Can you tell a Cat Whipper from a Cordwainer?

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Robert I. McCann

Colonial Craftsmen and the Beginnings of American Industry by Edwin Tunis

The Johns Hopkins University Press, about $19.00 paperback

This is just a good book! It outlines American craftsmen from the mid-18th century through the first quarter of the 19th century. It is packed full of knowledge an 18th century person would have known about how things were done and made. The book starts by explaining the apprentice system and how men became journeymen and masters. It discusses quality, honesty, and pricing. From there it divides into country work, listing 14 trades, town shops, listing 8 trades, bespoke (ordered) work, listing 15 trades, group work, listing 5 trades, and manufactories, listing 5 endeavors. Each chapter is full of line drawings of items related to that chapter. Line drawings are far better than photographs because they show you exactly what the artist wishes you to see without background clutter or pertinent details being lost in the shadows! If you read this book, you won’t be able to do the 47 trades, you will just know about them. The author gives just enough detail to make the trade less mysterious, but does not go into the boring details, the ‘trade secrets’. Some things learned from the book are helpful in interpreting, like how do you pay the miller? Some things are just good knowledge to have like why is that jagged ring at the bottom of 18th century glassware and what is the big deal about sprues on cast iron. In the section on foundries, the author asks the reader to help explain how the core gets into the bulbous 18th century pot. I bet that if you read the chapter and look at David’s old pot, you could tell him!

I recommend this book to get a good background knowledge of 18th century trades and especially if you need good reading material beside the porcelain throne! Its divisions make for easy reading, because they are short and complete in themselves. This is one more stop on the road to developing an 18th century mentality.

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