In 1559 Richard Dale, a local carpenter, completed an addition to Little Moreton Hall that included a large bay window to light the new dining room. The estate owner was apparently very pleased with the job and allowed Dale to sign his work. Although a bit garish, his signature adds to the history and character of this fine old house.
In combination with construction methods, woods used, a signature and a date we can learn a lot about the maker and the communities in which he or she worked. For the owner, the signature of the maker extends a hand into the future and forms a connection.
Between 1510 and 1530 Robert Daye carved 79 bench ends in the Church of St. Nonna on Bodmin Moor in Altarnun, England.
I think he deserved to make one bench end to commemorate his efforts.
Phillip D. Zimmerman’s article, ‘Early American Furniture Maker’s Marks’ (Chipstone) provides many good examples of signatures and where they have been found (undersides of drawers, the top, etc).
On the back of this high chest both makers signed their work. Top: ‘Made by Josha Morss/Jany 1748/9.’ Bottom: ‘Made by Moses Bayley Newbury February AD 1748/9. Just to make sure they both put two signatures on the chest. They worked in what is now Newburyport, Massachusetts.
In another example the signature at the top of this chest was deciphered as ‘Walter Edge’ in the 1940s. Who was Walter Edge? No telling, because decades later Walter Edge turned out to be ‘Upper Edge’ a shipping mark!
Zimmerman also made note of signatures that provide other details about the maker. Although he didn’t provide a photo (and I couldn’t find one), somewhere out there is a Philadelphia-made table with the following written on the underside: ‘Made by Elias Reed in the year 1831 this table caused me to give Black Eye to a frenchman.’
Although he knew few people would see his work, a bell framer left his mark high up in the bell tower of St. Botolph’s Church in Slapton, Northamptonshire.
The tower is too fragile to bear the weight of the two bells it previously held, but the bell frame and its plaque are still there. It reads, ‘Be it knowen unto all that see this same. That Thomas Cowper of Woodend made this frame. 1634.’
Earlier this year a mahogany bow-front Charleston-made chest was aquired by the Charleston Museum. The chest is from the workshop of the well-known and prolific Robert Walker and is on display at the Joseph Manigault House.
Prior to going to auction the previous owner thought the chest might be a Robert Walker Charleston piece. He disassembled the chest to inspect it and found written on the top support rail under the chest top the following: ‘Boston, October the 18th, 1805.’
Boston was once a slave and freed by 1790 or 1795. Even though the signature was hidden, some articles have termed the act of a 19th-century freed black craftsmen signing his name to something he made as ‘audaciously indiscreet.’ To me, it was a determined affirmation of, ‘I made this’ and also, ‘I exist.’