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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.