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MORE AMERICAN MITRE PLANES
Early iteration of the Bailey no. 9 cabinet makers block plane (or pianomaker’s mitre plane). This one has the Aug 31, 1858 patent date. It’s not hard to see why Bailey changed the handle. From Quiet Corner Antiques. Below that are two photographs of the same example of the Bailey no. 9 first version, taken by Jim Bode in June 2019.
Lie Nielsen’s No. 9 plane is longer, with a sole 10 7/8″ long, as compared with the 9″ long c. 1900 Stanley shown here. Its also more massive, and looks to be more robust as compared with the original body casting, which can be prone to cracking at the rear, where the handle is attached. When the top fixing screw for the Stanley No. 9’s adjustable front sole piece is driven too tight, the casting can also crack on the sides, right above the adjustable front sole. While this example does not suffer from these problems, the Lie Neilsen is the one I go to first: it cuts wood very well, with no worries about breakage. It is, however, a rather big rig–14″ if you include the handle attachment–the user made handle is slightly oversized, in order to push the plane more easily.
Leonard Bailey worked at the Church & Lane Pianoforte Case Factory in Winchester, MA from 1853 until early 1858. Cephus Church and Joshua Lane established this factory in 1847 on Canal St. Church & Lane does not show in the Pierce/Michel Piano Atlas because they did not make whole pianos, just upright cases.
Bailey’s experience in the piano industry informed his early production work, as he offered veneer scrapers, spokeshaves, and mitre planes along with his bench planes in the late 1850s, and 1860s.
N.E. Michel and his Piano Atlas (1945-1963)
Norman E. Michel (5 September, 1894–23 December, 1972) did much of the early heavy lifting as far as the piano atlas was concerned. Norman was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and he ended his formal education after the 8th grade, which was reflected somewhat in his atlas. Michel was a veteran of WWI. During the 1920s, Norman Michel moved out to Los Angeles to continue his long career as a Piano Salesman.
In the late 1930s, Norman Michel began to compile piano makers’ serial numbers along with years of manufacture for the first edition of his Piano Atlas, published in 1947.
In the late 1940s, Bob Pierce worked at Penny Osley Music in Los Angeles and in 1947 he and Norman Michel produced the first Piano Atlas. The work was a great success, and subsequent editions were published. Unfortunately, in 1963, poor health forced early retirement on Norman Michel, and Bob Pierce took over sole ownership of the atlas.
Bob Pierce’s early involvement with the Michel Piano Atlas may have been exaggerated. I have a 1957 and 1949 copy of the Michel Piano Atlas, and in the 1949 edition there was no mention of Bob Pierce, nor was he listed as a co-publisher. For those of you who are familiar with with the later Pierce Piano Atlases, you will know that Bob Pierce was not a wallflower. On the contrary, Pierce included himself in many of the photographs within the Piano Atlas, alongside various pianos as well as looking towards the camera on many of his traveling vacations.
Here is a bookseller’s description of the 1957 edition:
Mr. Michel painstakingly produced this epic directory back in the ‘fifties, and it is a testament to his dedication and diligence in listing all the manufacturers data—down to the serial numbers. The ’57 edition contains more obsolete stuff than the expanded 1961 version, making it perhaps even more notable to the collector and the piano historian. This copy is complete with Michel’s cover letter to schools and teachers laid in.
William G. Scott, Planemaker
This Scott mitre plane was made at 204 Clinton St., Cincinnati, Ohio, with German silver shield or crest inlaid into the rosewood front infill. Apparently, there were at least three sizes of this plane; this one is 9″ long, with a 2″ iron. Others were 8 5/8″ with a 1 3/4″ iron, or 8″ long with a 1 5/8″ iron.
William G. Scott’s mitre, to my knowledge, was the only production infill mitre plane made in 19th century U.S.A. outside of New York state. Like the New York makers of pianomaker’s planes, Scott found his inspiration from the infill planemakers of Great Britain. Unlike the New York makers, Scott was influenced by profiles with more fluid lines, rather than straightforward box mitre designs. The smaller versions of this plane resemble an oversized Irish chariot plane. Scott’s mother was born in Ireland, and his father was born in England, so chances that he did not know about this Scottish/Irish style of planemaking would have been close to zero. Especially considering his surname. In the relatively small number of these planes that have surfaced, there is much variation; Scott’s casting designs were constantly tweaked and changed. Its fairly obvious that William Scott enjoyed playing around with his designs, because for usefulness and practicality reasons, it certainly was not necessary.
“Sole Manufacturer,” could be taken literally: Scott likely worked alone, after business hours, in his home-based workshop. Its true that Scott mitres are rare, but the small and steady amount of them that surface over the years, indicate that Scott must have continued with his planemaking endeavors through a long timespan. This would also be supported by his use of many casting variations which would have been used for a good number of casting batches over time.
First year of entry for Wm. Scott in Cincinnati. Clinton Street was in the West End, near the new Taft Information Technology High School on Ezzard Charles Drive. During the 1950s, the historic West End was razed for ‘urban renewal.’
Scott was listed every year, at 204 Clinton Street through 1894. In 1895, Scott was living at 13 Kenmore, and then he moved to 844 Clinton Street in 1896. W. G. Scott remained at 844 Clinton Street for the rest of his life. Note the separate address at the southwest corner of Josephine and Dorchester Avenue, Mount Auburn, for Scott’s workshop. Its an indication that Scott’s business was growing. With fly screens a specialty, Scott must have used his mitre planes for shooting the frames, among other uses.
Sometimes the effort made to keep a tool working showed its importance, or how much it was liked by the user. This plane sold for $450.
The nose on this plane is rounder than any of the other Scott castings shown here, and the iron appears to be set a few degrees lower than the others as well. It was sold in the 46th Brown tool auction in March 2015. Plane is stamped by ‘C. Fielding’ in a wave pattern. Some of you may notice that the signed Gabriel mitre no. 220 shown on the next page (Early English Mitre Planes) was also stamped by C. Fielding. It is fairly common that when a collector passes away, the heirs place the tools up for auction to be returned to the collecting community.
By 1886, D. H. Baldwin’s potential work force of skilled craftpeople was already established in the Cincinnati area, and besides, Baldwin was not the first pianomaker in southern Ohio. Frank Renfrow, a longtime piano specialist in the Cincinnati area, documented the following local pianomakers from 1825 to 1880: Charters, Garish, Golden, Reuss, Strange, Clark, Bourne, Smith & Nixon, Blackburn, Britting, Dannrechtin, Schaunel, Wardrogen, and Chase, among others.
IRISH CHARIOT PLANES
The roots of William G. Scott’s mitre plane designs originated from the Scottish mitre plane, which was a somewhat ephemeral form, and not made in quantity. Scottish mitre planes emerged in the mid to late 19th century, and lasted until the 1920s. Another derivation from the Scottish mitre was the Irish chariot plane, which was a slightly smaller version of the Scottish mitre, with a typical 1 3/4″ iron and a length ranging from 6 1/2″ to 9″. Irish chariot planes were also a stretched version of the classic English chariot plane, a blocky form ranging from 3 1/2″ to 5″. Others just consider Irish chariots as another variation on a block plane. All of these assertions are true. The vast majority of Irish chariot planes were unmarked, and user made–perhaps in a small casting batch for members of a workshop, or a group of friends.
Unmarked quality Irish/Scottish chariot plane, with cupid’s bow on wedge. The iron is set at 17 degrees and is 1 3/4″ wide at the mouth. Rosewood was used to bed the cutter. Its an example of the creativity many craftworkers possessed in the late 19th century. Traces of Scottish mitres, English chariots, and block planes are all apparent in it’s design.
Another example of this plane in iron was sold in the December 2016 D. Stanley Auction, lot 742.
This Irish/Scottish Chariot plane, also in gunmetal and ebony, is very similar to the Chariot plane shown above. Max Ott, a noted London cabinetmaker and collector, thought enough of it to add one to his collection.
Another version of the Irish Chariot plane. This design, with stepped toe and narrow ‘ears,’ can be observed in other examples. Some of these Irish Chariot planes were so similar as to probably be from the same casting pattern.
This Irish Chariot plane (l.) was made to the classic design pattern, with a knob-shaped wedge, swept sides, and divided recesses front and back, in red.
As many as a third of all chariot planes made were of the ‘Irish chariot’ type. Of all the infill planes, the Irish chariot was one of the most free in form, and at any given time, a variety of designs are available for sale on ebay U.K. The Irish chariot plane shown below has features that reference improved mitre planes, Norris No. 32 Thumb planes, along with the swept cheeks of an Irish chariot. This was a craftsman made plane, by one E. (Edward?) Edwards. There were half a dozen cabinetmakers with the name Edward Edwards, who were born in the U.K. between 1850 and 1880.
Unfortunately, the quality on many of the Irish Chariot planes offered for sale varies as well, with a majority being average at best, with a few of good quality. At least three established makers made Irish chariot planes: James Mulholland of Belfast, Edward Preston of Birmingham, and John William Thackeray of Armley, Leeds. All of them could be considered at the high end for fit and finish. Thackeray classified his Irish chariot plane as “The Ivy,” Improved Mitre Plane, but all of the design characteristics point to the former.
Irish Chariot planes first appeared in the 1890s, and they continued to be made into the 1930s. Were they actually developed in Ireland? If James Mulholland made Irish chariots in the 1890s, then there’s a good chance that it was the case. A James Mulholland, “Ironmonger,” was listed in the 1890 and 1900 P.O. Directories for Belfast. Throughout the 1890s, there were various listings for a James Mulholland as a joiner, carpenter, or smith. Perhaps these entries were of an older family relative of ‘our’ James Mulholland, whose father, John Mulholland, was born in 1844, and died in 1919. James Mulholland was located at 61 Ann Street in Belfast from 1907 to 1932, and this address was stamped on some of his Irish chariot planes. Like Preston, Mulholland’s version was also orange/red, with a plain toe, like Preston version 1, but with swept sides like Preston version 2.
What is clear, is that the Irish chariot pattern was not a London design. All of the known makers were north of London.
James Mulholland was born in Belfast, on 30 April, 1864 to John Mulholland (1844-1919) and Ellen McCabe (1843-1894). James married Agnes Jane Rea (1868-1944) on 2 April, 1888 at Fort William Park Presbyterian Church, in Belfast.
Was Mulholland first to make Irish chariot planes?
–Only if a Mulholland plane is found without the 61 Ann St. address stamped on it. 1907 was the first year for Mullholland at 61 Ann Street, Belfast. In their 1901 catalogue, Preston included their Irish Chariot plane.
Mulholland’s shop was a family business: son John Mulholland, 20, was an assistant ironmonger, Sarah, 21, was the book keeper, and James Jr., 15, was an ironmonger’s apprentice.
Robert Kelly Mullholland was managing a tool and hardware store in Kent, England in 1939.
Alexander was a model engineer in the tool making field during 1939. This kind of training would indicate that the design of some of the Mulholland tools could have been done in-house, and that the moulds and cores could have been retained in-house as well.
James Mulholland must have carried a fair amount of elegant spirit levels, as they do turn up in the market on occasion.
I held back on publishing this photo for some time because this is not a happy one; it has the signs of a funeral, all too common later in life.
Mulholland’s Irish Chariot plane was 9 1/4″ long, 1/4″ longer than the late Preston Irish Chariot plane.
The Mulholland plane pictured above is so clean that it is almost impossible to spot the tightly fitting throat closer. In this example, there is more contrast between the iron body and the steel plate.
My Mulholland Irish Chariot plane has an iron that is marked W. Marples.
1932 was Mulholland’s last year of entry in Kelly’s Belfast Post Office Directory at 61 Ann St. James Mulholland age 69, died on 30 January, 1934, and was buried in Belfast City Cemetery. Effects £2215 6s 7d.
61 Ann St. was just beyond the Bogart Clothing Store sign, with the numbers ascending.
Preston’s Irish chariot plane first appeared in his 1901 catalogue; it is unclear how long it was made before that, however. The cutting angle on version one is noticeably higher than the second version.
Preston’s Irish chariot plane was also available in gunmetal, and with a rosewood or ebony wedge. There was no infill.
In their 1909 catalogue, Preston continued to offer their 7 1/2″ Irish Chariot plane with throat closing plate. Prices remained the same as 1901.
Both Preston Irish chariot planes had a knob shaped wedge.
By the time of this second larger version of the Irish chariot plane (c. 1914), casting technology had advanced to the point where a mouth closer was not necessary to achieve a fairly fine mouth. Having said that, my version 1 Preston Irish chariot has a tighter mouth (<1/16″) than this version two example at 3/32″. Preston Irish chariot planes were made in the New Works at Cheston Road, Aston.
Invariably, all captains of industry asked their hired artists to make the most impressive image possible of their manufactories. Edward Preston Jr. (1835-1913) was no exception. At the factory’s peak before WWI, Preston employed about 200 men and women.
During the first half of the 20th century, the narrow piece of land between Cheston Rd. and the rail line was developed considerably.
“Manufacturer Rules, Planes, Spirit Levels and general tools in wood, ivory, steel, iron, and brass.”
This will index listing put Edward Preston Sr.’s (b. 1798) death on 14 April 1875. Most publications have his death in 1883.
It was Edward Preston Jr. who was responsible for expanding his father’s business beyond wooden planes, first adding rules, and eventually offering a full line of tools.
The first version of the early type had 90 degree notches at the sides of the nose, as shown in the Preston 1901 catalogue. Subsequent copies of the later Irish Chariot plane did not have the faux screw countersinks in the toe. Some of the last Preston Irish Chariot planes were not cast as carefully, and definition was diminished in the lettering, and in the casting generally. It was still a good plane.
John William Thackeray:John William Thackeray was born 10 April, 1869 in Burnt Yates, Clint, Yorkshire, to Charles and Sarah Thackeray; Charles was a joiner and farmer in 1871. “The Ivy” improved mitre plane (Irish chariot) was Thackeray’s best known plane, and the only one that had this mark on the body. It was named for the Ivy Works, at 51 Old Row, Armley, Leeds, where the plane casting was finished off. Occasionally, Thackeray’s planes would be stamped with a large “T” on the body.
Prices in the 1922 catalogue. Castings only: Nickel plated, 11/6; Malleable Iron, 9/6; Gunmetal, 11/6. Rosewood or ebony wedge 9d; Thackeray iron 1/6.
Improved mitre shooting plane was actually a simplified version of “The Ivy” without the embossed toe and the throat closer. All of Thackeray’s planes were available as separate components: body castings, irons, infills, wedges, and lever caps, were all available individually. For those who had skills and sought to save money, this could have been a boon. For those who chose to buy a completed plane–that could add up.
Prices in the 1922 catalogue: Nickel plated, 9/6; Malleable iron, 6/6; Gunmetal, 8/; Steel-faced gunmetal, 10/. Rosewood or ebony wedge 9d; Thackeray iron 1/6.
This example differs from the catalogue drawing by including a heraldic shield on the nose, and a concave lozenge shape on the bridge. It has a mahogany wedge, and is nickel plated. The iron is set at a low 14 degrees, and the mouth shows no chips or cracks, which is as much a complement to the original user as it is to Thackeray, as the iron is fairly short.
Charles Thackeray “Joiner (Master), and Farmer, 46 1/2 acres.”
Charles Thackeray, Charles Jr., and John William, 22, were all listed as “Joiner[s]” in 1891.
Jane Anne Senior (1869-1904)
John W. Thackeray, was listed as a “Carpenter; Employer,” with wife Jane A. and son Fred, 3.
Thackeray rented his property.
John William Thackeray married his second wife, Annie Elizabeth Stead (1866-1916) in North Bierley, Yorkshire, in the late Summer of 1909.
Thackeray’s version of an Irish chariot plane was heavier than other examples, as seen in the depth and thickness of the casting. That does not make it a mitre plane. The bed was infilled with rosewood.
“The Ivy” embossed casting was part of a general practice by several planemakers to promote their products around the WWI era. Preston was doing it, then Spiers introduced their embossed lever cap. A few years later, even Stanley made a name embossed lever cap.
Price for a completed “The Ivy” plane was 13/9 for either the nickel plated or the gunmetal version in the 1922 catalogue. Preston’s price for the iron Irish chariot was 10/- and gunmetal 14/- in the 1901 catalogue. There was a good amount of inflation between 1901 and 1922, so Thackeray was less expensive.
John William Thackeray addresses: 5 Wesley Place, Armley <1891-1893>; 5 Elizabeth St. c. 1901; 67 Old Row 1907-1912; 51 Old Row, “Ivy Works” c. WWI ~1930.
All of the white stuff was piles of asbestos fibres blanketing the neighborhood. Many locals contracted mesothelioma. J. W. Roberts was producing asbestos there from 1906 until 1959.
Samuel Ledgard (1874-1952) was a Leeds businessman best known for his bus lines in and around Leeds. Ledgard also owned a pub and brewery on 212 Armley Rd., very close to Old Row.
Some urban renewal is apparent on both sides of Ledgard Way (Old Row).
This map was drawn before J.W. Roberts Asbestos factory was built.
Two foundries and a forge were minutes away from Old Row. Price competition between these foundries likely made it viable for Thackeray to sell unfinished plane castings profitably. Like other planemakers, Thackeray would have owned his proprietary moulds and cores, bringing them to the foundry when a new batch was required.
In 1893, five individuals were listed on Old Row. There must have been a lot of empty units in and around Old Row.
By 1908, John William’s father, Charles was working as a wheelwright. No doubt, most, if not all these Thackerays were related.
It must have been interesting… There has always been a market for finely made caskets.
From the beginning of his planemaking career, John William Thackeray offered an a la carte menu for his customers.
By 1900, John William Thackeray was offering a full line of planes. As early as 1894, Thackeray had a catalogue which included his line of iron and gunmetal planes.
Given the health risks around Old Row, it’s reassuring to know that John William Thackeray lived a full lifespan.
Two months previous to John William Thackeray’s death was the Leeds blitz of 14/15 March 1941. Armley was particularly hard hit. It was a stressful time to live and work there.
This would be around $137,000 today.
Omitting the throat plate insert allowed Thackeray to move the mouth closer to the toe, and to lower the overall angle of the the iron from 22 degrees to 14 degrees.
Only two of these planes are known. It is 6 3/4″ long x 2 1/2″ wide, with a 2″ iron, bedded at 19 degrees. All parts were marked with a “0”. The mouth was formed using a front sole plate. In addition to the Norris stamp, the casting was marked “Patent Metal.” It has a flat heel like that found on Scottish chariot/thumb planes.
SOME EARLY ENGLISH PLANE IRONS
A review of early English metal planes would be incomplete without including some plane irons. Early English mitre planes carry much history, and sometimes retain their early Sheffield and Birmingham plane irons.
The early plane iron stamps were one line only. “James Cam; Warranted; Cast Steel” (middle) consisted of 3 separate stamps, probably because the stamps were made of softer metal in this period. Cam iron (right) has 2 stamps; “Warranted Cast Steel,” is an early 2 line stamp. Round top on this iron looks to have been chopped out with a metal chisel.
Benjamin Huntsman invented the crucible steel (cast steel) process circa 1740-1742. By 1787, a number of Sheffield edgetool makers had integrated this method.
In 1787, there were relatively few edge tool makers in Sheffield. By the early 1800s, many new edge tool makers had entered the field.
“IMPROVED WELDED” referred to the carbon steel edge that was welded to the wrought iron body of the plane iron. Most all English plane irons had a laminated edge in the 18th and 19th centuries–this was also true for chisels of the period. Blister steel, shear steel, and cast steel were all expensive (progressively), and it was less costly to engage the labor to weld a steel edge on to a wrought iron body rather than to make the entire tool from either of the three expensive types of carbon steel. By the early 20th century open hearth steel making had progressed to the point where making the entire plane iron from steel became economically feasible.
In the early to mid 18th century, Birmingham was a center for edge tool making. By 1770, Sheffield edge tool makers were dominating the field, and Birmingham tool makers concentrated on other tools, such as planes and rules.
Plantation tools would have been tools for the slave trade.
As the metal used for stamps became consistently harder, the stamps were made larger.
Robert Sorby Kangaroo Works iron, circa 1860, Ward & Payne iron, circa 1840s, and W. Peace iron, circa 1850s. Through most of the 19th century Sheffield edge tool makers offered slightly less expensive plane irons with steel laminations of blister steel or shear steel rather than “CAST STEEL” (crucible steel). These featured larger stamps which included the company logos. Most irons from this period had a cast steel edge.
The Greaves family was documented as working in the Sheffield Edgetool industry in the late 18th century, but by the 1820s, they had a strong presence in the City Directories
Sometimes in the old days, when a person would blink during a photographic exposure, the eyes would be added in the darkroom.
INNOVATIVE NYC STYLE MITRE PLANES:
From Martin Donnelly auctions, April 2016.
This plane is nicely appointed with a brass locking screw for the cap and a rounded brass washer to secure the throat adjustment. It retains its full cutting iron by Shepherd Brothers and and is in excellent collector quality condition. Henry Buchhop was listed as a cabinetmaker in the 1867 New York City Directory, living at 133 Sixth Avenue. In 1872, he was listed at 147 Avenue A. In 1878 he had moved to 458 W. 50th Street, where he worked as a cabinetmaker. He worked as a cabinetmaker in New York City throughout his life. The plane is marked with the designation “H. Buchhop” on the bridge. Its unique configuration suggests that Buchhop may have made it himself.
Here’s my succinct research: Buchhop was born in Germany in 1824; arrived in N,Y. August 16th, 1850; was naturalized June 1, 1857; died January 23, 1900 in Brooklyn.
There were at least two ways to make it easier to make the iron extra tight and secure. One was to increase the distance from the lever cap pin to the thumbscrew, and the other was to simply make the thumbscrew larger. Both approaches were ways to gain more leverage.
ORGAN BUILDER’S PLANES
From David Stanley auctions,Sept., 2014.
A very rare and early organ pipe makers combination voicing plane, a steel soled brass mitre plane with rosewood infill and wedge 10″ x 2 1/4″ used for thinning the surface of the tin or lead alloy sheets [spotted metal] used for the metal organ pipes, the iron can be changed to the vertical position and becomes the thicknessing plane (see SAL p287) when vertical the iron is held firm by the front infill being tightened with a brass screw, chip to wedge, most unusual.
‘Smiths’ organ pipe plane. Photos by Paul Blanche:
Below are four smoothing planes. Top row shows a Norris no. 3 parallel sided smoother with mahogany infills, and built in the 1930s. Next to it is an equivalent Spiers parallel smoother with mahogany infill, also made in the 1930s. Quality in the Norris shop during the 1930s exceeded that of the Spiers Paisley shop in the 1930s, but the Spiers is still a workable tool. Bottom row shows an unhandled Spiers coffin smoother circa 1870s and 1880s. Next to it is an early 20th century Norris parallel smoother, no. 3. Similarity of designs from these two makers exemplifies the great extent to which Thomas Norris ‘borrowed’ from Stewart Spiers for his entire product line-up (with the exception of some cast iron bench plane models).
Craftsmen would sharpen several plane irons, in a single session, for each plane every day. By doing so, workers would not have to interrupt their work flow at inopportune moments, and would instead enable consistent optimal production. Because of that, all four smoothers have replacement irons and would be considered user planes rather than collector’s items.
Early English mitre plane. This plane showed evidence of having been in the USA from the 1860s or 1870s. The Barber iron dated from that time, and it looked like the rosewood wedge was made for the replaced Barber, Auburn, N.Y. iron in that time frame. The rear infill bed was converted to adjustable by fitting a captive bolt into a mortise on the bottom side of the infill. Inspiration for the alteration–19th century hardware was used–likely came from a period craftsperson who was envious of the new adjustable N.Y. mitre planes, and made his own mitre adjustable as well. The front infill on this example had very early features, such as the lack of a moulding at the back, and having been made of beech.
I consigned this plane to an auction, and it sold to a collector who approached it as a project plane. He removed the front and rear infills, and started to make a new infill bed. Then he died. The project plane, now shined up, was again consigned to auction without a front infill. I did not bid.