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American Woodenware

The wooden bowl in which you mix your green salad today is a direct descendant of the wooden bowls used by the 17th-century American colonists. The first woodenware in America was made by the Indians, and later by the individual settler who whittled out a spoon, ladle, or bowl to add to the small supply of household articles which he had brought over from England. However, the making of these small articles soon centered in the tradesmen.



Commercially, woodenware was made by coopers and turners. Plates and bowls and other articles made on the lathe were called "turner's ware." Edward Hazen in his Panorama o f Professions and Trades gives a description of how such articles are made. "In case the wood is to be turned on the inside as in making a bowl, cup or mortar, the piece is supported by means of a hollow cylinder of wood, brass, or iron called a chuck." There were individual turners and there were also woodworking mills where these household articles of wood were made. The early articles were, however, finished by hand. Kegs, barrels, tubs, churns, and buckets were made by coopers. There were coopers in America from the earliest days. There were tight coopers and dry or slack coopers. Tight coopers made the barrels for liquids, usually out of white oak, and were often known as "oak coopers." Slack coopers made buckets, tubs, and boxes to hold dry materials. They used maple, elm, ash, red oak, chestnut, and hickory. The "white" cooper made small tubs, buckets, churns, and boxes out of maple, pine, birch, hickory, and beech. Cedar coopers made buckets, tubs, churns, and various other small articles of cedar.

However, there were few of these tradesmen until the i8th century, woodenware was listed among the articles brought over from England by the early colonies.

Woodenware may be classified as to its use, and collectors will want to specialize rather than pick at random. An interesting collection would consist of tableware and eating utensils. This would include trenchers, platters, various sizes of plates, bowls, drinking cups, sugar bowls with covers, salts, the tankard and sirup jug, the wooden pitcher or noggin, as well as spoons, forks, and ladles.

Pantry utensils would include the rolling pin, mashers, spatulas, scoops, apple parers, pie crimpers, spice boxes, and mortar and pestles, as well as the spoon rack, salt box and other small wall boxes, butter molds, and cake and cooky molds.

Buttermaking has its own list of woodenware, which includes milking buckets, tubs, keelers or half-tubs, butter workers, scoops, butter paddles, churns, butter molds, and butter prints. Butter molds are of two types-cup shaped and boxed. Butter prints with their round turned handles were factory-made and usually date from the beginning of the 19th century, although a few were made as early as 1750. The old prints are hand cut and the patterns are of many designs, including the pineapple, acorn, wheat, leaf, grape, swan, hen, cow, dove, eagle, tulip star, crisscross allover, and later a scene with a woman and a churn.

These carved articles of woodenware have a Continental background and many of them, especially the large mahogany cake boards with their elaborate scenes, may have been made abroad. Spoons with carved handles, carved spoon racks, and small carved boxes were made by the Pennsylvania Dutch and also by settlers of Swiss-peasant or other peasant origin.

Cheese making required special sieves, tubs, boards, paddles, knives, presses, and molds. These too form an interesting collection. Spatulas such as the soap stick, the dye stick, the maple-sugar stirrer, the feather-bed smoother, the butter paddle, the dough paddle and knife, the hasty-pudding stick, and the toddy stick with its knob end are also of interest.



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