We don’t know who originally wrote the 1839 book “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.” There’s no author listed anywhere in any of the editions we’ve found. And many long nights of searching Google Books for clues have turned up mostly dead ends.
The reason I have spent hours looking into this mystery is that the book’s tale of Thomas Walters, the joiner’s apprentice, rings true. As if the author had been an apprentice joiner or cabinet maker. And if the author really was an apprentice, then “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” is an even more important book that Joel Moskowitz or I thought.
Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has been copy editing the book for us, and she has a theory about who the author was. Keep in mind that Megan has a William Shakespeare problem, so muddy questions of authorship bring out the Nancy Drew in her.
Megan’s theory: The author was Tredgold, an early 19th-century engineer.
Megan thinks that Tredgold is the author because “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” goes out of its way to praise him as a “very eminent scientific writer.” And then praises Tredgold saying that he had “received no better an education at school than we have supposed our apprentice to have had.” And on and on. Tredgold, Tredgold, Tredgold!
So I decided to sniff down the Tredgold path.
Clue No. 1: Though it’s not mentioned in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” Tredgold’s first name is “Thomas,” the same name as the hero of the book. Coincidence?
Clue No. 2: Tredgold was a carpenter’s apprentice starting at age 14 in Durham, a northern English county that has a history of mining and agriculture. The shop in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” was also a rural shop.
Clue No. 3: Tredgold was a writer. Among other books, he authored “Elementary Principles of Carpentry,” a landmark volume in the history of construction.
So I was ready to drink the Tredgold Kool-Aid until I looked a little closer. Perhaps Megan has a thing about both Shakespeare and zombie authors. Tredgold died in 1829 – 10 years before the earliest known edition of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” was published.
While it is possible that Tredgold wrote the book and it was published posthumously, I think it’s unlikely. With our current leads all dead, maybe we’ll break out the Ouija board at our next dinner party and try to solve the mystery.
— Christopher Schwarz