Collection Highlights


sketch1Most people are familiar with the ordinary bellows that we use 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.

The Museum has a six-foot, two-stage bellows 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 now part of our permanent blacksmithing display.


rattleThis rattle, a recent Museum acquisition, 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-1800s 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 1890s.

Without a police force, towns relied on hired watchmen to walk their 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 in that the clackers and the frame that support them are carved from one piece of wood, the rattle has a nicely lathe-turned handle.

All in all, this is a very attractive piece of woodworking for a utilitarian object.


Although the Museum’s collection consists of a large number of historic hand tools, it also boasts several pieces of pottery representative of this early American craft.

redwareDuring 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 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.


ironkeyMETC is always looking to expand its collection of early American tools and handcrafted objects, especially those made before the mid-1800s. One of our recent 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 1700s, this key has a decorative element. Scholars argue that the intricate design of a key is not necessarily an indication of its effectiveness as a safety device.

The highly stylized locks that were made prior to the rise of modern locksmithing 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.


bellbookWhat 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.

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 such as this attempted to assimilate these diverse groups into American culture.

Bells have been used by educational institutions since their appearance in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries. 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, obviating the need to sharpen one’s quill with a “pen knife.”


plowCutting a groove in a plank to accept a joining piece of wood – for example, in the side of a bookshelf to receive the end of a shelf – is a radically different task when the cut is across the grain than when the cut is with the grain. Two different tools were developed to perform the two tasks.

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 has 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.

dadoFor 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.”


METC4139Among the thousands of artifacts in the METC collection is this beekeeper’s smoker. As the name suggests, smokers are used to 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 the 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, a new mechanism that more effectively housed honeybees. Prior to Langstroth’s invention, bees were generally kept in boxes or baskets. Wax and honey could be extracted only by killing the bees or by driving them from their nests. Langstroth’s invention became the basis for modern beekeeping techniques and earned him widespread recognition as the “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 vicinity of Newark Township bought and sold metheglin (mead or honey beer). By the late 1700s, farmers in Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Middlesex, and Somerset counties were sufficiently engaged in apiculture to seek reparations for damages to their beehives that occurred as a result of the Revolutionary War.


trunkbotLike a cat or a kid, sometimes curators find empty boxes really intriguing.

In the Museum’s collection is an old wooden chest.  It is well-weathered, has a broken lid and only remnants of a marbleized paper lining.  It is so unprepossessing, in fact, that it was once questioned why it was even kept in the collection at all.  The answer to this question presented itself when the trunk was flipped over and an inscription, painted in bold black letters on its bottom, read:   For His Excellency Governor / Jersey / New England / Baggage.

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 up a raft of new questions…  Which governor?  What, if anything, is meant by Jersey / New England?  Why would the chest be labeled on its bottom?  How old is the trunk?

The detective work needed to answer these questions is still on going, but its story is beginning to emerge.

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-wrought iron nails.  Blacksmith-made nails like these were far less commonly used after the early 1800s when factory-produced nails became cheaper and readily available.  The style of the trunk is another clue to its age.  Its shape suggests that it was indeed likely made in the late 18th century. The look of the letters written on the box is also in keeping 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, serving until 1776 when he was arrested and imprisoned in Connecticut, New England by Revolutionary forces.  Another candidate is Jonathan Belcher.  Before becoming Governor of New Jersey in 1747, Belcher served that role for Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Possibly the “Jersey” added to the “New England” address reflected one of these governor’s moves.

Less likely, but still possible, is that the “Jersey” written on the chest referred not to a location but to a type of wool cloth that shares that name.  However, cloth was usually shipped in bolts not boxes, and the term “baggage” on the chest suggests clothing and other personal items, not unfinished goods.

Why the chest has an address at all on its bottom remains a mystery.  It is possible that the trunk was stored on its side while shipped, but a search for similarly addressed trunks has so far come up empty.

The hunt for answers continues.


The cradle is designed to catch the cut stalks of grain as they fall from the scythe blade. This harvesting tool gave the farmer using it the capability of leaving harvested grain lying in a neat windrow rather than scattered wherever it fell.

Because these windrows represented a major labor saving for the crew gathering the fallen stalks, the added weight of the scythe and the inevitable repair work on its fragile cradle were more than worthwhile to the farmer.


1422openThis beautiful example of a cabinetmaker’s tool chest was given to the Museum by Mr. Richard Wanmaker. We 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 joiners, then used to house their personal tools.

Along with a beautiful veneer of burl 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 our chest was made in the 1840’s.

The interior of the chest is beautifully fitted out with tool drawers and compartments. Many fine tools bearing the initials “JMA” were still in the chest when we received it.


The zoetrope (ZOH-uh-trohp) is one of several animation toys that became popular in the 19th century as people explored ways to make moving pictures. Invented in 1834 by the English mathematician William George Horner, the zoetrope appeared in the United States in 1867.

Horner’s idea took the form of a drum with an open top into which was placed a strip of paper bearing a hand-drawn sequence of pictures. When viewed through slots as the drum was spun, the images gave the illusion of movement. This illusion, based on the persistence of vision property of the human visual system, 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.”

This animated demonstration was suggested by Mike Bianchi.
Hundred-year-old zoetrope sequences are brought to life once more
through the magic of computer animation.



griffinVisitors 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, directly across Green Village Road from the home of the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts.

The James Building was built at the behest of Daniel Willis James in 1899, the same year the philanthropist began building the library building 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 1920s lightning completely destroyed one griffin and, at some point, another mysteriously lost a wing tip. The third griffin remained intact.

Artisan David Finlay used the intact griffin to cast three reproductions that were then returned to their perches atop the James Building. In May of 2000 an 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 that watched us for so many years from across the street now on duty at METC’s new conservatory entrance.


megwidgtFor our exhibit Wintering Over, tool-collector Gene Fox loaned us a fascinating old tool identified as a widget. Wow, is there really such a thing? Well, yes and no, but more about that later.

About this time, our education coordinator Meg Wastie arrived with an adorable beaver hand puppet. Our staff promptly named him Widget.

Widget allegedly has a serious pedagogical purpose — catching and holding the attention of our younger student visitors as their programs progress. However, Museum insiders report that Widget’s primary purpose seems to be to amuse our education staff. They love him, and have endowed him with multiple personalities and found him favorite toys to play with.

In the meantime, the widget tool joined our exhibit as an example of an implement that might have been used at home during the long winter months. Some research turned up further information on the tool. A perusal of 8 or 10 reference sources, both in the METC library and on the web, yielded the information that the tool is a type of plane called a rounder. Its purpose is to turn or taper square or octagonal wood blanks into large dowels such as tool handles. All of our sources agreed that such a tool is called a witchet, but several also listed widget as an alternative form.

witchetThe term witchet may have been reserved for the more complex adjustable types of rounder planes. And widget may well have been a corruption of witchet. Such alternative terms and spellings were common in the days when craftsmen and their apprentices often had little formal education, and spelling could be a real adventure. In modern usage, a widget is “a device that is very useful for a particular job.” Economists like to speak of widgets as abstract objects manufactured in factories.

The tool’s operation can be surmised from the photo. A sturdy wooden block with dual handles and a guide hole through the center was fitted with a cutting blade or iron fixed perpendicular to the axis of the wooden blank that was pushed through the guide as the tool rotated around it to cut the rounded form. Nowadays, such work is typically performed by a power lathe. So our tool is probably more properly called a witchet, but widget is much more fun, especially if you’re a fuzzy little beaver much loved by our education staff!


In his 71st year, P.T. Barnum presented a bronze fountain to the citizens of Bethel, Connecticut, accompanying the presentation with the following speech in which he eloquently described the sort of life lived by him and his contemporaries in his birthplace in the first years of the 19th century. Barnum was born on July 5, 1810 so this presentation was made in 1881.
The connection between Barnum and METC is tenuous, but the fascinating story he tells of early 19th century life in a small town in nearby Connecticut fits well with the mission of our Museum.

Life in Bethel, Connecticut in the first years of the 19th century

ptbarnum“My friends: Among all the varied scenes of an active and eventful life, crowded with strange incidents of struggle and excitement, of joy and sorrow, taking me often through foreign lands and bringing me face to face with the King in his palace and the peasant in his turf-covered hut, I have invariably cherished with most affectionate remembrance the place of my birth, the old village meeting house, without steeple or bell, where in its square family pew I sweltered in summer and shivered through my Sunday-school lessons in winter, and the old schoolhouse where the ferule, the birchen rod and rattan did active duty, and which deserved and received a liberal share. I am surprised to find that I can distinctly remember events which occurred before I was four years old.

“I can see as if but yesterday our hard-working mothers hetcheling their flax, carding their tow and wool, spinning, reeling, and weaving it into fabrics for bedding and clothing for all the family of both sexes. The same good mothers did the knitting, darning, mending, washing, ironing, cooking, soap and candle making, picked the geese, milked the cows, made butter and cheese, and did many other things for the support of the family.

“We babies of 1810, when at home, were dressed in tow frocks, and the garments of our elders were not much superior, except on Sunday, when they wore their ‘go-to-meeting clothes’ of homespun and linsey-woolsey.

“Rain water was caught and used for washing, while that for drinking and cooking was drawn from wells with their ‘old oaken buckets’ and long poles and well sweeps.

“Fire was kept over night by banking up the brands in ashes in the fireplace, and if it went out one neighbor would visit another about daylight the next morning with a pair of tongs to borrow a coal of fire to kindle with. Our candles were tallow, home made, with dark tow wicks. In summer nearly all retired at early dark without lighting a candle except on extraordinary occasions. Homemade soft soap was used for washing hands, faces and everything else. The children in families of ordinary circumstances ate their meals on trenchers, wooden plates. As I grew older our family and others got an extravagant streak, discarded the trenchers and rose to the dignity of pewter plates and leaden spoons. Tin peddlers who traveled through the country with their wagons supplied these and other luxuries. Our food consisted chiefly of boiled and baked beans, bean porridge, coarse rye bread, apple sauce, hasty pudding beaten in milk, of which we all had plenty. The elder portion of the family ate meat twice a day and had plenty of vegetables, fish of their own catching, and occasionally big clams, which were cheap in those days, and shad in their season .

“Our dinners several times each week consisted of ‘pot luck,’ which was corned beef, salt pork, and vegetables, all boiled together in the same big iron pot hanging from the crane which was supplied with iron hooks and trammels and swung in and out of the huge fireplace. In the same pot with the salt pork, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots, cabbage, and sometimes onions, was placed an Indian pudding, consisting of plain Indian meal mixed in water, pretty thick, salted and poured into a homemade brown linen bag which was tied at the top. When dinner was ready the Indian pudding was first taken from the pot, slipped out of the bag and eaten with molasses. Then followed the ‘pot luck.’

“There were but few wagons and carriages in Bethel when I was a boy. Our grists of grain were taken to the mill in bags on horseback, and the women rode to church on Sundays and around the country on weekdays on horseback, usually on a cushion called a pillion fastened behind the saddle, the husband, father, brother, or lover riding in front on the saddle.

“The country doctor visited his patients on horseback, carrying his saddle-bags, containing calomel, jalap, Epsom salts, lancet and a turnkey, those being the principal aids in relieving the sick. Nearly every person sick or well was bled every spring. Teeth were pulled with a turnkey, and a dreadful instrument it was in looks, and terrible in execution.

“I remember seeing my father and our neighbors put through military drill every day by Captain Noah Ferry in 1814, for the war with Great Britain of 1812-15.

“My uncles, aunts, and others, when I was a child, often spoke about the ravages of Indians from which their ancestors had suffered, and numbers of them remembered and described the burning of Danbury by the British in 1777.

“Esquire Tom Taylor sometimes wore white-topped boots. He was a large, majestic-looking man, of great will-force, and was considered the richest man in Bethel. Mr. Eli Judd was marked second in point of wealth. Every year I took twelve dollars to Esquire Tom Taylor to pay the interest on a two-hundred-dollar note which my father owed him. I also annually carried four dollars and fifty cents to Eli Judd for interest on a seventy-five-dollar note which he held against my father. As these wealthy men quietly turned over each note filed away in a small package until they found the note of my father, and then indorsed the interest thereon, I trembled with awe to think I stood in the presence of such wonderfully rich men. It was estimated that the richer of them was actually worth three thousand dollars!

“Esquire Tom Taylor made quite a revolution here by one act. He got two yards of figured carpet to put down in front of his bed in the winter, because the bare board floor was too cold for his feet, while he was dressing. This was a big event in the social life of that day, and Esquire Tom was thought to be putting on airs which his great wealth alone permitted.

“When I was but ten years old, newspapers came only once a week. The man who brought us the week’s papers came up from Norwalk, and drove through this section with newspapers for subscribers and pins and needles for customers. He was called Uncle Silliman. I can remember well his weekly visit through Bethel, and his queer cry. On coming to a house or village he would shout, ‘News! News! The Lord reigns!’ One time he passed our schoolhouse when a snowstorm was prevailing. He shouted: ‘News! News! The Lord reigns – and snows a little.’

“Everybody had barrels of cider in their cellars and drank cider-spirits called ‘gumption.’ Professors of religion and the clergy all drank liquor. They drank it in all the hat and comb shops, the farmers had it at hay and harvest times. Every sort of excuse was made for being treated. A new journeyman must give a pint or quart of rum to pay his footing. If a man had a new coat he must ‘sponge’ it by treating. Even at funerals the clergy, mourners, and friends drank liquor. At public vendues the auctioneer held a bottle of liquor in his hand and when bidding lagged he would cry ‘a dram to the next bidder,’ the bid would be raised a cent, and the bidder would take his boldly and be the envy of most of the others.

“The public whipping post and imprisonment for debt both flourished in Bethel in my youthful days. Suicides were buried at crossroads. How blessed are we to live in a more charitable and enlightened age, to enjoy the comforts and conveniences of modern times, and to realize that the world is continually growing wiser and better.

“I sincerely congratulate my native village on her character for temperance, industry, and other good qualities.

“And now, my friends, I take very great pleasure in presenting this fountain to the town and borough of Bethel as a small evidence of the love which I bear them and the respect which I feel for my successors, the present and future citizens of my native village.”

The bronze fountain that P.T. Barnum donated to the town in 1881 was an 18-foot high Triton with a basin that had a diameter of 30 feet. The statue froze and cracked one winter and was disassembled and hauled away in 1924. It was replaced by the Doughboy statue in 1928.