It’s all in the details: Identifying the community of origin for Shaker furniture

At the Spring Shaker Forum held at Enfield (NH) Shaker Village this April, Robert P. Emlen presented an illustrated lecture on a design detail associated with Shaker woodworkers from that community: a small ring made by wood-turners at the transition point between a square piece of wood and where it becomes round (figure 1 below). There are any number of ways to handle this transition, from the abrupt change shown in figure 2, to merely creating a rounded shoulder on the corners of the square as in figure 3, or in some cases Shaker turners even took a more decorative approach as demonstrated in figure 4, a table made late in the nineteenth century by Elder Henry C. Blinn at Canterbury. The decision about how to make this transition was likely left up to the turner, but once a method for making the transition was used it was likely to become a trademark of that turner and a model to be copied by apprentices. While it is not possible to associate this detail with a particular woodworker, it is possible to use it to begin to identify in which Shaker community a piece was made. 

Emlen pointed out that the detail shows up on documented Enfield table legs, bed legs, work desks, and even on newel posts in the Great Stone Dwelling. The three-drawer side table in the Shaker Museum |  Mount Lebanon collection provides a good example of this design detail. It was acquired by the Museum in 1954 directly from the Shakers at Canterbury and identified at the time as the work of a Canterbury cabinetmaker. We now assume the table was, in fact, made at Enfield and brought to Canterbury when the Enfield community closed in 1918. By 1954 its journey to Canterbury was probably long forgotten. While this is a perfectly logical explanation for the discrepancy between the design detail and its assumed origin, it does offer an opportunity to take a look at the complexity of identifying the origin of a piece of Shaker furniture. If a piece lacks a pencil, pen, or crayon inscription stating that it was made by a particular Shaker, at a particular Shaker community, on a particular date, there are several possibilities that might explain an apparent disparity between where a piece of furniture appears to have been made and where it was found. 

Side Table, Enfield, NH, Ca. 1850

Side Table, Enfield, NH, Ca. 1850, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1954.6954.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Some cabinetmakers are known to have moved either temporarily or permanently from one community to another. They likely worked at their new home in the style they had originally learned. This is probably the case with Brother Samuel Turner, who began his Shaker life at Mount Lebanon, moved to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, and later returned to Mount Lebanon, where he died. Furniture he made after his return to Mount Lebanon shows some influence from his three decades of life in Kentucky. Members of the Shaker ministry who worked as cabinetmakers moved among the communities in their bishopric and often maintained workshops at each village. Elder Giles Avery at Mount Lebanon is thought to have made work desks while at his workshop – most likely Elder Freegift Wells’s workshop – and probably made work desks at Lebanon as well. This movement of the ministry from place to place might explain some of the confusion in identifying differences between furniture made at Hancock, Massachusetts, and some that is thought to have been made at Enfield, Connecticut. A third possibility is that cabinetmakers made furniture that was intended to be sent to another community. This might happen following a fire or other devastating event that put a community in need of more furnishings than it could easily supply. 

This little discrepancy between where the three-drawer side table was acquired and where it was probably made how difficult it can be to positively identify where a piece of furniture was made, let alone who might have made it.  



A Joke on the Shakers

Many objects in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection beg to have their stories told. The photograph of a drawing titled “A Quiet Shaker Game” may very well be one of the most mysterious such objects. The illustration shows three Shaker brothers and two Shaker sisters engaged in a card game in a Shaker retiring room.  One brother – probably Brother Walter – has knocked over his chair and spilled his cards as he apparently wins the game exclaims, “Down with the Joker!” A third sister looks in to see what is going on from an adjacent room or hallway while the family elder appears from another room excoriating the group with a forceful, “It’s after 9 o’clock! They can hear you at the South Family!” 

Photograph, “A Quiet Shaker Game—,” Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1880

Photograph, “A Quiet Shaker Game—,” Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1880s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1966.15951.1.

The scene is, of course, ridiculous in contrast to what we know of Shaker life. Brothers and sisters did not gather in bedrooms to play cards. That said, there is much in the illustration that indicates that the artist was quite familiar with Shaker life, including details of the architecture and furnishings inside the Shakers’ private spaces. The ever-present pin board surrounding the room has appropriate items hanging there– hats, bonnets, and brushes. The clothing and brothers’ haircuts are appropriate to the assumed period of the illustration and the inclusion of the chamber pot under the bed and a broom leaning against the wall show a familiarity with Shaker spaces. The location of the game at Mount Lebanon is also not divulged in the illustration except to be clear that it was some distance from the South Family.  

fig 2

Photograph, Henry Terry Clough, ca. 1890s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1966.16069.48. Francis P. Sherman, Bedford, MA, photographer. Sherman was active at 174 Union Street, the address on the mount during the 1890s.

There is so much more that is not known. The original illustration has not surfaced and the photograph may have been made long after the illustration was created. What is known, in addition to the mere “reading” of the illustration, is that the photograph was a gift to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 1966 by Albert H. Clough (1902-1988) of Lebanon Center, New York. Albert, who is best remembered locally as having served as a New York State Trooper from 1927 until 1952, was the son of Henry Terry Clough (1862-1923) and Julia Mintie (Minta) Dalton Clough (1872-1959). Henry and Julia were Shakers who, although raised as Shakers from their early days, determined in 1890 to leave their Shaker home at Mount Lebanon, marry, and make their way in the outside world. They moved to New York City where Henry successfully established himself in the jewelry business. They eventually had five children and in 1909 returned to live, as a married couple, in a residence provided by the Shakers at Mount Lebanon.  Henry’s business skills were put to use as the manager of the Shakers’ medicine business. Henry was an amateur photographer and a number of his photographs of Mount Lebanon as well as his collection of images of Mount Lebanon by other photographers, were donated to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon by his wife. It seems highly likely that Henry was the one who took the photograph of the illustration of the quiet Shaker game, and although it will probably never be known, could have been the artist as well. As Brother Henry, Clough would have had intimate knowledge of the interior of Shaker spaces and as a dissatisfied brother, may have had a desire to poke some fun at those whom he was about to desert. 



The founding of New Lebanon, a new dwelling house, a canning kitchen

A lot was going on in Columbia County in 1818. On April 3rd, the town of Ghent was carved out of the towns of Kinderhook, Claverack, and Chatham, and 18 days later the town of New Lebanon was created by dividing the town of Canaan in half. In early February, the town of Canaan had circulated a petition concerning the proposed division. North Family Elder Calvin Green recorded in his journal that, “They request the [Shaker] Brethren to advocate it, which they think proper to do, accordingly, a short preamble is written in favor of it & signed by 102 names.” While the townsfolk were awaiting a decision on the division, the North Family Shakers were gathering timbers for building a long contemplated new dwelling house and on July 7, 1818, Elder Calvin recorded in his journal that, “We this day raise the long talked of house.” 

fig 1

First Dwelling, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1890, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1955.7468.1. James E. West, photographer.

As the 1820s were a period of a great increase in membership at the Mount Lebanon community, the new dwelling was soon too small to house the new members entering the Shaker faith. In 1835 the North Family built a second dwelling house, called the Second (or Lower) House. It provided rooms for visitors, new inquirers, and members of the family who were ill. The Second House relieved the overcrowding of the main dwelling for a while but it was still necessary by 1843 to build a three story 40 x 42 ft. addition to the 1818 building. When completed, the addition provided two large bedrooms (probably able to accommodate four or five Shakers each), a new larger meeting room for family worship, additional attic storage, and on the ground floor, a waiting room in which Shaker sisters assembled ten minutes prior to being called to take their seats at their dining tables, a sisters’ stairhall, two pantries and a preserving or canning kitchen. The addition of a canning kitchen reduced congestion

in the main kitchen, where the sisters prepared the daily meals.

Canning Kitchen Sink, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840s

Canning Kitchen Sink, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2750.1a-h. John Mulligan, photographer.

The object at hand, an 81 7/8” by 22 ½” by 4” cast iron sink, mounted on top of two double-door pine cupboards, was acquired by the Shaker Museum sometime between when the Shakers left the North Family in the fall of 1947 and the opening of the museum in July 1950 and is the sink that was used in the canning kitchen. It seems likely that this sink was assembled around 1843 when the new kitchen was finished. The base for the commercially made cast iron sink appears to have been made up from two pieces of earlier furniture. The right end of the base was once a tapered legged table. The table had its top removed and a shelf mounted several inches above the floor. The whole of the table was then covered with vertical boards and two doors mounted on its front. A second piece, part of a small work counter, was attached to the left end of the table to complete the base for the sink. This joining of two pieces accounts for the inconsistent appearance of the legs and the variation in the proportion of the doors.   

Canning Kitchen Sink, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1939

Canning Kitchen Sink, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1939, Historic American Buildings Survey, Retrieved May 1, 2018 from: Nelson E. Baldwin, photographer.

In November and December, 1939, Nelson E. Baldwin, a photographer working for the New York State Museum visited the North Family Dwelling and made, among others, three photographs of the interior of the canning kitchen. With the architectural details and furniture placement captured in those photographs and a floor-plan drawn by Troy, New York, architect A. K. Mosley in 1939-1940, it is possible to place the sink in its original location in the canning kitchen. Mosley’s floor-plan also shows that the canning kitchen had its own entrance, making it unnecessary to bring vegetables from the gardens through the rest of the house.  It was also equipped with a small lift or elevator that lowered and retrieved canned goods from a cold cellar directly beneath the canning kitchen. 

Ground Floor Plan, Dwelling, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1939-1940, Historic American Buildings Survey

Ground Floor Plan, Dwelling, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1939-1940, Historic American Buildings Survey, Retrieved May 1, 2018 from: A. K. Mosley, delineator, Amended by Museum staff.

The canning kitchen and its sink were critically important to the North Family Shakers being able to put up enough food for the winter. The fact that the family was for so long totally vegetarian made the storage of vegetables all the more important. The North Family Dwelling, vacant for over a decade and thought to be a fire hazard, was dismantled in the spring and summer of 1973. Fortunately the building is well documented in architectural drawings and photographs.  

The Dwelling House initially raised in the summer of 1818, expanded in 1843, and again in 1863, will be the subject of an illustrated presentation by Jerry Grant, Director of Collections and Research at the Shaker Museum, at 2 p.m., Saturday May 26, 2018. The talk will be part of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon’s community event, which will include live music, face painting, food, and more! All are welcome, but parking is limited. Register in advance and purchase a meal ticket. 





Cataloging the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon Stoneware Collection 

In the fall of 2017, Coco Raymond, a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, interned at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. Ms. Raymond’s interest in ceramics and learning about museum work made her a natural fit for a project cataloging the Museum’s collection of commercially made stoneware owned and used by the Mount Lebanon Shakers. Ms. Raymond wrote this blog. 

Stoneware Vessels in the Attic of a Building at Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1930s

Stoneware Vessels in the Attic of a Building at Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1930s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.8564.1. This photograph was made as part of the New York State Art Project in the 1930s. These photographs eventually became part of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The Shakers owned many ceramic vessels. At the Mount Lebanon community, stoneware jugs and crocks were generally made at local commercial potteries – and there were plenty of those in the area. The only clay products the Shakers at Mount Lebanon made themselves were smoking pipes and pipes for draining wetland. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon holds a collection of sixty pieces of stoneware – most of which were used at Mount Lebanon.

The Shakers had considerable need for these vessels. Jugs, holding from one to ten gallons of liquid, were used to store and sell medicinal extracts and distilled liquids such as witch hazel. Crocks were traditionally used for putting up pickles and preserving other foodstuffs. Large jugs fitted with bung holes at the bottom were used as water coolers that could be taken to the brothers working in the fields.

Stoneware Crock, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850,

Stoneware Crock, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.702.1. John Mulligan, photographer.  This three gallon crock stored Juglans cinerea, that is, an extract from the butternut tree used as both a dyestuff for coloring cloth or as a medicine with a mild cathartic effect.

Most of the vessels in the Museum’s collection were produced between the 1840s and the 1860s. The New York stoneware industry was at its peak from 1830 to 1890. The New England ceramic industry began on a smaller scale in the late 17th century with the production of redware, a type of red stoneware commercialized in America in 1625. The golden age of New England and New York pottery was mostly in the 19th century, but lasted until 1943 when  Hilfinger Pottery in Fort Edward, New York closed. The work produced in New York and New England during this period was stylistically influenced by German Pennsylvanian potters and English potters. Unlike redware, the materials used to make stoneware are not naturally occurring in New England, so New England potteries had to transport clays from New Jersey and New York. Stoneware was preferred over earthenware due to fears of poisoning from lead glazes commonly used on earthenware vessels. Almost all of the stoneware jugs owned by the Shakers feature a salt glaze, which was popular due to its resistance to acidic foods and the natural sealant the salt glaze provides.

Stoneware Jug, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1861-1885

Stoneware Jug, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1861-1885, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.714.1. John Mulligan, photographer. This jug was made by Satterlee & Mory at Fort Edward, NY. It contained Chelidonium majus, or greater celandine, a preparation used for liver diseases and general digestive problems.

Many early stoneware vessels had an inner coating of ochre, but this material fell out of use after the discovery of a material called Albany slip found in the Hudson River in the early 1800s. This rich dark brown slip was used to coat the inside of almost all of the jugs, crocks, and coolers in the Museum’s collection. The jugs are decorated with slip-trailed or slip painted cobalt motifs, most commonly in the shape of flowers, plants, or occasionally, birds. Several feature tornado-like zig-zags or spirals. Some of the designs have bubbled and chipped as an excess of cobalt slip will react with the salt glaze layered on top of it. Most of the pieces lack variation in the relatively simple shape of the vessel’s body, indicating a focus on functionality over aesthetics. The jugs are generally straight with a slight swell at the chest before the shape reduces to a narrow neck. The coolers are visually similar to the jugs with the addition of a bung at the base and much taller and thicker handles to support the vessel’s considerable weight. The crocks are less curvy, with a thick lip and two lug handles on the sides. Their lids are most often plain save for the occasional layer of Albany slip or glaze. A few feature unusually ornate reliefs of flowers or grapes, most likely from a press mold. Almost all of the pieces feature a maker’s stamp, which was pressed into the wet body with an overlay of cobalt slip.


“American Pottery History.” n.d. Accessed December 15, 2017.

“Antique Redware | Pottery & Porcelain Price Guide | Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide.” n.d. Accessed December 15, 2017.

“Exraordinary [sic] Shaker Herbalist Account Book & Diary.” n.d. M & S Rare Books. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Grant, Jerry. “Jugs and Pots.” Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon (blog). October 5, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Mansberger, Floyd. “Nineteenth Century Pottery Production In Illinois.” n.d. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Ketchum, William C., Jr. Potters and Potteries of New York State, 1650-1900. Second edition. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987.

Untangling a collection puzzle

Our blog today is written by Julia Pelkofsky, Cataloger for the collections digitization project.

In 2016 Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon received a $750,000 grant to put its collections online. As part of that process, individual objects are being cataloged, their data input into an electronic database. As this process goes on, the objects begin to tell more than just the history of the Shakers, but the history of the museum and its practices. After completing an inventory of a storage space, we came across a few items that had us wondering what led to certain objects being treated the way they were. 

When I began to catalog a box of wick holders for oil lamps, the majority of which were acquired by the museum in the 1950s, I noticed that each holder was marked with its accession number followed by an “-A”, meaning that it was a part of a set. This didn’t raise any red flags at first, but I soon realized there was no original record of any “-A” associated with any of the accession numbers I had in front of me. The accession cards created at the time the objects were accepted by the museum did not offer much help in this way as the cards described whole lamps, and made no mention of a wick holder, solitary or otherwise. 

Lamp and Wick holder, Canterbury, NH

Lamp and Wick holder, ca. 1895-1940, Canterbury, NH, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.3699.1 (lamp) 1950.3699.2 (wick holder). Staff photograph.

I presented this to one of my colleagues, who was similarly perplexed, but directed me to check in another storage area where she knew some lamps were kept. Sure enough, these lamps matched the numbers of the wick holders, which had started this journey. I was excited to have the prospect of reuniting a collections piece, but while surveying the lamps I saw an immediate obstacle. The lamps I had in front of me were all converted to electric. There was no mention of this in any file, so it was unclear when the conversion was done and why. 

Only one lamp in this group mentioned specifically that it had been electrified by the Shakers and its electrical cord looked far older than the ones attached to the lamps in question. Therefore, it seemed likely the conversion from oil to electric lamp happened after the museum had acquired these lamps.  

Sitting Room Gallery, 1976, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

Sitting Room Gallery, 1976, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. The Lees Studio, photographer.

In talking with Jerry Grant, Director of Collections and Research, he explained these lamps had been electrified by museum staff to light galleries in the museum! The staff was attempting to create the sense of a Shaker interior and therefore wanted the lighting in the space to feel authentic. In this image of the “Sitting Room” gallery space from 1976 there are two electrified gas lamps in use. The clearest is the lamp in front of the Shaker sister mannequin. The electric bulb is aglow and the lamp’s electric cord can be seen running down the table’s stand.  

When the museum decided to convert the lamps, some time before 1976, the wick holders were removed and marked with the corresponding number, so it was clear which wick holder belonged to which lamp. Since that time, standard museum practices have evolved and most museums would not modify an artifact in this manner. However, these electrified lamps are now a piece of the history of the Shaker Museum itself and will be preserved in their altered state.




An ingenious time saving device

At Mount Lebanon in 1866, Brother Elisha D’Alembert Blakeman wrote a eulogy to recently departed Brother Isaac Newton Youngs. He said, “His mechanical genius was remarkable … Very many of our little conveniences which added so much to our domestic happiness owe their origin to B[rother] Isaac.” Although Brother Isaac had nothing to do with the invention or making of this winding device, Brother Elisha’s words ring true for a number of Shaker brothers – often identified as “mechanics” – who had similar roles in other communities – brothers such as Thomas Corbett at Canterbury or Brother Micajah Burnett at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. From the brains and workshops of these Shakers, there seem to be an almost endless stream of “little conveniences” intended to make work more pleasant and efficient. This winding device is a good example. 

Bandage Roller (side view), Church Family, Canterbury, NH, Ca. 1840

Bandage Roller (side view), Church Family, Canterbury, NH, Ca. 1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1953.6368.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

When the Shaker Museum acquired this device from the Canterbury Shakers in 1953 it was identified as a bandage roller and it was displayed in the Museum’s medical department exhibit without a bandage wound on it. The wooden wheels mounted on the winding shaft are adjustable. By turning a small thumbscrew the distance between the wheels can be set from zero to two inches. While this adjustment is appropriate as bandaging materials could certainly vary in width, it makes one think that it would also be an appropriate tool for winding all kinds of narrow materials – bonnet edging, carpet binding, strapping, and even short pieces of chair webbing – in fact, at present the winder has a short piece of chair webbing on it. Once the bandage or other narrow material is wound into a roll the outer wheel can be removed and the roll slid off the iron shaft. The winder is made all the more convenient by having a notch cut out of one end that can be slipped over the end of a table or work desk and secured with a wooden threaded screw. Whatever the maker of this device though he was making – bandage roller or something else – it may have been taken around from shop to shop whenever something relatively short and flexible needed to be rolled up. 

Bandage Roller (end view), Church Family, Canterbury, NH, Ca. 1840

Bandage Roller (end view), Church Family, Canterbury, NH, Ca. 1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1953.6368.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

The piece was clearly made with much thought and care. The metal shaft turned by the handle and the collars that hold that hold the disks to the shaft appear to have been made on a metal lathe, and the support on which the shaft rests and the handle were forged by a blacksmith. The screws that hold this forged plate to the device are helpful in providing a “made before” date for the piece. In general, metal screws with screwdriver slots that are not precisely centered on the head of the screw were made before the invention of automatic screw-making machinery in the late 1840s. Several of the screwdriver slots on the roller appear to have been hand cut during the period before mechanization of the process took hold. 

In a Shaker community, with a variety of skilled crafts persons available to assist on projects, it was probably easier to conceive of and complete projects that required several different skilled people than it would have been in the outside world. This little device could have required the work of a joiner to make the base block; a turner to make the wheels, threaded screw, and knob on the handle; a blacksmith to fabricate the iron support shaft and the handle; and a machinist to turn the shaft, collars, and possibly even the screws. As it was common for Shakers to have been trained in several different trades, it is possible that one brother identified as a “mechanic” could have made all of these varied parts. 



An emery mold possibly made from a woodworking plane

Shaker sisters made a number of accessories for sewing – needle cases, beeswax cakes, pin cushions, and emeries were the most common, both as items used by the Shakers  and eventually as items that they sold in their stores. To accomplish quality sewing it was important to have thread that didn’t knot-up as it passed through fabric and sharp, smooth needles that would not abrade or damage the fabric. Before cotton thread was mercerized – a strengthening process that was developed in the 1840s and perfected in the 1890s – sewers passed their thread through beeswax cakes to make it smooth and less likely to catch on the fabric that was being sewn. Likewise, needles needed to be kept sharp and free of rust. Small bags of ground emery rock (aluminum oxide with a variety of impurities) were used sharpen needles and remove any rust that may have formed on them. Emeries were often made in the shape of a strawberry and occasionally decorated to emphasize that shape. Tailors and others involved in sewing would poke their needle into the bag, usually made of tightly woven wool or satin, until the needle was ready to use. 

Emery Mold, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1845

Emery Mold, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1845, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2482.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

The emery mold in the Museum’s collection was used to hold the cloth bag while it was filled with emery powder and sewn closed. After the strawberry-shaped emery bag was assembled, it was topped with a cover over the closure to keep any powder from leaking out. The closure was often shaped like the hull of a strawberry. This mold was made to accommodate fabrication of several sizes of emeries. On one end of the block there is a hollowed-out strawberry-shaped recess about 1 1/8 inches wide and 7/8 of an inch deep that was used to form a large emery. On the opposite end a center strawberry-shaped recess is surrounded by eight similar recesses that vary in diameter from three-quarters of an inch to one inch in diameter. A hole drilled in the side of the block was apparently used for mounting the mold on a peg so it could be rotated to make either end point up.  

Emery Mold (detail of “Z. W.” stamp), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1845

Emery Mold (detail of “Z. W.” stamp), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1845, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2482.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

An intriguing feature of this mold is the presence of the initials “Z. W.” stamped next to the single 1 1/8” diameter hole. The position of the stamped initials is odd–it would have been more logical to have positioned the stamp further away from the edge of the hole. This seemingly illogical placement has caused some conjecture that the block had been stamped prior to having been made into an emery mold. The stamped initials are similar to the stamps used by woodworkers to mark their tools, a mark that often appears in the end grain of tools such as woodworking planes. It is possible that the block from which this mold was made came from a block of maple cut from the end of a large woodworking plane – something like a long jointer plane. Assuming this is a logical explanation for the stamp appearing on the mold and for its awkward placement, the next question is who was “Z.W.”? 

The only Shaker with those initials who has been identified as living at Mount Lebanon is a brother named Zadock Wright. 

Although Wright is usually associated with the Shaker community at Canterbury, N. H., where he moved in 1892 and died at the age of 83 in 1819, he originally joined the Shaker community at Mount Lebanon.  At Canterbury he is known to have been a deacon and as such his initials appear on some very early – sometime between 1793 and 1807 – Shaker spinning wheels. Whether he was also a maker of spinning wheels or a woodworker at all is not known. At this time the initials of the family deacon were stamped on some Shaker products to identify them as Shaker rather than stamping them with the word, “Shaker.” The “Z. W.” stamp that was used on spinning wheels was not made with the same stamp as that on the emery mold. Deacon Zadock was old enough when he joined the Shakers at Mount Lebanon to have acquired his own tools and brought them with him when he joined. If he had a plane that he used at Mount Lebanon, it is possible it was left behind when he moved to Canterbury – especially if he was not planning to do woodworking at Canterbury. If damaged, cracked, warped, or missing a part, it may have been viewed as merely scrap to be reused for some other purpose – like the emery mold. 

We know something of Deacon Zadock’s early history with the Shakers from information published in Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee… (Hancock, MA: 1816):

“Zadock Wright, of Canterbury, was, at the commencement of the American Revolution, a royalist, and conscientiously refused to take up arms against the king, to whom he had sworn allegiance. He accordingly fled to Canada, to avoid the danger to which his political principles exposed him; but was, afterwards, taken by the Americans, while attempting to move his family to Canada, and sent, a prisoner, to Albany.

After being retained as a prisoner at large, for several years, his situation became very critical and alarming. His estate was confiscated, and himself thrown into prison at Albany. This happened at the time of Mother’s [Ann Lee’simprisonment, in the same place. He was, at that time, under great exercises of mind concerning the work of God, which had then taken place at New-Lebanon, among the people of his acquaintance. This, together with his present situation, and temporal difficulties, brought him into great tribulation; and he felt very anxious to see Mother through the grates of the prison; which she perceived, and obtained admittance for him into her apartment of the prison. On being questioned, he informed Mother and the Elders of his embarrassments. Mother looked on him and said, ‘You will be delivered.’— Again she said, ‘God will deliver you.’—Again, the third time she said, ‘God will deliver you.’ Though this appeared, at that time, impossible to Zadock; yet the declaration from Mother made a forcible impression on his feelings. 

He had been, from principle, much opposed to the American Revolution; but Mother taught him to view the subject in a different light from what he had done; and convinced him, that it was the providential work of God, to open the way for the Gospel. He then clearly saw, that it would be impossible for England to prevail – that the hand of God was in it; and America must be separated from the British government, and become a land of liberty, for the gospel’s sake. 

Soon after this, he parted with Mother; and after struggling through many difficulties, for more and after struggling through many difficulties, for more than a year, without seeing or hearing any more of Mother and the Elders, he was, at length, through the interposition of Divine Providence, released from his embarrassments, according to Mother’s words. Having returned to his family, in the state of Vermont, in peace, he was, shortly afterwards, visited by Israel Chauncey and Ebenezer Cooley, and embraced the testimony of the gospel, in which he has continued faithful to this day.”

Objects in the Museum’s collection need considerable evaluation to truly understand all of the nuances of their history. Although the examination of this piece leads to a number of conjectural conclusions, we hope that bringing together all the known and possible pieces of information about this piece and making a best informed guess, our knowledge of objects in the collection will continue to grow. 




Untangling the history of the Calver family starting with a box of toothpicks

Box of Tooth-Pick Holders, J. V. Calver & Co., Washington, D. C., ca. 1895

Box of Tooth-Pick Holders, J. V. Calver & Co., Washington, D. C., ca. 1895, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1993.2.21.1a,b (box); 1993.2.21.2-10 (tooth-pick holders. Staff photograph.

In 1992 Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon received over 400 Shaker items collected by Charles and Helen Upton of Brunswick, New York. Among the items was a small cardboard box containing nine nickel-plated metal tubes. Each tube can be pulled apart exposing a quill, probably from a goose, mounted to the short end of the opened tube. The quills are sharpened much like a quill pen but, instead of being intended for writing, they were to remove food from between the teeth. The devices were offered for sale at ten-cents each.

Also included with the Upton gift was a collection of 34 letters exchanged between James Valentine Calver, Jr., a Washington, D. C. dentist, and Brother Benjamin Gates, trustee and chief businessman of the Mount Lebanon Church Family. The letters, beginning in 1888, document a business relationship that developed between Dr. Calver and the Mount Lebanon Shakers. In these letters, Dr. Calver proposes to have the Shakers manufacture and package a product  he invented to relieve the pain of toothaches. He was also interested in having the product marketed under the Shakers’ name in the same way several doctors had contracted to have the Shaker name attached to their proprietary medicines. The story of Dr. Calver’s Shakers’ Toothache Pellets has been well-researched and published by M. Stephen Miller in the December, 1991, issues of The Shaker Messenger. 

In his article Miller recounts the story of the Calver family – how through contact with Elder Frederick Evans while Evans was in Philadelphia of other business, James, Sr., his wife, Susan, and their nine children – five girls and four boys – all of whom had a year or so earlier arrived in the United States from England, came to Mount Lebanon at the end of May, 1850, and took up residence in a cottage at the North Family. Shaker life was not a fit for most of the Calvers and only two daughters, Sister Amelia Calver and Sister Ellen Calver, remained Shakers for life. The Calver parents and three of the girls all left the Shakers within a few years of their arrival and the four boys, Thomas, Henry, William, and James, left the Shakers at different times.  All four of the Calver boys eventually settled in Washington, D. C. and had somewhat remarkable lives. Miller shared some of the details about the Calver boys in his article and suggests that this is, indeed, an evolving story. The box of tooth-pick holders in the Museum’s collection offers an opportunity to make a small contribution to the story of the Calver boys.

Thomas Calver (1841-1920) left the Shakers in 1855. At age twenty in 1861 it seems likely he would have joined the Union Army. In fact, he was a charter member of the James A. Garfield, Post Number 7, of the Grand Army of the Republic and was often elected as the Post’s medical director. Although he was apparently trained as a physician, in the 1890s he was working in Washington, D. C. as secretary to Senator P. W. Hitchcock of Nebraska and for the last 20 years of his life was an Auditor of the Treasury Department. He married twice, had seven children, was well known locally as a poet, and is buried in St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

Invitation to Attend the Graduation of Henry Calver at the Columbian University, Law Department, Washington, D. C.

Invitation to Attend the Graduation of Henry Calver at the Columbian University, Law Department, Washington, D. C., Class of 1881, 1881, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1989.2.1.433a.                                                                           This invitation was sent to Sister Amelia Calver. It is not known if she attended the ceremony.

Henry Calver (1845-1943) left his Shaker home in 1866 and went to reside with his brother Thomas in Washington, D. C. In 1870 he enlisted in the Signal Corps and was stationed at Fort Myers, Virginia, as a weather observer. He became part of the effort by the Weather Bureau to coordinate weather reporting around the country by means of telegraphy. Henry stayed in this work until 1877 when he applied for and received an appointment in the United States Patent Office. There he took up the study of law, graduated from the Law Department of the Columbian University, and by 1883 was established as a patent attorney. Henry eventually moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he died. He is buried in the Hope Cemetery in Worcester.

William Calver (1845-1943) went to the world in March, 1872 and like others in his family eventually moved to Washington, D. C. There he became well known as an inventor. Many of his inventions and patents had to do with solar energy. According to an obituary published in The Washington Times, November 9, 1908, his interest in using the sun for energy “was impressed upon [him] while interested in mining in Arizona. Here the scarcity of fuel and the continuous torrid rays of the sun made such an invention practicable.”  William founded the Calver Universal Power Company and was known to have “built in the barren wastes of Arizona huge frames of mirrors, traveling on circular rails, so that they may be brought to face the sun at all hours between sunrise and sunset.” This array of 1600 mirrors could focus the rays of the sun that would normally fall on an acre of land onto an area of a few inches – producing enough heat to melt iron, according to Archibald Williams in The Romance of Modern Invention (1904).  William Calver is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

James Valentine Calver, Jr.  (1839-1901) was a most promising young Shaker brother. He worked as a gardener, was trained as a cabinetmaker, was a teacher in the boys’ school, a family deacon, and the second elder of the Church Family. However, James made the decision to leave the Shakers in October, 1871. He moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts and worked there in the seed business. The next year his brother William joined him and eventually both of them moved to join their other brothers in Washington, D. C. James initially worked, as did his brother Henry, as a clerk in the Signal Office. In the last years of the 1870s he apprenticed with a dentist and in 1880 he began attending The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery from which he graduated the next year. In 1888 he married Nanette Rogers Draper, a woman ten years his junior. It was during these next years that James developed and marketed his Shaker Toothache Pellets and most likely the tooth-pick holders as well, although he made no known attempt to associate this product with the Shakers. James was apparently suffering from some kind of “mental malady,” and in the late 1890s he and Nanette began spending winters in Orlando, Florida to try and regain his health.  Unfortunately, probably as a result of his “malady,” James Calver committed suicide. The Washington Post of April 3, 1901 reported his death:

“Dr. J.V. Calver, a winter resident, committed suicide here last night. For some time he has been in a nervous condition, and it was evident to his immediate friends that he was suffering from some mental malady. He left the house, and as he did not immediately return, his wife instituted a search, which resulted in finding his body in the loft of the barn on the rear of the premises. A pistol at his side and a wound in the head told the story. Dr. Calver and his wife came here from Washington two or three years ago, and he engaged in pineapple culture. He was the manufacturer of a proprietary remedy well known to pharmacies throughout the country and from which he derived an income. He also owned property in the city of Washington. The body was shipped to Washington today for interment. …. Until two years ago, Dr. Calver was a well-known dentist in this city, and for several years was the dentist in St. Elizabeth’s Asylum. He went to Florida in the hope of regaining his failing health, and expected to return to Washington to practice.”

James Irving, photographer, “Group of Shakers, [Interior of Mount Lebanon School], ca. 1871

James Irving, photographer, “Group of Shakers, [Interior of Mount Lebanon School], ca. 1871. Retrieved from: on March 27, 2018. The male at the left of the image has been identified as Brother James V. Calver. Sister Amelia Calver is seated next to him with Sister Emma J. Neale next to her. Brother Calvin G. Reed, Superintendent of the Shaker school is seated at the desk.

Although at this time not much is known about Nanette Calver’s life after James died, she apparently at some point moved to Los Angles, California, where she died in January, 1941. Steve Miller mentions in his article about Toothache Pellets that there are some vials of the medicine that were labeled, “J. V. Calver & Co., Los Angeles, Calif.” Nanette’s move to Los Angles may explain why this product was being sold with that label.

Possibly with the help of the Calver brothers, she appears to have continued manufacturing and selling Shakers’ Toothache Pellets and possibly the tooth-pick holders. These products may have supplied her with an income, although Nanette may have had a career of her own–she attended Howard University Medical College from 1879 until 1882, according to the Howard University Medical Department’s Biographical and Statistical Souvenir published in 1900. James is buried in the Rock Creek Cemetery. Nanette died in Los Angles and was returned to rest next to her husband.

Steve Miller suggested in 1991 that the Calver story could certainly be filled out as new research is undertaken and that observation is still valid in 2018. Two interesting points for exploration come to mind. First, James Valentine Calver apparently committed suicide as a result of a psychological or nervous disorder. In 1869 James’s sister Ellen, living at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon, appears to have committed suicide by drowning herself in the family mill pond and, while her reason for going to the pond was not clear, there was suspicion that she had become deranged. Was there a genetic predisposition in the Calver family toward mental illness? Second, when James and Nanette went to spend their summers in Orlando, Florida – and “engage in pineapple culture”– it is possible that James was drawn to that location and that work by his knowledge that some of the Mount Lebanon and Watervliet Shakers had, a few years earlier, established a community just south of Orlando in Narcoossee. A quick glance at a journal titled, “Live Oak Lake Florida” in the collection of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, does include a mention of two visits by James Calver, one in August, 1898, with Brother Benjamin Gates with whom he arranged the Tooth-ache Pellet business, and one in September, 1899.  The saga continues.





Relief from asthma that risks death in a “maniacal delirium”

Mount Lebanon’s Second Family was at one time probably the community’s largest family, comprised of not only the home farm – those buildings and properties now referred to as the Second Family – but also the South Farm, the West Farm, and the East Family. In the years prior to the Civil War, the Mount Lebanon Second Family presented a seemingly strong financial outlook. They had an adequate farming program to support the family and, as the chair business at the South Farm was under their jurisdiction, a successful industrial one as well. During the late-1850s and early 1860s the South Farm became the South Family and as it assumed control of its own finances, the Second Family appears to have suffered from losing its industrial component. The West Farm failed to thrive and its residents were assimilated into other families and in 1872 the East Family’s Elder and financial manager, Edward Chase, absconded, leaving the Shakers as much as $25,000 dollars (more than half a million in today’s dollars) in unexpected debt to people in the outside world. The East Family was broken up by 1875. To add further stress, by the early 1880s the Second Family seed business was not keeping up with competition from seed merchants in the outside world.  In consideration of all of these changes, the Lebanon Ministry tried to identify businesses that would help the Family regain its financial footing.  

Shaker Asthma Cure Bottle and Shipping Box with Sample Package

Shaker Asthma Cure Bottle and Shipping Box with Sample Package of the Same, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1880s-1890s, Shaker Museum } Mount Lebanon: 1957.9330.1 (Shipping Container); 1957.9330.3 (Sales Bottle with Pills); 1999.1.161a (Sample Shipping Box); 1999.1.161b (Sample Bottle with Pills).

In March 1880, apparently at the request of Church Family Trustee Brother Benjamin Gates, Dr. Lyman Brown, a pharmacist from New York City, came to Mount Lebanon to “arrange for putting up some powders at the Second Family.” The Shakers had become involved with Brown as they attempted to rebuild following a catastrophic fire in 1875.  Brown contracted with the Shakers to use their well-disciplined workforce to manufacture, bottle, label, and ship his medicines. The arrangement was apparently lucrative for both. It was the hope of the Lebanon Ministry that what Brown had done for the Church Family could also be done for the Second Family. Once it appeared that involvement in the medicine business could be accomplished at both Families, more projects were taken on. On October 26, 1882, the Ministry recorded in their journal : “The Second Family are making an effort to start a medicine cure of the Asthma, to be made into sugar coated pillets, put up in little bottles & sent out in little wooden cases, by mail.” 

fig 2

Label, “The Shaker Asthma Cure,” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1883, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1998.4.35.

M. Stephen Miller, in his book From Shaker Lands and Shaker Hands: A Survey of Shaker Industries (University Press of New England, 2007) provides the medical background on asthma: “Four distinct, although overlapping answers have endured side by side [for the causes of asthma] … a primary disorder of the lungs, an allergic condition, a disease associated with environmental irritants, and a disease linked to emotional distress.” Although there is not a “cure” for asthma, there are treatments that greatly relieve the constriction of the bronchi, allowing those with the disease to breathe better. Miller suggests that although the formula for the “pillets” has not been unearthed in Shaker records the testimonials suggest that those who tried the Shakers’ medicine slept better – insomnia being a major complaint of those with asthma. While the pills may have contained a sedative that helped with sleep, it is also possible the Shakers went out on a rather dangerous limb and offered a “cure” that contained Datura Stramonium – more commonly known at that time as Thorn Apple.

Label, “Thorn Apple, Datura Stramonium, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Label, “Thorn Apple, Datura Stramonium, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2008.21389.1

According to Mrs. M. Grieve, author of the online, the extract of thorn apple can be given in the form of a pill to “allay cough in spasmodic bronchial asthma.” In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thorn apple leaves were smoked in a pipe or as a cigarette to relieve the symptoms of asthma, but the smoke was also an irritant, making the pill form more attractive.

fig 3

Package Insert, “The following rules should be strictly observed in connection with the Shaker Asthma Cure,” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1883, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.9332.1.

The active agent in thorn apple is atropine – still one of the preferred substances used in asthma treatment.  The Shakers at Mount Lebanon had been preparing an extract of thorn apple for sale since the mid-1830s. If the Shakers did indeed use thorn apple extract in their “asthma cure” they were taking a risk in doing so, for as recorded in Amy Bess Miller’s Shaker Herbs: A History and a Compendium (Clarkson M. Potter, 1976), “In large doses it is an energetic narcotic poison. Its victims suffer the most intense agonies and die in maniacal delirium.”  

Again, we find ourselves in a position where we could use some help. Many of these pills remain and are available to a qualified chemist who can analyze the compound.








Mitten weather

“Thumb in the thumb place, fingers all together.
This is the song we sing in mitten weather.” 

When March came in like a lion this year and the snow on Lebanon Mountain reached nearly two feet, our thoughts turned to the challenges the Shakers faced during the cold time of year. It was not unusual for a company of brethren to take to the mountain road with snow shovels where, for example, in March of 1852 they were “compelled to break roads thro the snow banks.” Even with clear roads, winter travel by wagon or sleigh was cold. Special clothing for winter travel was necessary to travel at all. The Museum has several pairs of what are presumed to be mittens for teamsters. The mittens, made from sheep skin with the wool left on the outside of the mittens, were not particularly flexible and useful for handwork, but were certainly suitable to hold tight to a pair of reins and keep the driver’s  fingers from freezing. 

Sheep Skin Mittens, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1880

Sheep Skin Mittens, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1956.8175.1a,b. John Mulligan, photographer.

These teamster’s mittens were a gift from Peter Joray of Chatham Center, New York. Joray was the author of several articles in the 1960s about the Shakers at Mount Lebanon and had been a frequent visitor to the Shakers when they still lived there. When received by the Museum the name Henry Clough was found written on the edge of the inside of the cuff of both mittens, along with what might have possibly once read, “Mount Lebanon, N. Y. Shakers.” Brother Henry Terry Clough was born in September 1862 in Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut.  He was admitted to the Church Family in 1873 where he attended school until he was fifteen years old. At age 18 the 1880 U. S. Federal Census identified him as a teamster. It would make sense for the mittens to have dated from this time. Brother Henry eventually worked at the Second Order of the Church Family (later called the Center Family) in the herb business. At the end of April 1890 Brother Henry determined to sever his relationship with the Shakers and left for New York City. His plan upon leaving the Shakers involved rendezvousing with Sister Julia Matilda (Minta or Mintie) Dalton, who had taken leave of the Church Family ostensibly for an extended visit with relatives three months earlier. They married, had five children, and lived in New York City where Henry had a successful career with a jewelry company. In February 1909,  seemingly nostalgic for the simplicity of community life, they both returned to the Shakers with their children. Henry, with his previous experience in the herb business, was re-employed there. In September 1921, the Cloughs again decided to leave their Shaker home and moved their household furniture to a home they owned in Lebanon Center. 

These mittens were most likely made by the Shakers. The Museum holds a number of patterns from the Mount Lebanon Shakers for making both mittens and gloves. They were made for multiple purposes and from a variety of materials – cloth as well as various leathers. While the Museum does not have the pattern for Brother Henry’s teamster mittens, it does have in its collection a pattern for “Large Size” gloves dated 1867 “For Sheep skin gloves – wool on” that show the Shakers were making hand coverings that were intended for work in the cold. A typical mitten pattern had two pieces – one pattern for cutting the mitt and the other for the thumb. An example made in December 1842 “For handing Mittens – Right Size for Dwight H[inkley], &c.” is identified as “Latest and best fashion ever introduced.” While the thumb pattern is missing, the pattern is also identified as “No 4 – Thumb and hand.” Borrowing a thumb pattern from an 1847 “Pattern for Glove handing No 4 thumb & hand,” made for “H. D. W. [i.e., Brother Henry De Witt] allows a vision of how the mitt and thumb patterns worked together to make a full mitten. Rights and lefts were determined by merely flipping the pattern over when it was being traced onto the cloth or leather. These patterns rarely include a cuff – an attached extension that continued the glove or mitten up the arm – but most would have certainly had them. One pattern merely states that the cuff should be cut three by nine inches and attached. 

The Shakers’ making of gloves and mittens is an area that has not been very well explored. While knit, felt, and cloth hand-wear falls neatly into the subject of Shaker textile arts, gloves and mittens made of various leathers appear, like shoe and hat making, to fall under the broader subject of Shaker costume – one that could use considerably more scholarship.