About 10-12 years ago in a used book I came across a $5.00 copy of “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands.” Opening the book brought back memories of taking a day off in mid-July, leaving the heat and humidity of Charlotte and heading up to Asheville, North Carolina for the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. That first trip was followed by many more.
“Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” by Allen H. Eaton was published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 1937. Photographs are by Doris Ulmann, best known for her photographs of the people of Appalachia. The Southern Highlands cover West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The craft traditions include, but are not limited to, weaving, woodwork and pottery. A large section is devoted to making furniture, baskets, whittling, carving, and musical instruments. There are plenty of photos and quotes from the craftspeople themselves.
The book is available on HathiTrust and you can find it here.
The link goes to a copy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as it is the only copy that shows the (some what trimmed) endpapers. Here is a better look at the endpapers with a craft map of the Southern Highlands:
So, jump into this book and meet William Creech of Pine Mountain, Kentucky, find the good board maker, the enormous hand-cranked lathe and this handsome rooster:
During the Edo Period (1603-1868) urban centers of Japan expanded and merchants, relegated to the lower rungs of society, ran their own workshops and grew wealthy. As many shops had a similar appearance in crowded marketplaces, merchants used “kanban” (sign boards) to differentiate and advertise their shops. It has been said that advertising is the world’s second oldest profession.
By the mid-18th century, Edo had a population of more than 1 million, Osaka and Kyoto each had more than 400,000 residents. Edo became the center for the supply of food and urban consumer goods, while Osaka and Kyoto were busy as handcraft production and trading centers. Construction trades, banking and merchant associations flourished. In many Edo-period woodblock prints there are scenes of large crowds at markets and festivals. In the scene above it is easy to see how difficult it would be to find a particular shop without a sign pointing the way. Look closely and you will see several kanban. One example is just right of center: a large fan under its own small roof.
Kanban were made of wood, hand-painted paper and metal and designed to make it easy for the illiterate to find the goods they needed. A green grocer’s sign would have colorfully painted vegetables, a tobacco shop sign might have a pipe or a twist of tobacco. Although not a huge number of kanban survive we can find plenty of clues in the woodblock prints of the Edo, and later, the Meiji Period.
Brushes used for calligraphy were an important consumer product. In the woodblock print above, the shop’s kanban has a very short, fat brush. The two extant kanban give us a better idea of how kanban evolved from a sign board to the product becoming the sign. As you can see from the dimensions provided in the caption these brushes were large and would be easy to see from distance. Also note the convention of painting a brush as though it had been dipped in ink.
Kanban were placed at multiple points to direct customers to your shop. Multiple kanban were used to advertise more products or services. In the print at the top left, a tea shop (also serves udon) has a hanging sign and a ground-level kanban (bottom left). The ornately carved and painted kanban at the top-right was on a post high enough to be seen from all directions. In the bottom print a kanban is placed at the second story-level. At the end of the day kanban hanging at shopfronts and ground-level were taken in overnight. Kanban on posts and on the second story had small roofs and some (see the kanban on the post) had folding doors for protection from rain and snow.
Sign carvers and artists made and decorated kanban. The gaku hori carved kanban that could be hung on hooks at the shopfront, placed in a stand at ground level or on a post. The kanban-gaki was an itinerant artist hired to paint the needed wording on the ground-level kanban made of paper or wood. His ink pot is just to the right of his foot and his work box is next to the kanban.
The figure on a kanban might not appear to be tied directly to the product sold. A stylized tenuki, the mischievous racoon-dog of Japanese folklore, was often used on kanban outside a candy store.
Other kanban were visual puns – a type of advertisement that continues today. If it catches your eye and you enter the shop, then the kanban has done its job.
Toolmakers advertised in a more straightforward manner: their kanban showed exactly what they made and sold.
A saw maker’s kanban made of wood, ink and lacquer. At the top it reads “guaranteed,” and below the saw it reads “we buy and sell.”
Both of these kanban are for shops engaged in saw sharpening and setting (matate-ya).
This toolmaker’s kanban, like the one at the top of this post, is made of heavy hand-painted paper in a wood frame with iron fittings. As with most kanban it is double-sided with more tools on the other side (unfortunately an image of the other side isn’t available). Based on the kanban, this toolmaker (and the one at the top) made over 40 different tools including those used by woodworkers. Other metal objects made were shears, scissors, lock and flints.
A close-up of a section shows the fine detail of the hand painting and also shows writing on some of the sawblades. Some of the writing translates as “good quality” and other writing is thought to refer to well-known toolmakers. One name may be the owner of this particular shop.
The kanban on the right is for a hardware shop. The calligraphy on the kanban reads “assorted metal work for furniture” and “metal work for buildings.” The samples in the drawing and on the kanban are pretty much unchanged and in use today.
The bucket shop kanban has a visual (and somewhat twisted) pun. The characters on the two bottom buckets combine to form “taifu,” meaning “high wind” (also hurricane or gale). The symbol on the top bucket is “masu,” a standard measure, whereas the the character for masu means “increase.” Fires were a constant threat in cities and towns where the vast majority of buildings were made of wood, and “high winds” drove the spread of fire. Buckets were used to throw water on fires and with each fire the bucket merchant saw a “increase” in his prosperity.
The tradition of kanban continues in Japan. Many shops have hanging signs using traditional shapes and have the ground-level kanban welcoming customers.
The kanban on the left was used by a well-established stationary store, is made of wood and from the early-20th century (Collection of Mingei International Museum). The shape is an Edo-Period accounting book, the same kanban used in the Edo and Meiji Periods. On the right is the sign used by Itoya, a stationary store in the Ginza, Toyko. That big red paper clip lead me to eight floors of paper heaven.
The gallery includes an Edo-Period example of product placement (not a recent annoying invention).
My plan was to post these images at a later date, but what the hell, enjoy them now.
I came across this tool print while researching kanban and sent it to Wilbur Pan, Japanese tool maven and all-around nice guy. He posted it on his Giant Cypress blog this past Sunday night so yes, you are seeing double.
You can read about Japanese coopering and tools in a post from a few years ago here.
The next five images are from a scroll painted by Kuwagata Keisai (1764-1824) in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. The scroll measures about 37′ long and 14″ wide and is known as a “shokunin zukushi-e,” a series depicting craftsmen at work, or all the professions. Portions of the scroll can be found all over the internet and in a wide variety of resolutions and color schemes. The scroll is available in high resolution on the museum website and you can find it here.
I clipped out the sections showing woodworkers and a blade maker and you can see those five scenes below.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Drew Langsner, elder statesman of traditional woodworking, sent along this photo of a shelter at the pond on Drew’s property. Most of the carpentry was done by Carl Swensson and, with the help of a Japanese friend, “Shoji Shack” was written on a kanban for the shack. Osamu Shoji loved seeing it when he was at Drew’s to teach a class.
Bacchus in the form of Saint Lundi sits astride a barrel and offers drinks to a group of craftsmen. Each craftsman has his own verse in the song printed on the broadsheet. Spot the menuisier and read his verse to the left of the image.
“I drink to the general joy of the whole table.”
After working at least a half-day on Saturday and then collecting their pay, workmen could look forward to Sunday and a full day off. In this account published in 1824 the writer differentiates between the married and the unmarried mechanic. Contemporary accounts tell us the married mechanic often joined his unmarried companions in Saturday night drinking.
From Ivan Sparkes’ article on the chairmakers of High Wycombe, England we have this description of Saturday activities after the week’s pay was received.
The revelries and drinking continued into Sunday and when Monday morning dawned there were many workmen not in much of a state to return to work – so they didn’t. For those observers of this tradition, Monday became known as Saint Monday in Great Britain, Ireland and America. This ditty is from England in the 17th century:
In 1546 there was an effort in the Venice Arsensal to stop the arsenalotti from observing Saint Monday. They were threatened with a loss of pay for the entire week. Although the workers would make up the lost day by working longer hours the rest of the week, the loss of work on Monday was too disruptive to the organization of a shipyard. Because of inconsistent enforcement of the pay penalty the observance of Saint Monday continued.
The chairmakers of High Wycombe provide another example of Saint Monday.
Much of the the images available for Saint Monday were generated in France. I leave it to you to surmise why that may be.
In France and Belgium Saint Monday was, of course, Saint Lundi. One 19-century French writer referred to Saint Lundi as an uncanonized saint. I can’t think of a better description.
When workmen took Monday as a second day of leisure they weren’t necessarily drinking the entire day. It was also a day for playing games (skittles were popular in England), taking a ramble through town (including a few stops at taverns) and time for trade union meetings.
In Germany, Saint Monday was known as Blauer Montag (Blue Monday).
Blauer Montag was widespread enough to earn a place in Flügel’s 1857 German-English dictionary.
An American gathering information on wages and living expenses in Europe during the 1870s made this note about Germany:
Cordwainers (shoemakers) were often at the forefront, both in Europe and America, of the push for better working conditions and a shorter workday. They were also noted as some of the most fervent followers of Saint Monday and consequently are often seen being beaten by their wives.
The observance of Saint Monday began to fade away towards the end of the 19th century and prevalence of the factory system. However, Saint Monday was another step in the working class effort to gain more control over their work lives and to have more time for rest and leisure.
”Why, sir, for my part I say the gentleman had drunk himself out of his fives senses.”
Just how much alcohol was being consumed? In 1770 Americans averaged 3-1/2 gallons of pure alcohol per person per year. This is not gallons of a specific spirit, rather a total of all alcohol content. The apogee (or perhaps the nadir) of American consumption was in 1830 when the average consumption was 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol per person. Per the 1830 census the population was 12.9 million. One of the drivers of alcohol availability came from corn in the Midwest. Corn would spoil if shipped to the coastal states, however, it could be distilled and shipped as whisky instead. Whiskey was cheap and easy to buy.
In 1839 a Captain Marryat from England visited America and wrote a multi-volume “Diary in America.” In the section titled “Travelling” he expressed these observations about the drinking habits of America:
In the state of Virginia he commented on the consumption of large quantities of mint juleps and noted “you may always know the grave of a Virginian; as from the quantity of juleps he has drunk, mint invariably springs up where he has been buried.”
He also enjoyed an American champagne.
Edward Young, an American gathering data on wages and the price of living in Europe in the 1870s, was flabbergasted that Belgium had “about one hundred-thousand licensed public houses…for the supply of five million inhabitants.” For every 48 inhabitants there was 1 liquor shop.
In Germany he contrasted the unmarried man with the married. The unmarried laborer rented a bed in a room with others in lodgings close to the workplace. Spending time in a tavern was essentially the only place to relax. Beer, bread and a little meat made up a large part of the diet of both married and unmarried men.
Surveying Great Britain, Edward Young commented “The fact is not forgotten that this investigation is made by a citizen of a country which, next to Great Britain, is perhaps most noted for its large consumption of intoxicating beverages – a country which expends over $600,000,000 annually in spirituous, vinous, and malt liquors.” Based on a report from 1872, England (not all of Great Britain) consumed more than 72 million gallons of pure alcohol at a cost of £120,000,000. At least half of this money was spent by the working classes.
I have just a few comments on the gin epidemic in England that began late in the 17th century and extended well into the 18th century. Gin was very cheap to make and buy and was sought by many as a relief to poverty. Men, women and children were addicted and it ravaged London. There was a “pandemonium of drunkenness” and ruin. A sign over one popular gin shop advertised “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing.” William Hogarth’s 1751 etching titled “Gin Lane” is thought to capture the misery of the epidemic. You can easily find much more on your own.
The 18th century is also when temperance efforts gained traction and physicians began to think of alcohol addition as a disease.
“Ask God for temp’rance. That’s the appliance only which disease requires.”
In 1722, a century before America reached peak alcohol consumption, Ben Franklin was cautioning against drunkenness and overindulgence. By 1840 there were temperance societies to be found in every state with many affiliated with religious groups. In May of 1840 six Baltimore friends, all artisans, met and decided to stop drinking. Their approach was different from other groups as each member stood and talked about their lives as drunkards (the term alcoholic was not yet used). Their emphasis was on compassion and understanding for the addicted man. They named themselves the Washingtonians, after George Washington, and pledged to stop drinking all alcohol. The group grew rapidly, and as far as we know, it was the only temperance society founded by craftsmen.
The British Workman, published in London, was a monthly magazine advocating healthy living, Christian ideals and temperance. It was filled with illustrations, short stories and testimonials and was advertised as “dedicated to the industrial classes.” The masthead changed each month and featured sketches of men working at various jobs.
The magazine frequently urged employers to provide fresh water for workers in an effort to curb alcohol consumption in the workplace. One well-known illustration from BritishWorkmen has been separated from its intended message.
The craftsman in his paper hat is filling his mug with water, not beer! Did the intended message get lost in nostalgia for the image?
The many satirical drawings of the grim reaper looming over a very drunk man were not promoting temperance, rather a comment on society. In that vein there is a second Drinker’s Dictionary printed in 1886 by Silas Farmer & Co. of Detroit.
The cover stamp pretty much sends the message of the dictionary. A link to the dictionary is at the end of this post.
In 1845 Francis William Edmonds painted a carpenter sitting in his workshop.
The carpenter is “Facing the Enemy” and the scene captures the struggle of a man attempting to stop. He rocks back as though repelled but at the same time his eyes are locked on the bottle. Will he succumb?
In the darkness to the right of the open window is a broadsheet tacked to the wall. It is a notice for a temperance meeting. Side-by-side they are in a balancing act. The bottle offers ruin. The temperance meeting offers hope. That he still has a half-bottle of liquor tells us has not yet been able to let go. He took the trouble to put the temperance notice on the wall. His shop is neat and he has his jacket on. Is the temperance meeting that night and will he go?
Shakespeare and his Saturday-to-Monday Bender
After using quotes from the works of Will as titles for each section it is fitting to end with a tale from the 17th century. It seems to have some relation to the observance of Saint Monday.
The Drinker’s Dictionary of 1886 can be found here.
Our French readers can find more about Saint Lundi here.
The gallery has a bit more Blauer Montag, Saint Monday and Saint Lundi for you.
Part 1 includes the drinking of alcoholic beverages in the workshop and at the work site, the practice of footings and fees collected in the workshop and drinking after the workday ended.
Before water was clean and safe to drink the consumption of cider, ale and wine was a normal activity. Cider, cyder or sider was made from a variety of fruits each summer and autumn and ale was brewed in the home every few days. The day started with a ‘morning’ or ‘eye-opener’ and ended with a nightcap. Hard cider and ale were a significant source of daily calories and alcoholic mixtures were considered healthy. Alcohol consumption was also a normal part of working in the trades, both in the workshop and at work sites. The men of the trades became known for their drinking habits.
The Custom of the Shop
The artists responsible for painting the ceilings and crossbeams of Tereul Cathedral included the central figure offering liquid refreshment to the carpenters, with ready acceptance by the one on the right.
Peter Parler, the builder of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, was “awarded ad hoc sums for purchases, payments or bonus related to the building site. These amounts were related to…measuring cords, nails and metal sheets for templates…when 60 groschen were probably spent on a barrel of young beer distributed among the cathedral workers.”
In 1901, Stone – An Illustrated Magazine published an article “Rites and Ceremonies Connected with Building.” The last part of the article used contemporary diaries and accounts to describe the numerous alcoholic needs of the builders of the first stone building in Albany, New York, in 1656. A staircase was included in the plans: “A winding staircase was a feature of the fort, and when this was finished, five guilders’ worth of liquor gave the workmen the necessary winding gait to test it.”
You can read the account of the Albany stone building in the following link:
The workday usually started close to dawn and breaks for breakfast and lunch were taken in the shop. Here’s an account from an article by Ivan Sparkes article about the chairmakers of High Wycombe, England:
Following the (some might say hard-drinking) traditions of immigrants from Europe, workmen in America also had plenty to drink. And as was traditional in Europe, the master was expected to provide the grog. When a ship-builder in Medford, Massachusetts decided not to provide the daily rum the men were not happy.
When Henry Hayes was bound into an apprenticeship in High Wycombe in 1824 among the many prohibitions was this term “He shall not…haunt taverns or playhouses.” Soon he would learn a tavern wasn’t needed in order to drink. Ten years later James Hopkinson was apprenticed at age 15 in Nottingham, and he very quickly learned the payments required to work in the shop: “…having cut out the wood for a table, I was told that I must pay a shilling for them to drink my health, and also that they expected my father to pay a sovereign towards a binding supper…and every fresh job that I had not made one like before, I had to pay a shilling or I should not have been allowed to make it.”
The footings, fees and fines that were required in a craftsmen’s workshop were extensive. In 1839 the 6th edition of John Dunlop’s “The Philosophy of Artificial and Compulsory Drinking Usage in Great Britain and Ireland” was published. Dunlop was the president of The General Temperance Union of Scotland and his book gathered information on drinking practices across society, for men, women and children, and in skilled and unskilled jobs. The summary for cabinetmakers and joiners in Scotland is as follows:
The summaries for the woodworking shops in England and Ireland are similar. Money for drinks was expected when a man was about to get married, when a child was born and in some cases when a workman wore a new shirt. It is important to remember Dunlop’s book has summaries of workshop practices and not every workshop surveyed had the same level of fees and fines for the purposes of drinking. There may also be a certain level of exaggeration on the part of workmen in an effort to shock a temperance worker. On the other hand, it is not surprising apprentices ran away and some men abandoned working in these shops altogether.
The Ivan Sparkes article also includes a passage on how disputes between two men or a disruptive man were handled.
Although drinking ale, beer, wine and “ardent” spirits was perfectly acceptable, being bowz’d, buskey or buzzey was frowned upon.
One of the founding fathers of America enjoyed his beer and wine, however, writing under the pseudonym Silence Dogood, he cautioned against overindulging and the loud and public drunk. Silence, otherwise known as Benjamin Franklin, gathered together all the terms used to describe the overindulged and in January 1737 published his “Drinker’s Dictionary” in the Pennsylvania Gazette. You can read the full dictionary here.
Being a known drunk could have consequences for a craftsman. In his article “Chairmaking in Low Cringles in Yorkshire” Christopher Gibert included this note from the account book of the Laycock family:
After Work and Possibly On the Way Home
Walking to a public house with only horses, carts and carriages in the way of traffic, was often the next step in the daily alcoholic intake of a craftsmen. (I have personally observed this except for the walking, horses, carts and carriages.) When it became unseemly for a woman to be seen in a public house, drinking establishments became an enclave for men.
Craftsmen met to relax after work and before making their way home. Singing bawdy songs and songs about their favorite beverages was a popular pastime. Broadsides printed with the verses of ballads were pasted on the walls of public houses. Although we don’t know the melodies of all the old ballads we do have the verses. It is not too difficult to imagine that after a few beers a lively group of today’s woodworkers could come up with a tune to match the lyrics.
Because even drinkers want value for their hard-earned wages, one popular ballad from the around the middle of the 17th century was “Good Ale For My Money” and here’s a sample verse with the chorus:
In one of the verses from “The Ballad-Makers Complaint” a woodcarver has a bit of a problem and comes up with a clever solution.
One song, that may trace its roots to pagan times is still familiar to us in the 21st-century. Steve Winwood and Traffic gave it new life in their version titled “John Barleycorn Must Die.” In the 17th century the song had various titles (and verses) and one of the more popular titles was:
John Barleycorn personifies the grain that can be made into beer or whisky. In a macabre manner the song describes the planting, harvesting and brewing of the barley. You can listen to a version of the song here.
Spending too much time in a public house could send a man and his family into poverty. Dipping back into John Dunlop’s book on “Drink Usage” he noted an additional practice detrimental to the wage earner. “Some masters and foremen keep a public-house, where they excite the men to take drink upon credit, and take it off the week’s wages: this is said to be “bringing sucken to their own mill.”
There is a similar passage in Ivan Sparkes’ article on High Wycombe, “Indeed one wife complained of the late payment of wages on Saturday evening, when the men would have to stand around and drink their future wages while waiting to be paid. She wrote to the local newspaper of the bad example set by her husband and his mates to their 12-year-old son, when they would come home tottering, have drunk a good part of their pay packet.”
The drinking song “The Jovial Cutlers” from the late 18th century includes a passage in the voice of a grieved wife who ultimately resorts to the Lysistrata stategy:
The public house was also where the early Mechanics’ Societies were formed and they paid their ‘rent’ in drinks bought from the owner. In 1790 a law was passed in England that prohibited payment of wages in liquor. It would be well into the 19th century before there was a law prohibiting the practice of requiring workers to collect their pay in public houses.
If you would like to read more about hazing, bullying, coercion, underage drinking, beatings, shunning (sent to Coventry) and extortion in workshops you can find John Dunlop’s book on “Drinks Usage” here.
The University of California at Santa Barbara has a database on English Broadsheet Ballads. You can read the text, or sing! along to “Have You any Work for a Cooper? OR a Comparison Betwixt a Coopers, and a Joyners Trade” from 1681 here.
Part 2 of The ‘Spirited’ Workshop will cover Saint Monday, a glimpse at how much alcohol was being consumed in the 19th century and a short discussion of temperance.
The struggle to change the workday from sunrise to sunset to a ten-hour day was long and contentious. There were legal challenges to overcome in a country that had long followed English laws and customs. As journeymen formed their own societies and began to protest work conditions they took advantage of a free press and improved communications between “brother” societies in other towns and cities. And they took inspiration from the ideas and language used during the Revolutionary War.
English Law in the American Court
In the first quarter of the 18th century Philadelphia’s cordwainers, tailors and carpenters had incorporated guilds that operated much like their British counterparts. Close to the end of the century the first journeymen’s society, the cordwainers, was formed.
In 1791 journeymen cordwainers (shoemakers using new leather) had formed their own society to protect against the hiring of non-members during “turn-outs.” A “turn-out” or walk-out was usually peaceful and might last for hours or a few days. Shop owners in turn tried to hire “scabs.” In 1805 the cordwainers staged a turn-out to uphold a closed shop and things turned violent. Scabs were beaten and employers intimidated. The cordwainers were indicted and charged with “combining to raise their wages.” The cordwainers appealed to the public in the Aurora newspaper of November 28, 1805:
The charge of combining came from English common law. The defense lawyer for the cordwainers was Caesar A. Rodney (later he would be the Attorney General under Jefferson) and he argued the employers were hiding behind an English statue passed in 1349 to halt the rise of wages following the Black Plague. In his closing argument he said:
The cordwainers lost. The charges of combining and conspiracy as defined by English common law would continue to be used against striking workers. This legal battle between Federalists (often employers and merchants) who favored English law and Jeffersonian democracy (journeymen and the emerging working class) was another conflict that needed to be resolved in the new Republic.
The use of “unlawful combination” and English common law to bring charges against strikes by American journeymen societies was challenged again four years after the trial of the Philadelphia cordwainers. This time it was the New York cordwainers and their lawyer “ridiculed reliance on non-applicable English precedents” and asked, “How long shall this superstitious idolatry endure?”
In 1810 Judge DeWitt Clinton (driver of the construction of the Erie Canal) said in the case of New York journeymen that they had the “right to meet and regulate their concerns, and to ask for [higher] wages, and to work or to refuse to work.” He advised that the means should not be too arbitrary and coercive. The defense lawyer in this case asked, “Shall all others, except only the industrious mechanics, be allowed to meet and plot and yet these poor men be indicted for combining against starvation?”
In 1842 the precedent set in the trial of the Philadelphia cordwainers was put to rest by Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of the Massachusetts Supreme Court: “…it was contended on the part of the defendants, that this indictment did not set forth any agreement to do a criminal act, or do any lawful act by criminal means, and that the agreement therein set forth did not constitute a conspiracy indictable by the law of this state…”
Ruinous Free Time
The journeymen shipwrights of New York formed a society in April 1803 and along with the caulkers thought it unreasonable to work a 14-hour day. The shipyard owners and merchants published resolutions that included:
The yard owners follow this with a declaration to blacklist any member of the journeymen’s society.
Close to 600 journeymen carpenters in Boston went on strike in 1825 for a shorter workday because “on the present system, it is impossible to maintain a family at the present time…” The response to the strike was met with the usual arguments that the current workday was “customary from time immemorial” and fewer work hours would expose workers to “many temptations and improvident practices.” There were also veiled threats that any journeymen who thought themselves worthy of becoming a master should reconsider their actions.
Boston shipyard owners spent large sums to defeat the ten-hour movement. In 1832 Boston shipyard workers met and published a resolution that from the 20th of March until the 1st of September they would “not labor more than ten hours per day unless being paid extra for each and every hour; and that we are willing, if requested, to begin at half-past four in the morning, and labor not exceeding ten hours…”
The shipyard owners published their response:
The journeymen ship carpenters did not gain their ten-hour work day but were allowed a two-hour break at noon during July and August because of the extreme heat and the “fear of pestilence.”
The lives of journeymen had long been controlled by master craftsmen. Previously, there were restrictions on being married. Now, many were family men and faced the requirement of excessive work hours and no prospect of becoming a master. The justifications for not granting a ten-hour work day had twisted paternalistic reasoning. It was better to work than have free time: “…for to be idle several of the most useful hours of the morning and evening will surely lead to intemperance and ruin.”
Philadelphia was one of the few cities that did not require property ownership to vote. In 1827 a newspaper article circulated in the city calling for a ten-hour work day. One of the points made was how could one be a good citizen and participate in, and contribute to, civic activities if you were too tired from unceasing exertion. Working from sunrise to sunset “was incompatible with citizenship, for it did not afford the workman the requisite leisure for the consideration of public questions and therefore condemned him to an inferior position in the state.”
In the Boston Post of April 17, 1835 one worker wrote, “By the old system we have no free time for mental cultivation—and that is the policy of the big bugs—they endeavor to keep people ignorant by keeping them always at work.” And the irony is one of the aims of many of the mechanic societies, including the one in Boston, was to maintain a library for skilled craftsmen.
When mechanics walked out for a short time or went on strike for days or weeks, the opposing party was no longer just the master of a shop. Merchant-capitalists financed production, the master was now the manufacturer-employer and the journeymen was the “property-less wage earner.” The journeymen needed better and stronger organization to gain changes in their work lives.
A first step occurred in June of 1827 when the journeymen carpenters of Philadelphia went on strike for a ten-hour workday. Other trades joined the strike and in October the Mechanics’ Union Of Trade Associations was formed and with it their own newspaper, the Mechanics Free Press. The Working Men’s Party, the “Workies” organized as the political arm of this first cross-trade association. Roughly four years later the Mechanics’ Union dissolved.
Two Sons of Revolutionary Soldiers
Lambert Hitchcock was born in Cheshire, Connecticut in 1795. His father, John Lee Hitchcock, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Lambert set-up a cabinet and chair shop in western Connecticut in 1818. His shop made chair parts for shipment to Charleston and other cities in the South. His business thrived and eventually he was sending chair parts as far west as Chicago. By 1825, production shifted to making complete chairs and a new three-story brick building was built to accommodate 100 men, women and children workers. The price of a chair was around $1.50.
Seth Luther was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1795, the son of Thomas Luther, a Revolutionary War veteran. Seth learned the carpentry trade from Caleb Earle. As a young man he traveled extensively. In the 1830s he worked as a house carpenter and in cotton mills where he encountered the horrendous conditions of mill workers. He wrote and gave speeches about the mill workers and the lack of education for mill children.
In 1834 he was one of the founders of the Boston Trades Union and in April 1835 he, and two others, wrote a circular that became pivotal to the ten-hour day movement.
The Boston Circular
In 1835 the carpenters of Boston went on strike and were joined by masons and stonecutters. They chose Seth Luther and two others to be their leaders and a traveling committee formed to explain their demands and ask for assistance. Although the strike did not accomplish a shorter workday the Boston Circular (or Ten-Hour Circular) written by the three leaders became an important document in strike actions elsewhere. The circular was first published in The Man newspaper in May of 1835. Soon, it was published throughout the Eastern Seaboard.
What became known as the 1835 General Strike in Philadelphia, and would involve both skilled and unskilled workers, began in late May when the coal haulers on the Schuylkill River docks walked out demanding a ten-hour day and higher wages. They paraded along the dock to prevent others from unloading or transferring cargo to the 75 barges waiting in the river. And they chanted “from six to six.” Shortly after the dock strike began the Boston Circular was published in Philadelphia and the mechanics of the city were galvanized to support the coal haulers. The house painters joined and were followed by carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, bricklayers and several other trades. Trades already on strike for higher wages joined the ten-hour strike. Store clerks joined, as did the bakers, who wanted to end baking on Saturday night and Sunday.
The banner of the Journeymen House Carpenters at the top of this post was painted and used during the General strike. One carpenter taps another on the shoulder and points to the setting sun and the clock on Carpenter’s Hall. In the bottom right corner, “6 to 6” is written on one end of a tool chest.
The strike continued well into June and strike leaders urged the public to give their patronage to merchants that supported a ten-hour day and to boycott those that didn’t. Eventually, the city workers joined the strike, and shortly after the Common Council met and approved a ten-hour day. By the end of June most workers were granted a ten-hour day.
Here’s an excerpt of the letter John Ferral, a Philadelphia labor leader, wrote to Seth Luther to tell him the effect the Boston Circular had had on the the workers of his city:
Carried by the labor press (not the employer press) the Boston Circular and news of the success in Philadelphia spread rapidly. Strikes ensued in mid-size and large cities and by the end of 1835 many more workers gained a ten-hour workday. The exception was Boston. And it has to be noted, the ten-hour workday would be suspended when there was an economic down turn and the fight had to start once again.
The Language and Symbols of Liberty
When the General Strike of 1835 led to the ten-hour workday in Philadelphia it was just over a half-century since the Constitution had been ratified. In their efforts to achieve better work hours and wages, which began before the ratification, the craftsmen of the new Republic often used phrases and concepts found in the Constitution as well as the writings of Thomas Paine.
In shipyards could be found the Mechanics’ Bell which proclaimed “the liberty of leisure for sons of toil.” The bells rang to start the workday, for the start and end of meal breaks and to signal the end of the day.
The New York Mechanics’ Bell was moved to another shipyard when the yard where it was originally placed was closed down.
Baltimore’s first Mechanics’ Bell was located on Federal Hill. It was torn down and moved sometime in the late 1880s. The bell was still in use early in the 20th century. Visit a maritime museum and you are likely to find an old Mechanics’s Bell on display (if it wasn’t melted down for scrap).
The Philadelphia House Carpenters banner from 1835 was donated to the University of Maryland Library in 1994. It was encased in a frame and when the frame was removed for restoration the back of the banner was revealed. Like the front of the banner, the painting on the back is rich in symbols.
The motto at the bottom of the banner reads “Union and Intelligence – The Path to Independence.”
The banner displays figures used in the cartouche of an early map of North America and were often later used as symbols of America: Indians and the female figure of Columbia in a white gown. Columbia holds the American flag and atop the flagstaff is a red cap. The red cap, also known as the Liberty Cap of the Revolutionary War, was the Bonnet Rouge worn by the sans-culottes during the French Revolution. The background displays the natural wonders of young America.
The struggle to get and keep a ten-hour work day was followed by an equally difficult, and very long fight, to achieve the eight-hour workday. Women’s suffrage, child labor and education would also become part of the labor movements. In 1938, one hundred and three years after the General Strike in Philadelphia, the Fair Labor Standards Act created a 40-hour work week, minimum wage, overtime rules and limited the labor of under-age children.
Rest for the Weary
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
This ends where my previous post ended. “Rest for the Weary” was the motto used by the Chair-makers Society in the Erie Canal celebrations of 1825. Considering the the walk-outs and strikes that were happening in that same year I do wonder if the motto was also a plea from the journeymen marching in the procession.