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A full range of bench planes were utilized from the beginning of the piano industry until increased mechanization made their use obsolete, or at least, less common. These included smoothing, jack, and jointer planes in transitional, metallic, and wooden forms. Wooden forms were used first, until Leonard Bailey, Stanley, and others introduced their line of metallic bench planes after the Civil War. New York City piano makers and their workers, however, had a need for several specialized planes, which were supplied by New York tool makers, such as Napoleon and Julius Erlandsen, Joseph Popping, Lauritz Brandt, and George Thorested. These included box mitres, shoulder, bullnose, and miniature forms, and were known as New York City infill planes.
The famous and sought-after Erlandsen mitre plane, is shown below: it helped enable dedicated workers to build many pianos before the days of mass-production panel sanders, thickness planers, and after that for those working for the smaller piano makers. In my opinion there is no other specialized plane that can be characterized as a “piano plane” to the same extent as the Erlandsen mitre. Even recently, surrounded by increased mechanization, this type of plane has remained in use in the Steinway factory to create the crown in the middle of the keybed of their grand pianos. These planes were patterned after the English box mitres, and earlier planes from the European mainland, primarily France, Germany, and Italy, with a low angle blade for cutting end grain and the irregular, difficult grains of some exotic hardwoods. The tall sides of the plane, set square to the sole, enable the tool to be used on its side to shoot mitres and angles, and could also be used with a shooting board. It is actually a very large block plane, and Leonard Bailey/Stanley introduced the #9 (their version of a mitre plane) before the production of their other block planes. These were also sold as “smooth planes,” as in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog entry shown further down on this page, so there were many uses.
Before this group of New York toolmakers could produce an adequate amount of specialized planes for the piano industry, English mitre, rebate, and other infill planes were imported. But these planes were expensive, especially with the added cost of shipping them to the United States, so sufficient quantities were not available at a reasonable price. Also, the size of English mitre planes at the time averaged ten or eleven inches, somewhat larger than what was sought by the U.S. pianomakers.
A major difference between the Erlandsen box mitre planes and the older English box mitre planes was that the main iron body of the Erlandsen plane was cast in a single piece compared to the English practice, where the sides of the plane were dovetailed to the sole, which was a more expensive and laborious process. Napoleon Erlandsen, who was an expert machinist, was able to maintain quality and save expense by using this efficient approach. The front of the sole was cast in a separate piece, though, which provided the user with an adjustable mouth, as well as making the mouth (aperture for the blade) easier to manufacture. A small mouth was necessary for fine cutting and avoiding grain tear-out in this type of low angle plane. These were simple planes that worked very well, and never incorporated the adjustment mechanisms that Stanley/Bailey used in their planes, but the specialized New York infill planes were often the tools of choice for the piano making workers on the East coast of the United States.
N. Erlandsen mitre plane and Stanley No. 9 cabinet makers block plane (or pianomaker’s mitre plane). The New York/Erlandsen type was introduced first, c. 1840 and 50s, and the the Stanley #9 was developed by Leonard Bailey before he worked for Stanley, in the late 1850s into the 1860s. A side handle for the #9 is not shown here. Both miters are cast iron, and have an adjustable mouth. The sole of the No. 9 is 1/8th of an inch longer than the Erlandsen, which was listed as no. 113B in the 1885 Hammacher Schlemmer catalog shown later on this page. N. Erlandsen signed this plane on the small elevated area of the front toe.
Stanley Catalog, 1934. The #97 chisel plane is shown further down on this page. Number nines were described as 10″ long, but the example above, ~1900, with an 1892 blade, is 9″. After the turn of the century, the sole was shortened; this was probably driven by customer demand as well as to compete more closely with Erlandsen. In the example above. the shorter sole was attained by diminishing the size of the front and rear extensions. No. 97 chisel plane shown further down on this page is 9-1/2″, not 10″.
Lauritz Brandt owned and ran a machine shop in N.Y. from 1842 to 1880 at several locations over the years. Brandt was born September 6, 1807, in Denmark, and died June 28, 1890 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Brandt arrived in the U.S. in 1836, at the age of 29.
In 1839, Lauritz married Anna Kerrn. Because Lauritz and Anna had no children, Lauritz likely sought someone to mentor outside of his family. To an undetermined extent, Brandt advised George Thorested, a young, recent immigrant from Norway. When that relationship ended in the late 1850s, he sought another talented individual to take over the piano tool trade. That person turned out to be Napoleon Erlandsen, who emigrated from Denmark to New York in 1861, and set up shop alongside Lauritz Brandt in 1863.
In the early 1860s, Brandt began to mentor Napoleon Erlandsen, and the two of them shared the same address for a decade: 417 5th St. (1865-1869), and 615 East 5th St. (1869-1875), in Manhattan. Brandt’s most familiar address was 220 1/2 5th St. (1851-1860), which was inscribed on the lever caps of many of his planes as well as inside the handles of his bow drills. It is not clear if Brandt actually produced pianomaker’s tools after 1860, as he made a moderate fortune from selling his Denmark factory which produced the Bruce Type-casting machine in 1859. Bruce’s Type-casting machine was patented in 1838 and 1843.
In “New York City Makers of Pianomaker’s Planes,” by John G. Wells, from the December 2011 issue of the EAIA Chronicle, Torben Bentsen provided a translation of this obituary: “Brandt, Lars (Lauritz) Johannsen Peter. September 6, 1807-June 28, 1890, Inventor. Born in Svendendorg. Parents: Christian Olsen and Anna Dorothea Olsdatter. The mother later married Blacksmith Eric Rasmussen in Faaborg, with whom Brandt learned the trade of a blacksmith. When in his twenties, he went to Copenhagen, later Sweden and Russia, where in Petrograd, he got lucrative work in precision engineering. In 1831, he traveled to Germany and around 1840 to New York, where he gained employment in David Bruce’s typecasting company. Here he constructed the first practical usable type setting machine. During a multiyear stay in Europe he got his machine marketed in Germany with the company E. Haenel, who did however not mention Brandt’s name. From here and from Denmark the machine was distributed to other countries. In 1848 Brandt founded a factory for the machine and other items. In 1859 he sold the factory to another Dane and lived from his fortune. In 1881 he moved to Copenhagen where he passed away. [He married Anna Kerrn in 1839; she passed away in 1869]”
Note that Brandt was dovetailing the top or sides of the plane to the sole in a similar manner as the British and Scottish plane makers, such as those made by Norris or Spiers. Brandt was the first to introduce the adjustable mouth to this type of plane, but this a copy of an earlier model with a fixed mouth. In the mid 1840s, Brandt pioneered the use of lever caps for the N.Y. mitre plane. This was around the same time as Stuart Spiers in Ayr, Scotland and Fenn in London began installing lever caps as an option, replacing the bridge and captive wedge in their planes.
A Boston connection indicates that from the beginning of the New York plane makers, Boston piano factory workers were served as well as the New York based workers. Employees within Boston piano factories such as Chickering and Hallet & Davis, prominent in the 1840s, would have had the opportunity to purchase this Brandt mitre plane. If they could afford it. In many cases, the factory itself would purchase the planes. Throughout the 1840s and ’50s, Chickering was the leading maker of pianos in the United States.
Unmarked iron rabbet plane with sides pinned together over a rosewood infill, consisting of two pieces, one in front, and the other in back, behind and underneath the sloped steel cutter seat. A steel triangular shaped spacer or keeper was placed directly in front of the rosewood wedge, and the top of the steel cutter seat can be seen behind the wedge and iron. The plane has a very thick sole, 1/4″ in fact, and the escapement has the combined rectangle and circle which was used by Brandt, Thorested, and the Erlandsens. This particular plane had a smaller circle, though, which was positioned more on the top corner of the rectangle rather than more out in front of the rectangle, with the bottom of the circle creating a front ‘shelf’ before the actual mouth, as seen on most Erlandsen and Thorested rabbets. I’ve seen a Brandt rabbet plane with a virtually identical shaped escapement that was photographed in Wells’ December 2011 EAIA article on N.Y. pianomaker’s planes. All of these features indicate that this plane was likely made by Lauritz Brandt, although it can’t be said with 100% certainty. Thorested and Erlandsen also made a limited number of rabbets with sides pinned together over a rosewood infill, but with a slightly different escapement as described above. Some Thorested non-adjustable planes, however, did had a similar escapement like this one. Blade angle on this one is somewhat steeper than is what is typically seen on the New York rabbet planes.
Having a steel cutter seat ensured that the angle for the full length of the iron would stay stable over time, and not be subject to shrinkage of the infill wood. This applied specifically to examples of rabbets where the blade was not resting on—and supported by—the top of the rear wall of the plane. Towell and Spiers rabbets, upon which this plane was partially based, could be susceptible to having the rear part of the cutter seat eventually dry out and shrink to a slightly lower angle than that of the front section. The front portion of the cutter seat would be held to tolerance by the supporting metal components: the sloped upper sole, and the two sides of the the escapement, both behind the mouth.
All of Thorested’s pianomakers planes show the strong influence of Lauritz Brandt, especially the earlier ones. Similarities in design features abound generally, but this can also continue down to the smallest details. The fact that they worked within close proximity in Manhattan, as well as both of them having been native to Scandinavia gives strong indication that Brandt mentored the younger Thorested. Thorested was the first among the New York planemakers to develop a cast iron body for the mitre plane; Thorested’s earlier mitres, however, were made of iron sides dovetailed to a steel or iron sole, in a traditional style similar to that of his elder colleague Lauritz Brandt. With the exception, of course, that these planes had adjustable mouths, in contrast to the English mitres. Its fairly likely that Thorested made planes at other owner’s machine shops before establishing his own workshop at 23 Hamersley St. in 1854. Its also likely that one of these other shops would have been Brandt’s at 220 1/2 Fifth St. After 1861, Hamersley St. became Houston St., a fairly major thorofare running east to west in southern Manhattan. This shop was established during Thorested’s working arrangement with John Nystrom, which involved manufacturing the Nystrom calculator. Profits and possible financial backing from making the calculator were the likely source of funding for establishing this workshop, but those profits would have been relatively modest, given that an estimated 100 were made in total. And part of that production was given to William J. Young in Philadelphia.
“In late 1840s the young Swedish immigrant in USA John William Nystrom, who lived in Philadelphia, invented a calculating device, which was presented and received a First Premium at the Franklin Institute Exhibition in 1849. Later Nystrom received a patent for his calculating machine (US patent №7961, March 4, 1851). In an article of Scientific American the device was hailed as the most important one ever brought before the public. Despite all of the accolades however, it was never widely accepted, and no more than 100 devices were ever produced. This may have been because the cost (there were $10, $15, and $20 models, a huge sum in 1850s), or because the instrument was never well advertised or marketed.” From history-computer.com
In 1856, Thorested’s machine shop address changed to 5 Hamersley St., as entered in Trow’s 1856 and 1857 New York City business directory.
Both mitre and rabbet planes made by Thorested are scarce, because his period of tool production was cut short, and limited to the 1850s. I would estimate that the cast iron mitres and rabbet planes with a double casting, were made after Thorested had his own shop in 1854. The earlier dovetailed mitres and pinned rabbets would have required a number of files and a few other hand tools, which could have easily been carried around to various machine shops during Thorested’s first years in the U.S. –Whereas the necessary time for experimentation and room for casting equipment would have best been done in his own space. Cast iron planes of any kind were uncommon during this 1850s period, which many consider the zenith of wooden planemaking. Hazard Knowles registered the first patent for a cast iron bench plane in 1827, but relatively few Knowles planes and Knowles copies were produced. It wasn’t until the late 1860s that the cast iron plane was produced en masse, by Stanley and their Bailey-designed planes.
Little has been known about Thorested, and he remains a mysterious figure to the present day. George Thorested was single, and no evidence of extended family in America has been uncovered. I also did not find Thorested in U.S. census records. His last residence was located at 279 East 10th St., in Manhattan. George Thorested died on August 6, 1858 in Manhattan, at the age of 37 from “inflammation of the lungs.” He was interred at Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn the next day.
On October 29th, 1858, in New York City, George Thorested’s court probate record was made.
Another early New York rabbet plane, this one is made from two cast iron offset body halves which have been pinned together–the right body half holds the sloped cutter seat. A seam between the two body halves can be seen faintly along the top of this plane, about 3/4ths of the way over to the right side. An adjustable throat could be set with two clocked cheese head screws deeply recessed at the bottom of the two holes at the front top of the plane. These holes were threaded, and this plane came with two threaded ebony plugs, which are not shown in this photo. Alignment was maintained by two studs on the top of the adjustable sole, which were held in place by two elongated corresponding slots on the bottom of the front portion of the plane. Most of these features point to George Thorested as the maker of this New York pianomakers plane. It was marked “Meyer & Eiffler, 209 Bowery St., N.Y.,” which was the same address as Hammacher Schlemmer from 1853 to 1904. Meyer & Eiffler was a small hardware concern which sold a wire gauge, various padlocks, and a limited number of New York pianomakers mitre planes as well.
Thorested’s rabbet with two cast iron halves led the way towards Erlandsen’s design for a rabbet plane, which was a relatively complex single iron casting, requiring cores.
Mystery New York Mitre Plane. Thorested?
It’s not entirely clear who made this attractive cast-iron 9-inch New York mitre plane shown below, which displays iron, bronze, and brass in contrast with the rosewood. Here are some collector-oriented details about the niceties of this plane, which I will compare with other N.Y. piano plane makers. Much of the information used here to compare the various mitre planes can be found in this excellent article: “New York City Makers of Pianomakers’ Planes” published in the December 2011 issue of the The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, written by John G. Wells.
- Exquisite machining was done on the brass lever cap screw, with two concentric rings separated by a concave area in the face, a dimple in the middle, and two knurled rings on its outer edge. While not unlike Erlandsen lever cap screws, this one is more detailed.
- The front infill, with a concave moulding in front of the mouth, is made of one piece of solid rosewood, instead of having a lesser wood glued underneath the rosewood and a third convex vertical piece in front of the mouth, as seen on Erlandsen mitre planes.
- Gunmetal (bronze) was used for the lever cap instead of iron, which was typically used by the known N.Y. makers, with some exceptions. Underneath the bronze lever cap there is a clearly delineated 1/8th -inch thickening surrounding the threads of the lever cap screw, but it is not the same as the 3/16-inch inverted cone on the Erlandsen mitres.
- The lever cap, with a long neck and parallel sides, is shaped differently than Erlandsen’s or Thorested’s. But the cross pin for the lever cap is threaded into one side, like Thorested or Brandt’s mitre planes. Since Brandt used dovetailing in the construction of his planes, Brandt can be ruled out, and it doesn’t look anything like the Popping mitres. The W. Butcher 2-inch iron was pretty much the widest offered in the largest N.Y. mitres, and Thorested was known for using W. Butcher irons among others.
- In order to clear the long lever cap neck for the blade as it wears down, a concave area was made on the front of the pad. Cheese-heads machine screws are used for adjusting the front sole piece beneath the infill, as do Thorested”s planes, while Erlandsen’s have round head machine screws.
- On the front sole extension is a 3/32″ step down, the same as in N. Erlandsen’s mitres; Thorested’s step down was only 1/16″.
- On the front end of the body of the plane there is a noticeably more convex curve than what is typically seen on an Erlandsen, but some of Thorested’s mitre planes do have front and rear curves this pronounced, or even more so. Other important details characteristic of Thorested such as a guide pin for the adjustable front sole piece, are missing however.
- This plane could have been made in an upstart N.Y. machine shop, but if that was the case, it was an excellent one. What do you think?
SOME ERLANDSEN HISTORY
Napoleon Erlandsen, a Danish immigrant (born Copenhagen, Denmark, March, 1831), moved to New York in 1861, and began making tools for the piano trade around 1863. He married Louisa Aubinger (1841-1928), a first generation German–American, in 1864, and they had two sons: Oscar (1865-1943) who became a noted civil engineer, and Julius (December 5, 1866–October 20, 1956), who accompanied Napoleon in business. Napoleon was a skilled machinist, designer and woodworker, and he developed a tool making business that supplied Hammacher Schlemmer, Alfred Dolge, American Felt Co., C. F. Goepel, and Schley, as well as other piano tool and supply retailers outside the U.S. He developed a full line of tools for tuners, action regulators, case makers, bellymen, and other allied tradesmen. His son, Julius, joined him in the early 1880s, and they worked together until about 1894, when Napoleon retired. Napoleon was severely injured in a streetcar accident and died as a result of his injuries on July 19th, 1900. Julius continued the business until at least 1940, according to the US federal census.
1894 article in the “Music Trades Review.” This revealed that Julius Erlandsen was in now control of the company, innovating, and receiving credit for it. Its just one example of the wide range of products that the Erlandsen machine shop supplied for the piano industry.
“…Mr. Erlandsen is an expert judge of and worker in steel, and the fine tempering of the steel used in the production of his tuning hammers is done by himself.” Music Trades Review, 1919. Julius Erlandsen also held at least 6 patents, which can be seen here.
Erlandsen machine shop addresses: 519 East 5th St (1864-1865); 417 5th St (1865-1869–shared with mentor Lauritz Brandt); 615 East 5th St. (1868-1875–also shared with Lauritz Brandt); 87 Elizabeth St (1875-1880); 107 Rivington St. (1880-1893); 172 Center St. (1893-1931); 93 84th St. Jackson Heights, Long Island City, residence and work (1932~1940).
Julius Erlandsen was living in the Queens borough of New York City at the time of the 1940 census. He listed his vocation as a machinist, specifically making piano tools. Julius also declared that he worked a full 40 hour week previous to the census interview, and that he worked a full 52 weeks in 1939. Based on the limited volume of piano supplies produced during the Great Depression, I’d speculate that Julius was working alone or with one assistant. The last year of entry for Erlandsen’s 172 Centre St address was 1931.
Julius likely was forced to downsize, and move essential equipment to his residence due to the loss of sales during the worst of the Great Depression. Most of Erlandsen’s 1930s tool production would have been for Hammacher Schlemmer. By this time, based on extant Erlandsen tools from the period, I believe that he was primarily producing tuning, voicing, regulating, and stringing tools. Mueller ‘improved, hammer, version 2, is one example of Julius’ late production. Plane and bow drill production had been greatly diminished if not curtailed during the 1930s. Erlandsen’s bow drill and tuning hammers were included in Goddard’s no. 80 trade list, circa 1938-9. Its the last offering of these tools that I have found.
Julius Erlandsen’s obituary in the New York Times on Oct 24, 1956, just a few weeks away from his 90th birthday. He was born on December 5th, 1866 (from familysearch.org).
Hammacher Schlemmer’s line of Erlandsen mitre planes in their 1885 piano supply catalogue. Width given is that of the cutters rather than the plane bodies.
Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, January 1,1885: ”Iron smooth plane” showing line of Erlandsen mitre planes. Nickel plating (photo below), a prestige feature, added substantially to the cost, but did not hold up in the places where the hand made contact with the plane body. In this illustration, the pad has a cutout allowing for further blade wear, as on the ‘mystery’ 9-inch mitre shown earlier. It is a variation uncommonly found. The illustration also shows the triangular step-down on the front toe extension instead of the earlier version below this one, where the step-down follows the rounded contour of the plane body. Possibly done as a result of a newer machining process that didn’t require hand touch up, as needed before.
If the rounded step was discontinued with the introduction of the triangular step by 1884 or earlier, then it would indicate that the bulk of Erlandsen mitre plane production was relatively early, before 1885. Less Erlandsen mitres have been found with the triangular step.
Shown above, this mitre has definite Erlandsen characteristics: such as the cone-like projection underneath the lever cap, the profile of the body casting, the details of the adjustable mouth, and the lever cap screw. While similar to other lever caps screws made by Erlandsen, save the threaded steel screw column peined flat instead of rounded, it is 1/8″ larger. Front portion with the adjustable sole is longer than typical, and so is the infill, which has the convex moulding in front of the throat. And the pad on the iron is huge, with a large cutout for the neck of the lever cap, which is shortened compared to other Erlandsens.
Dominic Micalizzi, an early collector of N.Y. piano tools wrote about his early finds of New York piano planes, including planes of Erlandsen, Brandt, and Popping in the CRAFTS Tool Shed Quarterly dated March 1983.
Adjustable Erlandsen-type rabbet plane. Gunmetal version. Very similar to the iron, steel, and rosewood version shown above.
Three marked N. Erlandsen rabbet/shoulder planes, all with skewed cutters. All have side openings for the blade which has a combination rectangle and circle, a development borrowed from Brandt. A circle was to allow for better chip ejection curling up.
- On the left is a steel rabbet plane, early, with a later J. Erlandsen skewed cutter, possibly a replacement. Its body is made up of a number of applied steel components, i.e., sides, sole and center portions; the sides are pinned together, but require a loupe with proper lighting to detect. All together, its a heavy, solid steel tool.
- On the right are two early nickel plated cast iron shoulder planes. Napoleon Erlandsen was the first of the New York planemakers to introduce a rabbet plane where the body was wholly cast in one piece. Even with extensive hollowed out sections above the adjustable sole, and under the cutter, these planes are heavy for their size, much more so than the Popping shoulder planes shown later on this page. Casting these planes would have required cores, which involved some extra time and expense for Erlandsen’s production. A sliding adjustable front sole piece is locked by the two screws on top, and a fine adjustment is added at the front of the planes. Both of these adjustable planes belonged to one T. Larson, and you can see that the wear marks through the plating reveal a similar hand position on each.
- On the plane in the middle, just to the right of the fine adjustment screw is the end of an alignment rod which sits inside a half round groove on the top of the sole, and on the bottom front of the main casting. Erlandsen was borrowing directly from George Thorested’s adjustable iron rabbet and mitre planes here, so this plane probably dates from the 1860s. Later, Napoleon Erlandsen moved on to his own design for an adjustable sole, using a raised trapezoidal alignment rail as shown on the shoulder plane to the right.
Note the steeper angle of the rabbet plane’s wedge as compared with the lower angle wedge on the two shoulder planes. Traditionally, the rabbet plane was used with, or along the grain, and had the cutter set at a higher angle. Rabbet planes were intended to remover larger amounts of wood relatively quickly. Sometimes, as in the Erlandsen example above, they also had a skewed cutter.
Shoulder planes were used historically for end grain work and would have a lower angle for the iron, as well as a smaller mouth than the rabbet planes. With the New York planemakers, these distinctions became somewhat blurred, with both shoulder and rabbet planes having relatively low angle bevel up cutters and small mouths. Shoulder planes typically had straight blades, they were not skewed as in the two examples shown in the middle and the right. I have seen these types of Erlandsen tools described alternately as rabbet or shoulder planes.
Erlandsen rabbet planes with fixed mouths, and available in six choices, as shown in the Jan. 1, 1885, Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. This was a cast iron model with a finger hole to balance the weight as well as to give another way to help grasp the plane while working. It was surely a simpler way to lighten the plane as compared to the extensive internal hollowing out done on the earlier cast iron rabbets. This 1885 catalog entry reveals that this model was introduced almost a decade earlier than what has been generally thought.
Two shoulder planes (named for planing the end grain on the shoulders, surrounding tenons), 1-1/4” width, and 1” width, by Joseph Popping, N.Y. Popping (b 1842 in Prussia) only marked the iron, never the plane body. This type of plane has the blade fully extending to the sides (or even a scant 1/64” proud), which were made square to the sole. Most frequently found of all the New York pianomakers planes, but do not let a place like eBay deceive you into thinking that these are common.
In 1869, Joseph Popping emigrated from Prussia to New York, and he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1874. Popping’s machine shop operations were established in 1873 and curtailed in late 1903 as shown by the New York City directories. His machine shop addresses were as follows: 55 West Broadway (1873–1874); No entries found for 1875–1880; 767 9th Ave. (1880–1881); 433 West 56th St. (1881–1883); 806 11th Ave. (1883–1902). The 1900 US census revealed that Popping was still working, although “unemployed” for two months out of that year, so business was either slowing down or Popping took time off for personal or health reasons. Joseph and Elizabeth, his wife, rented their home. The 1905 New York state census showed that Joseph Popping, 63, was living “at home,” which in the terms of the census, means that he was retired. Popping’s output was primarily iron and bronze planes, mostly for the piano industry, and some of it through Hammacher Schlemmer. Outside of the piano industry, Popping produced Hofstaetter’s hair picking machine, and earlier in his career, gunsmithing work. Joseph Popping’s death certificate revealed that he died in Manhattan on November 27,1906 at the age of 64.
Joseph Popping, not known for originality or innovation in some circles, actually held at least four U.S. patents. The first two, dating September, 16th 1873, and December 9th, 1873, were both titled “Improvement in Welding Iron and Steel.” While I don’t know enough about welding to evaluate these patents, it is true that welding cast iron can be tricky, and very few welders would attempt, for example, to weld together a cracked piano plate. Or a cast iron plane, for that matter. On December 2nd, 1879, Joseph Popping obtained his third patent: Improvement in “Machines for Splitting and Shaving Willow Withes.” These were used for making baskets, which were more universal in the 19th century. The machine in this patent drawing looks complicated, and if any actual examples were made, it would have been a challenging project. Popping’s fourth patent for a washing machine was received on January 9th, 1894.
Three bullnose planes, all with one inch blades: Popping, with a fine mouth and a large boxwood wedge, which is larger than I’ve seen on other Popping bullnose planes, which are typically rosewood. Perhaps Joseph Popping was just taking advantage of a good sized, unflawed piece of boxwood. Other Popping bullnose planes I’ve seen also have side openings with a small convex curve at the rear portion; the Popping shoulder planes shown earlier, have a convex curve with a larger radius at the rear of the side openings. Also, the rear ‘ears’ on the Popping do not extend behind the sole, like they typically do, as on the Preston bullnose in the back of the photo. The Preston is one of a general type which served as an example for Stanley, Popping, and Williams & Ham, of Troy, NY. Middle plane is a Stanley #90 from the 1920s ‘sweetheart’ era.
At $3.80, the No. 14 Popping mitre was a lot more expensive than $2.43 for the No. 9 in 1896 money, but less than the $4.50 for the equivalent Erlandsen mitre, No. 113A in the 1891 H.S. catalogue. Later on, in the Hammacher Schlemmer pianomaker’s catalogues for 1896 and 1903, prices on Erlandsen’s unplated polished steel mitre planes were lowered: 113A, 8″ with 1 3/4″ iron was reduced to $3.60, and 112A, 7″ with 1 1/2″ iron was reduced to $3.25. Prices for the plated Erlandsen mitres remained the same between late 1884 and 1903.
“[Popping mitre] planes have adjustable throats and will work in bone and ivory as well as the hardest wood.”
The throat was made to be adjusted by a single screw at the top of the infill, as compared to most all the other New York mitres where removing the infill and adjusting two or three screws on the upper front sole was necessary. Popping’s mitre had the top adjustment screw threaded into a large nut held inside a captive cage where the nut could slide forward and back. Bailey’s top adjustment for the mouth, introduced with the Bailey mitre plane in the early 1860s, provided the example for Popping, who designed his mitre plane with top adjustment around 1870.
Joseph Popping bought his lever cap screws for these mitre planes from Leonard Bailey (1825-1905), whose patents were bought by Stanley Rule and Level Co. Bailey lever cap screws, made for the Victor line of planes, would have been in production between 1875 and 1888. Popping probably bought enough Bailey screw inventory to continue making mitre planes into the 1890s. Production of Popping mitres, however, was minuscule when compared to the very popular Popping shoulder planes, because his mitres were never big sellers. The piano industry, large as it was in the late 19th century, consisted of a specialized, confined market, and the Popping mitre was competing with the less expensive Bailey/Stanley No. 9 cabinet makers block plane, as well as the upmarket nickel plated Erlandsen mitre. For those piano workers on a restrictive budget, temporarily making-do with the larger block planes, such as the Stanley no. 19, became an option. At least until an upgrade became affordably within reach.
Shoulder planes made by Popping, however, with the true shoulder plane profile and hand holds for challenging joinery, really had no competitor in the United States, except for the more expensive British imports. –Stanley shoulder planes, Nos. 92, 93, and 94, were introduced in 1902, when Joseph Popping was in the process of winding his operation down, and retiring.
Stanley provided lever cap screws for the earliest Popping mitres, roughly between 1873, Popping’s initial establishment in NYC, and 1875, when Bailey’s Victor lever cap screw became available.
Erlandsen’s role as piano tool and machinery supplier to the industry:
Popping had Hofstaetter’s hair picking machine, George Thorested had Nystrom’s calculator, and Lauritz Brandt had the Bruce typecasting machine. But the Erlandsen’s had their particular niche within the piano industry dominated with a wide offering of hand tools and machinery for pianomaking, supplying Hammacher Schlemmer, Schley, Alfred Dolge, American Felt Co. , and others, as well as their own modest proprietary offerings. Beyond the U.S., J.& J. Goddard in London, and Otto Higel in Toronto, Canada, also offered some Erlandsen tools. Erlandsen’s also provided machine tooling work for models and prototypes which they advertised in the “Scientific American.”
“Scientific American” May 11, 1889. 107 Rivington St.:
Even though Thorested and Brandt have held special interest for collectors seeking rare tools, it was the Erlandsens who truly left their mark on the piano industry. The bulk of Brandt’s tool production was between 1842 and 1860, with any subsequent output unsubstantiated. Thorested made his last planes in 1858. To put this in perspective, Steinway & Sons in New York was established in 1853. Chickering of Boston was the leading pianomaker in the U.S. from the 1840s to around 1870, when Steinway superceded Chickering as the leading piano company.
Based on the number of tools that have been found, Julius Erlandsen’s output appears to have been predominantly specialized piano tools, while more planes and bow drills with Napoleon’s mark seem to have survived. Concurrent market demands during the span of the Erlandsen’s output (1863–c1940) are in line with the numbers of various extant Erlandsen tools.
While the relatively small output of Thorested and Brandt did not have the impact or influence on the piano industry when compared to the much larger and broader output of the Erlandsens, the study of these makers uncovered the development of the New York pianomakers planes. And without question, Napoleon and Julius Erlandsen were influenced by Brandt and Thorested, as it can be seen in the design aspects of their planes and bow drills.
Another early New York pianomakers rabbet plane, this one was made from flat brass stock, which was cut, shaped and brazed together, then screwed into the mahogany infill. Ward 1-1/4″ snecked iron and rosewood wedge. Coming from a working shop, the rear infill had a small removable shim added to make up for wood shrinkage, and the consequential lower bed angle as compared to the front portion of the blade.
Stanley finger plane No. 101, made from 1877 to 1962. This very small plane was included in most of the piano supply catalogs between 1885 and 1940, because it was small, useful for a number of repairs, and could easily fit into a mobile tuner’s kit. These detail planes were used to remove wood in situations where today, sanding or filing would be more commonplace. This Stanley 100 with the squirrel tail tote was made in the 1930s, and the #101 in the foreground has the early Stanley inscription, which would date it to 1877–1884.
Improved versions of these planes are currently made by Lie Nielsen and St. James Bay, and various other copies are offered in recent piano supply catalogs. I have used small planes such as these for jobs on basswood keysets in 1950s-1970s U.S. spinets and consoles where the keys were so badly warped that no amount of spacing at the front of the key would give clearance at the back of the keys. In other words, the keys actually were rubbing against an adjacent key. In a situation like this, one of these planes with a properly sharpened blade, did a much neater and cleaner job of slightly narrowing the rear sides of the offending keys than either filing or sanding.
Two Stanley planes, Nos. 9 and 101. The No. 9, Cabinetmaker’s block plane, was made from 1870 to 1943. This was Stanley’s version of the Erlandsen mitre plane as well as the English infill mitre planes, and this model was also used in the piano industry. A No. 9 was among the planes found in Studley’s tool chest and It included the added adjustment features which were standard in Stanley planes. Stanley No. 9’s are avidly sought by collectors–modern copies of this plane were made by Lie-Nielsen until 2013. American Felt Co.,1911, although the pictured #9 is a earlier version. An even earlier version, the Bailey No. 9, can be seen here:
Three dovetailed steel English box mitre planes, generally these designs served as examples which influenced Bailey and Erlandsen. All three planes have fine non-adjustable mouths, especially the Moseley and the Spiers. On average, these English planes have smaller throats than either the Stanley No. 9 or the New York piano planes when adjusted to their narrowest aperture. There are notable exceptions, however.
- An early mitre, c. 1800-1830, heavily constructed, with a 2″ blade, beech infill and rosewood wedge, 2-3/8″ wide by just under 10” in length. The blade and wedge were replaced, probably in the 1870s, because the Cloverleaf blade, from Albany, NY, dates from that time. Its conceivable that this plane could have been used for piano work, as it has likely been in the U.S. for much of the 19th century, and there were a limited number of applications in cabinet work and related applications then, and piano work was one of them.
- Middle plane is a Moseley and Sons, London, c. 1820–1840, with the same dimensions as the the early mitre, and a 2″ cutter (Ibbotson) as well. The infill is rosewood, and the bridge constraining the wedge has a cupid’s bow design. . This one looks very similar to other Towell mitres, and probably was made by Towell.
- Large mitre on the right is an unsigned Spiers (Stuart Spiers 1820-1899 Ayr, Scotland), 2-3/4″ wide by 10-3/4″ long, with a 2-1/4″ Ward iron. This one differs from the other two in that it has a lever cap for the iron, instead of a wedge, to make blade adjustments easier. The Ward iron is snecked; the added fitting at the end of the blade allowing for tapping the blade back as necessary as well as providing another place for the hand to push this rather large heavy plane.
Miniature coffin-smoothing planes: the one on the left has a compassed sole, and the one on the right has a flat sole. These diminutive planes, like the full range of wooden bodied planes, became less used by the turn of the 20th century, and were not made in any significant quantity after the 1920s. These are very small planes, about 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 inches in length, usually with a 1-1/4-inch cutter, and they have also been used for model making.
Below this is a 1935 photo by Margaret Bourke White showing a worker in the Steinway factory planing the concave taper at the ends of the soundboard ribs. You can also see go-bars clamping down the ribs to the soundboard—the soundboard is likely one of the early diaphragmatic design types—the patent was applied for then. This worker looks to be using a compassed miniature coffin smoother, like the one in Fig. 125.
This plane was intended for the piano industry, as well as for cabinet makers. Number 97 was used to clean up interior surfaces right up to the edges, like a chisel, but with the added support of the sole combined with a fixed blade angle. It was also good for cleaning up glue lines and doing trimming (a protruding dowel, for example) without harming an existing finish.
These tools belonged to a Swedish cabinet maker who worked in the veneer department of a Boston piano factory in the early 1900s to the late 1920s. He dated many of his tools, and the Stanley #12 veneer scraper is stamped 1907 on the handle. These two mahogany ram’s horn scraper shaves were user made, probably by himself, and very well executed. His blades were made from an old saw, and the sole and blade holder of the one in the foreground was cut from bone, looking similar to ivory, making this a beautiful tool. Fine scraping was an older, standard method for creating a smooth surface on veneer, instead of sanding, which left the wood pores more open and free of sawdust, as well as being easier on the lungs. Veneer was a good 1/16″ thick then; most new pianos today have thinner, even paper-thin veneer coated with a thick layer of polyester resin.
This Swedish immigrant craftsman made hide glue brushes, presumably for attaching veneer to piano cases, out of the inner bark of basswood. Here is a description of this unique brush making process.
Andrew J. Boisvert (March 22, 1917- April 22, 1991) using a spokeshave for final shaping/fitting of a pinblock to the plate flange in a new Knabe grand. This was in the Aeolian American factory in Rochester, N.Y. during the mid-1970s. Spokeshaves have an angled cutter like a plane, rather than set at 90 degrees with the edge curled over as in the scrapers seen above. Close at hand is a chisel and a bit brace, which are also used in this procedure.