant artists in Pennsylvania who worked in the Fraktur style. Yet, Hearts also appear in combination with the Federal Eagle in early US folk art.

Mystery Cutters

There are several handcrafted artifacts in the METC collection whose  function completely puzzle the Museum staff! Like the 19th-century cutting device pictured here. Many of these “mystery artifacts” are objects made of parts from several different tools.

This tool could have been made from the blades of gardening shears attached to a branch. The branch has a hand-forged iron ferrule – the metal ring on the end of a wood handle that prevents splitting. The cutting edges of these blades have double bevels, like the blade of a knife, rather than a single bevel like those of scissors. Another odd aspect of this piece is that the backs of the blades look peened at the place where the two blades meet as if someone had hit them with a heavy instrument. The cutters may have been designed to extract large roots or shrubs from the ground, although they could have been used to perform a task entirely unrelated to gardening.

Museum members Jerry Burchette and Herb Kean identified the cutter as a form of hay knife. The blades were formed from a pair of shears. These blacksmith-made shears probably did not work very well, perhaps leading to their reconfiguration as a hay knife. Evidently, the tool did not work well as a hay knife either, as the handle was cut off leaving the remains of a hole that once held a peg to be used as a footstep. Presumably, the handle was cut off so that the blades could be used as a chopper of some kind, but the overly thick handle could not have been comfortable.

So our mystery tool seems to have actually been three tools in succession: shears, hay knife, and chopper.

Iron Key

One of our unique acquisitions is a large iron key with a hand-forged bow. Its bit consists of an interesting design that takes on different appearances depending on how you look at it. It shows “5252” in one direction, and “2525” when inverted. From either angle, three crosses are visible in the bit’s pattern.

Similar to keys made before the late 1700’s, this key has a decorative element. The highly stylized locks that were made prior to the rise of modern lock-smithing in the 18th century, were not difficult to crack. The locksmith who made this key may have been more interested in showing off his artistic talent than creating a foolproof locking mechanism.

 

Redware

During the 18th and 19th centuries, potters made objects worked from local clay known as redware. Jugs, bowls, cups, porringers, and crocks were made at a wheel, while flat pieces such as the platter pictured here were made using a process called drape molding – forming clay into a ball, flattening it, cutting the slab into a shape, and then draping it over a mold to dry.

Because of the porous nature of the clay, redware was often glazed. The most common glaze was a clear coating of lead mixed with silica. For decorative effects, potters also used liquid clay called slips. METC’s redware platter is an example of a slip-decorated piece.

The yellow wave designs on the dish, a popular motif in redware, are the result of a white slip changing colors after being glazed and fired.

Watchman’s Rattle

This rattle would have been used by a 19th-century watchman in a town without a police force or the means for rapid communication in case of an emergency.

Although many American counties had sheriffs during the colonial era, it was not until the mid-1800’s that cities, and later towns, formed police departments. Morris County’s first sheriff took office in 1739, a year after the county was created, but Madison did not have its own police department until the 1890’s.

Without a police force, towns relied on hired watchmen to walk the streets, especially at night. A watchman would have used a noisemaker, much like the one shown here, to alert people in the case of an emergency.

This very nicely made rattle, a gift of Theodore Trowbridge of Madison, is crafted from what appears to be cherry wood. Unusual is that the clackers and the frame that supports them are carved from one piece of wood.

Our Blacksmith Two-Stage Bellows

sketch1The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts has a six-foot, two-stage bellos made in New Jersey by A. Bonnell. With funding from The 1772 Foundation, we were able to have Herb Kean restore this bellows which is part of our blacksmithing display.

Most people are familiar with the ordinary bellows that are used to help start a fire in the fireplace or outdoor grill. It has two paddle-shaped pieces of wood joined by a flexible material, usually leather. The lower paddle has a simple flap valve, which is nothing more than a hole in the lower paddle covered with a piece of leather tacked down along one side. The flap valve opens to allow air to enter the bellows when the paddles are pulled apart and is kept closed by air pressure when the paddles are brought together to force air out the nozzle. The result is an intermittent stream of air to the fire that is quite satisfactory for the purposes mentioned.

A blacksmith needs a much steadier flow of air to be able to control the heat of his fire. The solution to this problem, before the invention of the centrifugal blower, was the two-stage bellows. Its mechanism consists of three heart-shaped paddles joined by leather to form two chambers. Each chamber has a flap valve for controlling air flow, and the upper chamber has a nozzle for air to exit.

In operation, the middle paddle is fixed in position, the upper paddle is free to move up and down, and the lower paddle is raised or lowered by means of a rope or chain controlled by the smith.

sketch2Gravity pulls the lower paddle down, bringing air through the lower flap valve into the lower chamber as shown in the sketch above. Then, with the lower chamber full of air, raising the lower paddle closes the lower flap valve and forces air into the upper chamber through the upper flap valve as shown in the lower sketch. The upper paddle rises as its air supply is recharged. The smith then releases the tension on the rope and the lower paddle drops down, recharging the lower chamber air supply. While that is happening, its own weight causes the upper paddle to descend, creating pressure to keep the upper flap valve closed and forcing air out the nozzle. In effect, the upper chamber acts as a reservoir of air which feeds the nozzle while the lower chamber is being refilled.

The lower paddle is operated up and down by the smith at whatever speed provides the heat required. The result is not so smooth an airflow as the more modern centrifugal blower, but at least the intermittent “puffing” of the single-stage bellows is avoided.