One of the “Rosetta Stones” of 18th-century tool forms is a book with the long-winded title “Explanation or Key, to the various manufactories of Sheffield: with engravings of each article designed for the utility of merchants, wholesale ironmongers and travellers.” Most people just call it “Smith’s Key” because the editor/engraver was Joseph Smith.
What is it? It’s collection of beautiful plates of all sorts of tools for woodworking, some other trades and a big section of cutlery, always a popular item in Sheffield, England.
The Early American Industries Association published a reprint of it in 1975 with a nice essay by John S. Kebabian and an important price list. According to the Kebabian essay, it is likely this “key” was used by salesmen who represented different manufacturers and needed to show the lines of several makers.
There are earlier tool catalogs than this circa 1816 example, but this one is particularly important because it might have been used extensively.
For us, the catalog is important because it shows tools in their new states, without any user modifications from sharpening, mishandling or simple use. Most significant is the page on saws, which shows backsaws with blades that get narrower at the toe. I wrote about this years ago, and saw wright Matt Cianci of the thesawblog.com has been crowing about it, too. (Yay Matt!)
If you’ve ever looked for a copy of “Smith’s Key,” you probably decided to instead spend the money on a mortgage payment or a trip to Europe. And that’s why I’m pleased to present this link, courtesy of Jeff Burks, that allows you to download “Smith’s Key” from Gallica.bnf.fr.
Click here to get started. The link to download the entire book is at the top right part of the screen. It’s a fantastic scan. And though it doesn’t include the essay or price list from the 1975 EAIA edition, it does offer some of the plates in color.
Check it out. Download it now.
— Christopher Schwarz