Shakers reject “foolish consistency”

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, 1841.

Shakers numbered things. They numbered rooms for the ease of keeping their domestic life in order, and they numbered products to keep a consistency in manufacture and marketing. In Emersonian fashion, however, their numbering of products did not reflect an overall philosophy of consistency – even within the same community. For example, chairs made at Mount Lebanon were numbered from the smallest size, number 0, to the largest size, number 7, while oval boxes made in the same community at the same time were numbered from the largest size, number 1, to the smallest size, number 11. In a further example of not demanding some “foolish consistency” in numbering products, in the mid-1870s, apparently not finding the largest two or the smallest two sizes of oval boxes profitable, they dropped them from their offering and merely renumbered the remaining seven boxes number 1 for the largest remaining box, to number 7 for the smallest. This may have caused some confusion for customers trying to order number 1 or 2 boxes after the change. 

fig 1

Oval Boxes, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875. Private collection. Hiram Ferguson [?], photographer.

This change in the Shakers’ offering of oval boxes apparently came about right around the time when they were launching an initiative to increase the sale of chairs – and oval boxes – through mail order sales from a series of catalogs. The South Family had built a new chair factory in 1872 and greatly increased production and sales. The earliest catalog, dated 1875, includes chairs numbered 1 through 7 with small illustrations by an unidentified artist. On the final two pages, however, there are illustrations of a line of chairs – small to large – created by “Ferguson, Albany.” Hiram Ferguson was a noted photographer and wood engraver in Albany, New York. Although these two pages of illustrations present themselves almost as an afterthought, very soon after another catalog was issued with four pages of Ferguson illustrations, and soon after that, another catalog with six pages of Ferguson illustrations. This last catalog also includes a page showing a stack of seven oval boxes, numbers 1 through 7, offered for sale. While the creator of this illustration is not identified, a separate four-page bi-fold that survives in a very small number shows, along with two pages of “The Shakers’ Upholstered Chairs,” an illustration of “Fancy Oval Covered Wooden Boxes.” This illustration of eleven oval boxes, numbered 1 through 11 is identified as having been created by Ferguson.  

fig 2

An Illustrated Catalogue and Price-List of Shakers’ Chairs. Manufactured by the Society of Shakers, R. M. Wagan & Co. Mount Lebanon, N. Y., (p. 13) ” South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.10304.1.

There has been some conjecture as to whether this bi-fold was intended to be issued as a separate flyer to accompany the chair catalogs, or if it was a four-page spread that was at one time intended to be bound with a chair catalog but, for some reason, was not. It seems doubtful that it was intended merely as a separate publication. While there is a page titled, “Directions for Ordering Chairs,” there is no address included, and none of the other chair catalogs are missing this page. It seems more likely that the Shakers engaged Ferguson to create an illustration of their oval boxes and intended to include the stack of eleven boxes in their chair catalog, but decided not to do so. The stack of seven boxes that was included in the catalog was printed with the same printing block that printed the stack of eleven boxes, but the bottom and top two boxes were cut away from the block. This also removed Ferguson’s signature.

“Fancy Oval Covered Wooden Boxes,” South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875

“Fancy Oval Covered Wooden Boxes,” South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875. Private collection.

There are a few possible reasons for this change. In the mid-1870s, Elder Daniel Crosman (1810-1885) at the Church Family was the primary oval box maker for the community. After the devastating fire in 1875, other than making 50 round spit-boxes (spittoons) for the new dwelling that was being built to replace the one that burned, he appears to have had less time than usual to work at boxes. Elder Daniel made at least 11 sizes of boxes at one time; in fact, he made a box he identified as a zero that was apparently larger than a number one. The largest and smallest boxes may have been the least profitable ones to make and, therefore, the Shakers decided to no longer offer them for sale. This would have necessitated eliminating them from the catalog. Whatever the reason, the stack of 11 boxes is not known to have been included in a catalog. 

Print Block, Eleven Oval Boxes, Hiram Ferguson, Albany, NY, ca. 1875

Print Block, Eleven Oval Boxes, Hiram Ferguson, Albany, NY, ca. 1875, Collection of the New York State Museum. Staff photograph.

The creation of the images used in the chair catalog could have all been done by Ferguson – a photographer and wood engraver who could also duplicate wood engravings in type metal. The Shakers may have taken oval boxes and chairs to his studio and had him photograph them. From the photograph he would have his wood engravers make an engraved illustration simulating the photograph. The wood engraving was then used to create a mold from which duplicate blocks could be made from type metal. These blocks were then sent to the printer and set on the page with necessary text. For the oval box illustration, this process, minus the wood engraving, is preserved in various collections and is presented here – from photograph, to printing block, to printed page. Of course, if the wood engraving of the stack of oval boxes does survive, that would be an important addition to this discussion. 

Mother Lucy Wright was remembered as saying, albeit in the context of wanting quality rather than quantity in new Shakers, “Numbers are not the thing for us to glory in.” The ease with which the Shakers changed their number 3 oval box to make it a number 1 oval box certainly speaks to their desire to not be distracted by hobgoblins.  


Fig 1: Oval Boxes, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875. Private collection. Hiram Ferguson [?], photographer. 


Fig 2: An Illustrated Catalogue and Price-List of Shakers’ Chairs. Manufactured by the Society of Shakers, R. M. Wagan & Co. Mount Lebanon, N. Y., (p. 13) ” South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.10304.1. 


Fig 3: “Fancy Oval Covered Wooden Boxes,” South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875. Private collection.  


Fig 4. “Hiram Ferguson, Designer, Photographer and Engraver in Wood, Bank Building, 448 Broadway, Albany, NY,” ca. 1881, retrieved from: 


Fig 5: Print Block, Eleven Oval Boxes, Hiram Ferguson, Albany, NY, ca. 1875, Collection of the New York State Museum. Staff photograph. 


Fig 6: An Illustrated Catalogue and Price-List of Shakers’ Chairs. Manufactured by the Society of Shakers, R. M. Wagan & Co. Mount Lebanon, N. Y., (cover) ” South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.10304.1. 


Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ.  


An earlier blog examined one of the smallest publications done by the Shakers – The Little Instructor, printed by Elder Henry C. Blinn in 1849 at Canterbury, New Hampshire. On the other end of the spectrum, the Shakers were involved in publishing a piece measuring three by four feet. It is an 1887 lithographed chart created by Jacob Skeen titled Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ.

Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ by Jacob Skeen

Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ by Jacob Skeen, The Skeen Chart Co., Louisville, KY, Lithographed by the Lithograph and Printing Company, Louisville, KY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2017.25.1a,b

The great fire of 1875 at Mount Lebanon’s Church Family had repercussions that continued for years as the Shakers increased industries that would produce cash to help them recover from the loss. The best known and probably most lucrative of these efforts was the addition of a contract to manufacture medicine for Andrew Judson White. This work, like much that followed, depended on the well-organized, dedicated sisterhood of the family. Other industries that were taken on over the next decade included the manufacture of knitted gloves and mittens made from raccoon fur and silk and the manufacture of men’s neckties. As part of this effort, in February 1887 the Shakers began producing giant charts intended to educate children about the Bible.

The chart was the result of ten years work by Jacob Skeen, an industrialist – he created and operated the Louisville Crucible Steel Casting Company – turned Bible and ancient history scholar. Skeen researched, designed, and created the artwork for the chart. In partnership with his brother David Skeen, he was eventually able to enlist the Shakers at Mount Lebanon, New York (Brother Benjamin Gates), Union Village, Ohio (Elder Matthew B. Carter), and Pleasant Hill, Kentucky (Elder Francis M. and Brother William F. Pennybaker) in the project. The chart provided timelines showing major figures of the Bible and their family trees along with their geographical locations and major Biblical events including the creation of Adam and Eve, the birth of Christ, and a summary of Christ’s miracles and parables. It was the Shakers at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon who did the actual work to produce the charts – a perfect job for the sisters. With some assistance from Brother Andrew Fortier, Sister Cornelia French and several others set up the chart business in the south garret of the new Dwelling House. There they trimmed the massive color lithographs and pasted them to a cloth backing. In early April David Skeen came to Mount Lebanon and made a presentation about the charts to the Shakers in their meeting room. That month the Shakers shipped about 25 charts to New York City to be sold. Brother Alonzo Hollister made peddling trips with the charts. Sales must not have met expectations and in mid-October, Brother Benjamin traveled to Cincinnati to meet and consult with Elder Matthew Carter and William Pennybaker about them. Their desire was to convince Skeen to produce a smaller, cheaper chart. It is not clear how many charts were originally printed but the year-end summary of the Church Family sisters’ work noted that in 1887 they had pasted and trimmed 204 charts and the business was concluded that year. The fact that there are untrimmed, unpasted charts, such as the one in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection, suggests more than 204 charts were printed.

While the charts are rare (the survival rate for something that large is usually small) even more scarce is a book the Skeens produced to accompany the chart. The book provides instructions on how to maximize the educational value of the chart and includes similar artwork. The book also supplies a little more information on the publication of Skeen’s charts. Although the charts are dated 1887, Skeen’s Key of Explanation contains nine testimonials – all but one from various Louisville, KY, churches – dated November 1886. It appears Skeen may have circulated the original drawing for the chart to garner testimonials prior to turning it over to the lithographers for publication in 1887. At this time only two copies of the book have been located in libraries – one at the Library of Congress and the other here at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

Much remains unknown about the relationship between the Skeen brothers and the Shakers, including how the Shakers came to be involved in this venture, how much their investment was in the business, and even whether the Shakers used the Bible charts in their own schools.



“You want a Christmas story. Well I can give you one, Of what happened to the Shakers in good Mt Lebanon”

Toward the end of the nineteenth century one finds a mix of the spiritual and the temporal in Christmas celebration among the Shakers. Traditionally, from the earliest days in their settlement at Niskayuna, the Shakers devoted Christmas day to spiritual matters, setting aside any unnecessary temporal duties. In preparation for Christmas day, usually during the days of Advent, the Shaker ministry designated a day of confession and reconciliation. This day of “yearly sacrifice” and fasting was meant to put aside all hard feelings one to another so the family could move ahead unencumbered into the new year. Sister Cornelia French recorded in 1897 in a Church Family journal, “The Ministry inform the family at the breakfast table that the day will be improved in the yearly sacrifice gift. The Ministry expressed their feelings in regard to an increase of peace and Union in the family with an exhortation to all to unite with them and banish all discord and hardness of heart one toward another forever from our home.” The yearly sacrifice is one of the most enduring observances in Shaker life. 

The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry,

“The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry,” (title page), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1898, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1961.12819.1.

At the same time, some secular elements of the Christmas season crept into Shaker families. In 1898 at Mount Lebanon’s Second Family the sisters wrote a poem titled, “The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry.” The poem is hand written on narrow pieces of paper less than an inch and a half wide and eight and a half inches long. These pieces are glued together to make a twelve-foot-long strip. This and another similar poem were discovered in what appears to have been a cash box. It has a crank on its side that rotates a shaft around which a narrow strip of paper was wound. When the crank was turned a strip of paper emerged from the end of the box and a bell inside rang.

Box, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850

Box, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.769.1.

When a sale was made, money was dropped into a hole in the top of the box and the crank turned to produce a slip of paper and ring the bell. The slip could have been used as either a receipt or, more likely, a slip on which the amount and description of the sale was written and deposited with the money in the box. The Second Family sisters modified the box so that as the crank was turned a verse of the poem emerged from the end of the box and the bell rang. This was repeated until the end of the poem. The drama of it all must have been terribly exciting. 

The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry

“The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry,” (first verse), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1898, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1961.12819.1.

The poem begins: 

  1. “You want a Christmas story. Well I can give you one,

Of what happened to the Shakers in good Mt Lebanon: 

On Christmas eve and Christmas day in Eighteen Ninety-eight 

You all will know the story’s true which I will now relate. 

  1. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, ‘twas evening, you see. 

The door opened quick while we sat at our tea: 

Sweet Shaker sisters came in numbering four, 

Singing bright Christmas carols standing close by the door…. 

The poem continues to describe Christmas day in the family – the singing, the meetings, addresses, more singing, and the “Great Christmas tree with presents well laden, for each sister, each brother, each dear little maiden.” Of course the food and the presents are described and the appearance of none other than Scrooge who was quickly dismissed by all with much “bah humbuggery.” It is interesting that Santa Claus does not appear in the poem but apparently the many presents left behind showed that he had made his visit. 

The poem ends in good Shaker fashion at the sixteenth verse: 

“To the giver of good, the father in Heaven, 

The thanks of this family is fervently given: 

For the most watchful care from the power above, 

Our hearts should forever give the purest of love.” 


Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man: Beekeeping at Mount Lebanon

Advertising Flyer, “Honey, Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man”

Advertising Flyer, “Honey, Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man,” North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2003.20848.1.

The Shakers were at the forefront of beekeeping both in their New England communities and in the West. Early on they understood the importance of the role bees played in pollinating their crops and, of course, enjoyed the honey and made use of beeswax. Most of the documentation of beekeeping at Mount Lebanon involves Elder Giles B. Avery at the Church Family. Avery kept a number of hives at both Mount Lebanon and at Watervliet, NY. His “Journal Concerning Bees in the Second Order,” as well as his notations about bees in the Church Family daily journals and his personal diaries, provide a clear picture of him as a progressive beekeeper. He quickly adopted improvements in hive designs and was aggressive in his procurement and use of Italian queens as they became preferred for strong hives.

Elder Giles mentions placing his hives at several of the Mount Lebanon families, but does not mention doing so at the North Family. This suggests that the North Family had its own beekeeper. By the turn of the twentieth century that beekeeper was Sister Mazella Gallup. Whether the North Family beekeeping was done by the sisters earlier is not known at present, but evidence of the sisters’ involvement in the task is documented in photographs of the “Bee Garden” from the early 1900s.

Swarm Box

Swarm Box, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1860, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2727.1a,b, John Mulligan, photographer.

The swarm box was used by beekeepers to transport wild swarms of bees to their manufactured hives. When a swarm was located – usually hanging on a branch of a tree or bush – the back of the box was opened to receive the swarm. To get the swarm in the box either the swarm was shaken until the queen fell into the box or the beekeeper would reach into the swarm, retrieve the queen, and put her in the box. Once the queen was in the box the rest of the swarm would follow. The swarm box, made of pine and basswood with an oak handle, is covered with a finely woven linen to provide ventilation during transport. Once back at the hives the bees were transferred into a prepared hive. The two holes in the box apparently let the bees come and go until they decide to move into the new hive.

This swarm box was purchased by Shaker Museum founder John S. Williams, Sr., from Sister Frances Hall, the trustee at Hancock, MA, around 1948, from the “surplus” North Family items that had come to Hancock the year before when the last Shaker left Mount Lebanon.


“Several of the best Mediums”: Shakers, Spiritualism, and camp meetings


The Shakers were no strangers to the concept of camp meetings. In the early days of the Shaker Church they saw such meetings – then usually very much of a religious nature – as an opportunity to testify about the Shaker faith and Shaker life with the hope of finding potential converts. As religious revivals burned through the Taconic Hills on the Massachusetts / New York border and later in the western part of New York State, the Shakers often sent missionaries to witness the work that was going on and to see if there was an opening for them to step forward and present themselves and their message of salvation. When the Great Kentucky Revival camp meetings at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, took hold in the early 1800s, Mother Lucy Wright sent three missionaries to what was then considered the West to preach the Shaker gospel to those gathered there. This effort resulted in a half-dozen Shaker communities being founded in Ohio and Kentucky.

In later years, camp meetings still retained a religious tone but began to stray beyond the strictly holy. Seventh-day Adventist camp meetings promoted vegetarianism and served only vegetarian meals. The camp meetings on Lake Chautauqua, New York, which started as Methodist meetings in the 1870s, soon evolved into a formal slate of lectures and performances that continue today. Pacifists gathered by the thousands outdoors in the pine groves of Salt Point, New York, to report on and discuss progress in the peace movement. The Shakers, proponents of many progressive movements, were particularly interested in the Spiritualists. The Shakers received messages from Mother Ann Lee and other departed leaders during the Era of Manifestations from the 1830s through the 1850s, and they believed this gave them a unique advantage in finding converts within the Spiritualist movement of the later 19th century.


In 1870 a camp meeting ground with 75 tent lots was established on the shore of Lake Pleasant, in the town of Montague, Massachusetts, and by 1872 it had become a favorite meetings place for Spiritualists. In 1874 Henry Buddington and Joseph Beals organized the New England Spiritualist Campmeeting Association. New cabins were built and more tenting lots created, and by August 1900 the population of the meeting ground could reach as high as 2,000 people.

Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875

“Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875,” Springfield, MA: G. E. Lyman & Co., Printers, 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2009.12.1.

The advertising flyer pictured here promoted the 1875 season. The description promised “a large Pavilion with tight roof, polished floor, open sides, built for dancing parties, dining salons, refreshment stands, boats, swings, bathing houses for ladies, sequestered walks by the Lake, artesian wells, affording soft, pure, cool, water; overlooking the auditorium, a bluff on which the tents are placed, under pine trees, … free from mosquitoes …” With this kind of promotion it seems an unlikely place for the Shakers to venture, but venture they did. In 1879, Elder Frederick Evans and Brother Emil Bretzner from Mount Lebanon’s North Family attended the camp and the next year a rather large contingent of Shakers from Mount Lebanon and Watervliet, New York, and Harvard, Massachusetts – 34 Shakers in all, went to Lake Pleasant. At the meeting on Wednesday, August 18, noted spiritual medium, Emma Hardinge Britten,  reported, “The Shakers were present in force, and conducted the exercises both morning and afternoon. Elder Evans, Eldress Doolittle, and other members of the party spoke. The singing was a novel portion of the exercises. Elder Evans is a radical speaker, and some of his remarks were loudly applauded. The audiences were very large during the day.”

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880, Frank Crosier, Readsboro, VT, photographer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1951.4407.1.

This photograph, taken in front of Joseph Beals’s tent, shows 20 of the Shakers who traveled to Lake Pleasant. Beals, one of the founders of the camp meetings, was a dentist and amateur photographer. Whether his tent was merely his August residence, a dental office, or a photographic studio is not known, but it is interesting that the photographer, Frank Crosier from Readsboro, Vermont, chose to take his picture of the Shakers in front of another photographer’s tent. While a number of Shakers are identifiable in the photograph – Elder Daniel Offord, Brother Orren Haskins, Sister Martha Anderson, Elder William Anderson, Brother Charles Greaves, Elder Amos Stewart, Elder Timothy Rayson, and one of the Sizer brothers – noticeably absent are Elder Frederick Evans and Eldress Antoinette Doolittle who we might guess were off lecturing the crowd.


Photo-engraved printing blocks

These two printing blocks were made by a process of photo-engraving and, when inked and printed, produce a half-tone image – a printing surface made up of small dots to produce a picture that shows some shading rather than being starkly black and white. The buildings on the blocks – the Mount Lebanon Meetinghouse (1824) and the Church Family Dwelling at Mount Lebanon (1875) – are both still standing. The images are based on photographs; the image of the Meetinghouse is taken from a stereograph produced by James Irving of Troy, New York, sometime prior to 1873 and, while the original photograph on which the image of the Dwelling is based is still unknown to us, it post-dates the building’s completed construction in 1876. The Meetinghouse block was acquired by Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 1957 from materials that had been moved to Hancock Shaker Village when Mount Lebanon closed. The block depicting the Dwelling was purchased in 2009 from an independent dealer who traced its provenance to Eldress Emma B. King at Canterbury, New Hampshire in the 1950s.

Both blocks were used to illustrate the article, “A Quaint and Curious People. A Century of Shaker Life on the Lebanon Hills,” in the June, 1883 issue of Outing: An Illustrated Magazine of Recreation. Outing, published in Boston, Massachusetts, was in its second year of publication and originally focused on bicycling as a popular recreation. In its first year it was published under the title The Wheelman. It is likely the Shakers were offered up as an interesting sightseeing trip as part of a ride over the Lebanon Hills.

fig 8

Library Stationary, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY ca. 1890, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.4255.2

The article appeared at a time when the Shakers were using similar illustrations of Shaker villages as cover art on their publication, The Manifesto, but neither of these illustrations was ever used in that or any other Shaker publication. It therefore seems likely that the publishers of Outing had the blocks made specifically for the article and may have retained them for a number of years, making it impossible for the Shakers to use the images. It does appear that at some later date the Shakers were able to acquire the blocks because before the end of the century the block illustrating the Dwelling was used on letterhead stationery for the Church Family Library at Mount Lebanon.

fig 7

Advertisement for Hiram Ferguson from Albany City Directory for 1883

The blocks themselves were made in Albany, New York, by Hiram Ferguson, best known in the Shaker world as the wood engraver who produced the images of Shaker chairs and oval boxes that were used to illustrate any number of Shaker chair catalogs. For the illustrations in the chair catalogs, Ferguson worked from photographs as well, but he used the photographs as the basis for his wood engravings – the art form for which he was best known in the 1870s. To produce multiple copies of the wood engravings so they could be used over years for the publication of the chair catalogues, Ferguson would have had them copied as type-metal blocks – a process that was much cheaper than duplicating the wood engravings. Ferguson’s advertisements in various Albany City Directories in the 1870s promote him as a wood engraver, but by the 1880s he had added “Photo-Electro Plates” and “Electrotyping” to his repertoire.

As an aside to the story of the Shakers and their relationship with Hiram Ferguson, it was noted in the Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle for December 30, 1900, that on the day before “One of the boldest crimes that was ever committed in this city [Albany, NY] and the motive for which is shrouded in mystery, happened to-day when Hiram Ferguson, who is about 75 years of age is suffering from a fractured skull and his recovery is doubtful. The weapon used was a stove shaker, with which the assailant struck Ferguson twice over the ear…. The assailant has thus far eluded the police.”

There is obviously more to be learned about these printing blocks. Anyone knowing about the source for the image of the Dwelling House or additional uses of these images in Shaker or non-Shaker publications, we hope, will be kind enough to share them.

Did Shakers Vote?

As the election season is upon us we thought we would share an object from our collection and some thoughts on the Shakers and their relationship to the federal government.

noc1987.1.1-2 (fredericks)

Lapel Pin, “I Like Ike,” Hancock, MA, 1956. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1987.1.1. Michael Frederick, photographer.

This pin was probably produced for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 presidential campaign. It was owned by Shaker Eldress Frances Hall (1876-1957). Eldress Frances, from age eight until her death, lived at Hancock, Massachusetts. She served there as a Trustee and assistant to Ministry Elder Joseph Holden. She eventually rose to being first in the Shaker Ministry in 1946 and it was she who made the final decision to close the Mount Lebanon community in 1947 and move the Shaker Ministry to Pittsfield in 1950.

The pin was a gift from Eldress Frances to young James Upton, son of Russell Sage College professors and Shaker collectors Charles and Helen Upton. The Uptons became friends with the Eldress in the early 1950s and she was fond of Jim. In 1957 she gave this pin to Jim during his first year of collecting political memorabilia. Jim made a gift of the pin to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 1987.

Whether Eldress Frances ever wore the pin or if she supported Eisenhower and voted for him is unknown; that she had the pin suggests some interest in his election.

In general Shakers didn’t vote. Voting encourages people to take sides – as the Shakers would say, “get into a party spirit” – and taking sides creates disunion. Dwelling on issues that are raised in political discussions gets Shakers too involved in the concerns of the outside world. The Shakers were not at all anti-government or anti-democracy. In fact, Elder James S. Prescott of the North Union, Ohio, Shakers wrote, “The ‘ballot’ is one of the best institutions the world [meaning those who are not Shakers] have to preserve order on the earth plane, where the laws of voting, and the ballot box is kept sacred, and not perverted to a wrong use. The world have a right to the ‘ballot,’ it is their privilege to vote,” in an article in the February 1885 issue of The Manifesto. He continued to explain, however, “There is no law requiring every citizen of the United States to vote, because he is a citizen, and it is right it should be so, otherwise our country would not be a free country.” Shakers chose not to vote. Prescott gets to the heart of the matter by telling a story of an Elder at Union Village, Ohio: “’Brethren! Are there any parties among you?’” asked the Elder, ‘If so, I will tell you just which side I will join. Neither! Christ is not divided. His people are called to be one people, of one heart, and of one mind.’”

Frederick W. Evans, Elder of the Mount Lebanon North Family made the same point in an article titled, “Why Do Not Shaker Vote?” published in The Shaker Manifesto (October, 1880), answering the question with, “For the same reason that they do not marry, nor fight, nor hold individual private property. They are a church, not connected with any civil government; do not believe in church and state union, not even with the American republic.” In the same article Evans stresses that the American system will not be a perfect system “until their Shaker sisters are equally citizens with themselves [the brethren] – until woman is not only a law-abiding but a law-making factor.” So, the article might be re-titled, at least, until women’s suffrage in 1917 – “Why Do Not Shaker Men Vote?”

The Shakers did occasionally find reason to vote in local elections and on referendums where they were of one mind and the issue directly involved them. After all, they paid taxes and made use of the civil authorities that those taxes paid for when it was necessary. Following the Civil War some of the communities relaxed their restrictions on voting and members were allowed to cast their ballots.




Shakers combat knock-offs with trademark

With the rising success of Mount Lebanon’s South Family chair business in the 1860s and early 1870,s the Shakers were confronted with a number of companies making “knock-offs” of their chairs and marketing them as “Shaker.” The Henry I. Seymour Chair Manufactory in Troy, New York, the L. & G. Stickley Company in Fayetteville, New York, and the Enterprise Chair Manufacturing Company, in Oxford, New York, all produced chairs that were either called “Shaker” or were so stylistically similar to chairs made by the Shakers that the Shakers felt it necessary to warn their customers about the deception. In their 1874 catalogue, the Shaker published the following:

“Beware of imitation chairs which are sold for our make, and which are called Shakers’ chairs. Read, and remember where you can send for the Shakers’ chairs and get the genuine. Send your orders to headquarters, as we have only one price and quality to all consumers, and by this hall all men know that they are getting the genuine article.”

fig. 7

Catalogue, “Illustrated Catalogue and Price List of the Shakers’ Chairs, H. F. Reynolds, Lebanon Springs, N. Y., 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. Richmond Number 242, 1995.1.1.

The following year, to further protect their product from imitators, the Shakers developed a trade-mark for their chairs. The trade-mark appears on the back cover of their 1875 catalogue with the notice: “The above Trade-Mark will be attached to every genuine Shaker Chair, and none others are of our make notwithstanding any claims to the contrary.” The next year when the Shakers exhibited their chairs at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the special catalogue produced for that event added that their trade-mark “is a gold transfer, and is designed to be ornamental.”  Even though the Shakers gave instruction on how to remove the trade-mark after it was purchased, most unrefinished chairs retain their trade-marks. The gold transfers, decalcomanias (decals for short), were produced by Palm, Fechteler & Company of New York and Chicago. This business began in 1856 as a company that decorated carriages, but around 1865, Charles Palm introduced decals to the United States. Decals originated in England in the mid-1750s as a way to add decoration to pottery – the pottery decorated in this way was commonly called transferware – but it was also a way to inexpensively add fancy decorations to carriages and most anything else. Almost any line art or lithographic print can be made in to a decal.

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Die, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. 1957.8527.1.

It appears that the Shakers were experimenting with methods to trade-mark their chairs. While decals were a relatively new product in the U. S., there was a method for printing labels – hot stamping gold leaf on paper – that was well known to printers and bookbinders. The Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon holds in its collection a die that was made to hot stamp gold leaf and a label made with the die that identified  chairs as being Shaker made. While the manufacturer of the die is not known. It is noteworthy that the front and back covers of the Shakers’ 1875 chair catalogue, printed by B. F. Reynolds, a book and job printer, in Lebanon Springs, New York, appears to be stamped with gold leaf. The knowledge of how to make paper labels with gold lettering was only a short walk away from the Shakers at Mount Lebanon. A printer such as Reynolds certainly would have known where to obtain the proper die to print gold leaf labels. A second gold-leaf stamped label in the Museum’s collection is of a different size and style. To our knowledge the metal die used to make this label has not yet surfaced. The existence of the two different labels suggests that the Shaker were trying out different techniques to produce a practical trade-mark.


One final observation about the Shakers’ adventures in trade-marking: both the decals made by Palm, Fechteler & Company and the die present the Shakers’ name in the singular possessive – Shaker’s –  whereas, the Shakers seemed to prefer to use the  plural possessive – Shakers’ – when they put their name on a product. This deviation suggests that either the Shaker who contracted with the maker of the die and with Palm, Fechteler & Company made the apparent error, or the Palm, Fechteler & Company made this decision and could have been  the maker of the die as well as the decals.

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Sheet of Decalcomanias for Shaker’s Chairs, Palm, Fechteler & Co, New York and Chicago, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

Revisiting the 1905 Peace Convention through postcards

On August 31, 1905, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon hosted an international peace convention in their Meetinghouse. For many years the Shakers had been involved in various peace movements in New England, especially the annual gathering supported by the Universal Peace Union at Salt Point, New York.

The 1905 meeting focused on three major points: First – Arbitration over Armed Conflict; Second – Reduction in Armaments to Reduce the Financial Burden on the Working Classes; and Third – Securing Waterways of Commerce as Neutral Zones. Among the speakers were religious leaders, legal minds, members of the Fourth Estate, and, representing the Shakers, Eldress Anna White of the North Family. The convention coincidentally occurred just at the end of the Russo-Japanese War, which gave those in attendance ample opportunity to praise President Theodore Roosevelt for his work to end that war. A telegram of appreciation was sent to the president from the delegates.

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“Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.” postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 1981.19420.1

The Shakers’ convention is well documented by newspaper articles, broadsides, and a few postcards. The best known image of the convention is of the afternoon session in the sanctuary of the Meetinghouse. It is titled, Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y. Another image shows carriages assembled in front of the Meetinghouse with people milling around either waiting to enter or having just exited the building. It is titled During Peace Convention, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.

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“During Peace Convention, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.” postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 1981.19404.1

The Museum recently acquired a third postcard produced at the time of the peace convention. This card lacks a caption but clearly shows the interior of the Meetinghouse during the convention.

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[Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.] postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 2016.24191.1

Why was this third image not captioned? Examining the back side of the two captioned postcards it appears were probably printed at the same time. The backs of the three cards are not divided in half as are modern postcards. Until 1907 the U. S. Postal Service allowed only the recipient’s address to be written on the back of a card; messages were scrawled on the front, in white space left by the photographer or over the image. After 1907, postcard backs were divided – the address written on the right side of the back with the left side available for a message. The backs of all three postcards have stamp blocks in their upper right-hand corners indicating the amount of postage required and where to place the stamp. The two captioned postcards have a stamp block with a depiction of a sailing ship while the third postcard has a stamp block showing a hand with an “X” on it. Blank postcards would probably have been purchased in bulk by photographers, so it is likely the uncaptioned postcard was produced at a different time than the two more commonly seen captioned cards.

The Shakers themselves vetted the images that were going to be printed as postcards, and it’s possible that since the captioned image shows only a few empty seats in the sanctuary and the uncaptioned card shows many more, the Shakers opted for the image that made the convention appear better attended. The photographer may have hated to waste a perfectly good image, and later decided there was some money to be made by printing the uncaptioned image.

Although the photographer is not identified for certain, it is possible these images were created by James E. West, an itinerant photographer living in Hoosick Falls, New York. West took photographs at both the North and Church Families at Mount Lebanon in the early 1900s and would likely have known about the opportunity to photograph the convention or even have been asked to do so.

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[Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.] postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 2016.24191.1

The photographer would have had time throughout the day to take more images, and there are two other photographs that were turned into postcards that were possibly created on the same day. The first of these shows a crowd arriving or departing the Meetinghouse. This time both horse-drawn vehicles and automobiles are included in the photograph. The cars seem to be carefully parked so as to not be too close to the horses – after all, it was a period when the two modes of transport were learning to coexist. The second of these postcards appears to be the glamour shot. It shows the back side of the Meetinghouse and the drive sheds used for the Lebanon Ministry’s vehicles and those of visiting ministry members, reflected in the Tannery Mill Pond. Whether these last two photographs were created during the Peace Convention is not known, but they certainly date to a time very close to that event and were taken in the same area the convention was being held. Because of these five images, viewers today have a fine sense of the place and time of the Peace Convention.

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[Meetinghouse Drive Sheds and Tannery Pond, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.] postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 2013.23578.1