J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Firmer for Molding Your Square Butts

The Jackson family of the Brazen Head advertised a lot of hardware that was unfamiliar to me—not that I do much metalworking or woodworking.

I looked up a bunch of those terms while confirming my transcription and got curious about others. So here’s what I learned about the unfamiliar inventory at the Brazen Head.

close-stool pans: Close stools were cabinets with chamber pots inside.

coffin bullions: Lumps of metal used to decorate coffins, it looks like.

double and single spring chest locks, stock locks: Edward Hoppus’s Builder’s Dictionary said, “LOCKS for Doors are of various Kinds; as for outer Doors, called Stock-locks; for Chamber-doors, call’d Spring-locks, &c.”

egg nob locks: Apparently locks built with doorknobs shaped like eggs.

H & HL hinges: Door hinges distinguished by their shapes. H hinges looked like the letter H. HL hinges, as illustrated a couple of days ago, looked like an H mashed with an L; some professional guides therefore called them IL hinges instead.

firmers: Merriam-Webster says a “firmer chisel” is “a woodworking chisel with a thin flat blade,” and dates the two-word phrase to 1827. The Jacksons’ ad is considerably earlier, of course. The word comes from the French “fermoir,” meaning to form.

gimblets: Now spelled “gimlet,” a T-shaped tool with a screw-tip for boring holes.

hallow and rounds: The first type often spelled “hollow,” these are planes for molding wood, shown here.

splinter and black pad-locks: A splinter padlock had four springs, according to a nineteenth-century reference. A black padlock was presumably black.

post pepper-mills: The sort of cylindrical pepper grinder we’re used to.

handles & scutcheons: Scutcheons were small metal plates, often shaped like shields (escutcheons), to protect part of a wooden surface from handling.

prospect hinges: These seem to be hinges for the “prospect door” in a desk, which was a “single, hinged portal fashioned with a keyhole,…for private or secret documents.”

brass & iron table ketches: Even Luke Beckerdite’s American Furniture could only guess that a “table Ketch” was “possibly a tea table,” but it sounds like it was part of a table—maybe a metal reinforcement of a table leg or foot.

rule joint table hinges: Diagram of a rule joint for a table leaf here.

square butts, dovetails: I think these were metal pieces to reinforce types of joints for two pieces of wood.

girt web: Usually called “girth web,” heavy canvas straps used to strap on saddles and other things.

jobents: A specialty nail with a thick shank, made for attaching iron straps.

dutch spectacles: Spectacles that perched on one’s nose without earpieces, like pince-nez.

bath metal thimbles with steel tops: Bath metal was an alloy of zinc and copper.

aul-hafts: Handles for awls.

spinnel: Sometimes this is a term for a mineral, more usually spelled “spinel.” The phrase “short spinel” is defined as “bleached yarn” or “unwrought inkle” in nineteenth-century references. But I can’t figure out why the Jacksons would be selling either of those things, and why they would list it between “punches” and “white wax.”

Box Irons, Flat Irons: Flat irons were solid, and box irons had a metal part that could be removed and placed in the fire, then replaced in the hollow of the iron to keep it heated.

And finally…

A Quantity of large brown Paper fit for sheathing Ships: In the 1730s, there were two ways to protect ships’ hulls against shipworm. One was attaching sheets of lead to the hull, which of course didn’t help with buoyancy. The other was to plaster the hull with tar, stick on a layer of hair, and then attach a thin sheath of wood that could be replaced as it was eaten away. It looks like thick rag paper could substitute for or supplement the hair.

(When copper sheathing became standard in the late eighteenth century, paper was one way to keep different metals from touching each other in the salt water and suffering galvanic corrosion. But Mary Jackson’s 1736 ad was too early to refer to that use.)

TOMORROW: Historical context for The Saga of the Brazen Head so far.


Mr Punch said...

"Ketches" may be catches for the tops of then-fashionable tilt-top tea tables - the brass ones from England were best I believe. As for "spinnel," it occurs to me that a spindle is sort of like a punch.

J. L. Bell said...

I thought about “spindle,” but the ad clearly says “spinnel,” with no plural possibilities.

I think you‘re right about “ketch” being a catch or latch to keep a table leaf in place, to go with the brass and iron hinges listed close by. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Isaac Royall Sr.'s 1739 probate inventory listed a close stool in the Kitchen Chamber, the room above the mansion's Winter Kitchen that also housed all the household's stored linens and "2 Negros Beds & Beding."

Mike said...

My grandfather had a box iron from 18th century Boston that had been handed down through the years. I remember it as being very small compared to a modern iron, and that I was fascinated by the sliding door that covered the opening for the heated metal piece.