During the early national period over a thousand cabinetmakers labored in the small pre-industrial workshops and manufactories of New York City. Together they invented and sustained one of the premier schools of American cabinetmaking that today universally is associated with the name of Duncan Phyfe. Among the unsung journeymen who contributed to the growth and development of this school was Elisha Blossom, Jr. Taken by his family at a young age from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to the larger and more cosmopolitan city of New York, Blossom worked at several occupations during his lifetime, including shipwright, cabinetmaker, shop clerk, and accountant. But probably the most exciting episode of his life was a sojourn he made as a young man to the exotic port of Rio de Janeiro (fig. 1), where he worked as an agent for a New York cabinetmaking firm involved in the venture cargo trade. This phase of Blossom’s career is chronicled in his daybook for the years 1811 to 1818. The daybook reveals that he made a variety of furniture forms for four different masters and gives the amounts he received on a piecework basis for his labor. Blossom’s descriptions and charges provide an excellent point of comparison with contemporary New York cabinetmakers’ price books, which published descriptions of various furniture forms and charges for journeymen’s labor in three separate editions and two supplements and revisions before 1818.
This article will analyze and interpret Blossom’s daybook by comparing his entries with information gleaned from price books and other period documents concerning the manufacture and sale of furniture. It will also examine Blossom’s business relationships with his employers and define his place in the robust New York cabinetmaking industry of the 1810s, especially that segment of the industry involved in marketing ready-made furniture locally through auction and in ports in the American south, the Caribbean, and South America. Similarly, notations in Blossom’s daybook and information on his personal life reveal concerns about mobility that must have been common among multi-talented artisans. Like many of his peers, he relished the autonomy of the independent mechanic’s life but eventually succumbed to the steady income of an office job—work he admittedly found a bit “too confining.”
Elisha Blossom, Jr., was born on September 8, 1789, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a sixth-generation descendant of one of the original settlers of Plymouth Colony. His father Elisha Sr. (1767–1812), was a shipwright who married Elizabeth (Betsy) Loring (1770–1822) in 1788. Approximately four years later the couple took their eldest child, Elisha Jr., and his younger brother, Eliphalet (1790–1793), to New York City. The precise reasons why the family left New Bedford for New York remain uncertain, but perceived economic opportunities and kinship ties may have precipitated their move. Betsy Blossom’s mother, Innocent Loring (1749–1816), had already moved from New Bedford to New York. From 1792 to 1796, Innocent ran a boardinghouse at her residence at No. 1 Broadway in lower Manhattan. This area was one of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods (fig. 2). Elisha and Betsy arrived in 1793 and may have lived with her mother. According to tradition Innocent’s husband, Joshua Loring (1741–ca. 1801), a house carpenter by trade, also removed to New York; however, his name does not appear in the city directories. Given the peripatetic nature of house carpenters, it is possible that he split his time between New Bedford and New York.
In 1796 Innocent Loring moved her boardinghouse uptown to 147 Harman Street in the city’s Seventh Ward. This change of address must have dramatically altered the demographics of her clientele from the merchants and other elites who stayed with her on lower Broadway to the mechanics and tradesmen who populated the outer or mechanics’ wards. Her new establishment may have been “a craft boardinghouse where for as little as three dollars per week [journeymen]. . . could get meals, a place to bed down, and word of mouth about available jobs in the city.” Because her boardinghouse was near the shipyards along the East River many of her boarders were probably shipwrights. One of them was her son-in-law, Elisha, who is documented in the city directory at this address from 1796 to 1800. Between 1800 to 1812, he, and presumably his wife and children as well, moved from Oliver Street, to Cherry Street, to Clinton Street, to Henry Street, and finally back to Harman Street, all addresses in the outer wards near his places of employment at the East River shipyards. Although frequent relocation was relatively common among New York journeymen and their families, all these moves must have been diYcult for Elisha and Betsy Blossom, who by 1802 had brought eight children into the world. By 1804 four of the eight had died, including Eliphalet (1790–1793), the toddler who had accompanied the family from New Bedford to New York, and Ansel (1793–1794), the first child born to Elisha and Betsy in New York. Given the fact that one of the boys died in the late summer and the other early in the fall, it is possible that they perished from yellow fever. That disease swept through the port of New York with frightening regularity during the summer months and was especially devastating on the lower tip of Manhattan, where Innocent Loring kept her first boardinghouse. Although this scenario is purely conjectural, the deaths of the two little boys from yellow fever could have hastened Innocent’s move to an outer ward where the risk of contracting the disease was somewhat reduced. More misfortune visited the Blossoms and Lorings in 1801 when Innocent’s husband died. Elisha Jr. probably began serving his apprenticeship in that year or the following one after he turned thirteen.
Elisha Jr.’s résumé is spelled out clearly in the pages of his daybook: shipwright, cabinetmaker, bookkeeper, and accountant. When and with whom he acquired the skills to perform these jobs, however, is far less certain. His training as a shipwright was a direct consequence of his father’s involvement in that trade and probably came first. Becoming a journeyman shipwright was a demanding pursuit that required the longest period of apprenticeship of any of the mechanics’ trades in Federal New York. The city’s master shipbuilders maintained strict control of their trade, enforcing full-term apprenticeships that lasted seven years well into the nineteenth century. Given these strict requirements, it is uncertain whether Elisha’s father, apparently a journeyman all his life, would have been qualified to train his son, although the possibility exists that he did. Regardless of who trained him, Elisha Jr. met the challenge of this rigorous apprenticeship and became a member of the New York Society of Journeymen Shipwrights and Caulkers.
Elisha Blossom, Jr., may have acquired his bookkeeping skills as part of the apprenticeship agreement struck between his parents and his master. (Masters were often charged with educating apprentices as well as training them in a particular craft.) Elisha Jr. must have become quite proficient with numbers. In 1815 he received an annual salary of $600 from Henry Eckford, the legendary New York shipbuilder. Eckford was an immigrant Scot, a skilled artisan, and dynamic businessman who became extremely successful, especially after the War of 1812. In 1817 he won the commission to produce the federal government’s ship-of-the-line, Ohio, one of the largest vessels built in the East River shipyards in the early national period (fig. 3). Later Eckford received lucrative contracts to build several large warships for Latin-American states and for the Greeks during their war for freedom from the Turks (1825–1826). He died in Constantinople in 1832 while organizing a navy yard for the Sultan and was returned to New York preserved in a cask of wine. One can only imagine the colorful personalities and important deals that Elisha was privy to during his employment with Eckford.
Elisha’s career as an accountant was relatively short, lasting at the most from 1815 to 1818. After that date, and until his death in December 1823, he appears to have made his living solely as a shipwright. During these five years he may have worked at Eckford’s East River yards, or possibly for the shipbuilding partnership of Stephen Smith and John Dimon. In 1819–1820 he may have participated in a partnership referred to as “Blossom, Smith & Demon, shipyards, Stanton M. I.” in city directories. According to historian Robert Greenhalgh Albion, Smith was one of Eckford’s apprentices and was the principal builder of the firm, whereas his partner Dimon attended to repairs. The profitability of this arrangement is evidenced by a remark credited to Dimon: “Smith builds the ships and I make the money.”
If Elisha Jr.’s apprenticeship began in 1802, he would have completed his term by 1809. Afterward, he may have spent his first few years as a journeyman working aboard ships at sea or in port for a variety of master shipbuilders. His early years as a journeyman may have been lean ones, however, due to the declining state of the American economy. The Embargo Act of 1807, which forbade American vessels from foreign trade, was particularly devastating for shipwrights, sail makers, and chandlers and brought port activity along the eastern seaboard to a virtual standstill. The act was repealed after a year, but the modest recovery that followed was interrupted by the War of 1812. With his prospects as a shipwright somewhat in doubt, Elisha Jr. may have hedged his bets by seeking additional training as a cabinetmaker.
Elisha Jr. may have learned the cabinetmaking trade from his maternal uncle, David Loring (1784–1849), who served his apprenticeship back in New Bedford with Elisha’s first cousin, Samuel Blossom. In the October 23, 1802, issue of the Columbian Courier, and Weekly Miscellany, Blossom advertised: “Runaway from the subscriber, on the 9th inst. an indented Apprentice to the Cabinet-Making business, named David Loring; aged about 17 years. . . . reward of FIFTY CENTS.” Whether Loring returned or fled directly to New York is unknown. In October 1803 Blossom died, and Loring, by then almost nineteen years old, would have been on his own.
The earliest reference to David Loring in New York City is March 7, 1807, when the People’s Friend & Daily Advertiser reported that the “Partnership of Loring & Ryer, Cabinetmakers, was this day dissolved by mutual consent.” After the break up, Loring worked on his own at 40 Beekman Street until 1810 when he took Abraham S. Egerton of the New Brunswick, New Jersey, family of cabinetmakers as his second partner. Their association lasted about a year; by 1811 Loring was working independently at 25 Beekman Street, the same address he shared with Egerton. His dreams of success as a cabinetmaker in New York were cut short by a devastating fire in 1814 that completely destroyed his shop and wareroom. After the fire Loring left New York for Cincinnati, Ohio, where he first established a window blind manufactory and later ran a grocery. Eventually he became a very successful merchant and one of Cincinnati’s leading citizens.
Elisha Blossom, Jr.’s Daybook, Rio de Janeiro, June 10–October 26, 1811
Elisha Blossom, Jr., arrived in Rio de Janeiro by June 10, 1811, the date recorded on the front page of his daybook (fig. 4). None of his impressions regarding his sojourn survive, but there can be little doubt that Elisha was just as awed by the majesty of this exotic, tropical port as other nineteenth-century travelers, one of whom claimed, “The day one first enters this magnificent harbor may well be regarded as an epoch in his life, for it is without question the finest in the world” (see fig. 1). Blossom probably moved to Rio to serve as an agent for mercantile interests back in New York. This supposition is borne out by account activity recorded in his daybook on July 16, 1811: a debit of 300 mill reas (one Portugese mill rea [1,000 reas] equaled approximately $1.25) to the cabinetmaking partnership of Loring & Egerton on a “Bill of exchange on Balch & Ridgway,” a second debit of 30 mill reas/563 reas charged David Loring “To [a] Bill on Loring & Egerton,” and a credit of 54 mill reas/657 reas to Loring & Egerton “By [a] Bill given on you in favor of D. Loring.” A block of entries, crossed out but still legible and dated August 22, 1811, appears to be a summary of activities that confirm Blossom’s agency relationship with his uncle and his partner. Some of these notations reference dates before the start of Blossom’s daybook, which may indicate that he sold off some of Loring & Egerton’s venture cargo at ports of call along the way or that Elisha was in Rio earlier than the dateline of his daybook indicates. The earliest entries in this block were for a “Commission charg’d Loring & Egerton Jany 19th 1811” of 17 mill reas/375 reas; a “Commission charg’d on sales febry 23” of 23 mill reas/100 reas; and “do on purchases” totaling 6 mill reas/322 reas. Blossom also recorded but did not date a “loss on coffee” of 42 mill reas and an “allowance on wood” of 19 mill reas. The former may indicate that Blossom reinvested some of his commissions in the produce of the region, the latter that he used some mahogany or other wood belonging to Loring or Egerton for projects in Rio. Other entries in this block include a credit of 21 mill reas/937 reas to David Loring “By[a] commission charg’d him July 10,” as well as a “Commission on goods advanced [illegible] Oct. 11 as p Bill 2-1/2 p cent” and a “Commission on goods advanced per ship Triton.” Both commissions were minor totaling 873 reas. All told, Blossom earned commissions totaling 69 mill reas/607 reas from David Loring and Loring & Egerton. In an era when a fully employed journeyman carpenter or cabinetmaker earned about $400.00 a year, these commissions clearly were a significant part of Blossom’s annual income.
Among all the goods Blossom sold on commission, the percentage represented by furniture cannot be determined due to the lack of descriptive information. However, numerous other transactions listed throughout the daybook describe individual furniture forms—mostly tables—sold by Blossom in Rio. Thirty-six pieces of furniture are recorded between June and October 1811, including twenty-six tables of unspecified types ranging in value from 4 mill reas to 10 mill reas; four wash stands valued at 7 mill reas/500 reas; one desk of indeterminate value; one music table of indeterminate value; one stool valued at 1 mill rea/400 reas; and one clothes horse valued at 1 mill rea/600 reas. The most expensive piece of furniture Blossom sold—and the most suprising entry in the entire daybook—was a “cradle for his Royal Highness the Infanta of Spain.” This cradle, which sold for 45 mill reas to Maestro Gerde Rinaldo on September 21, 1811, must have been exceptional for its cost was that of a mid-grade sideboard. A New York cradle (fig. 5) with a brass-inlaid circular crown, rich crotch-mahogany veneers, and its original silk lining may represent a comparable form, although it is impossible to determine whether the Infanta’s cradle was brought from New York or made by Blossom in Rio. One sale recorded in the cabinetmaker’s daybook suggests the latter. On September 3, 1811, Blossom debited Patrick Lennon 27 mill reas for six tables, a stool, and a clothes horse and credited Leonard Sawyer 6 mill reas/800 reas “for turning.” Sawyer’s piecework may have been the legs for the tables and stool and components for the clothes horse.
Although most venture cargo shipments assembled by cabinetmakers and merchants were diverse to meet the demands of consumers in different ports of call, the furniture that Blossom sold in Rio lacked variety. A remarkable handwritten notebook kept by an anonymous American trader in Rio indicates that large cargoes of furniture in a wide range of forms were being sold for a good profit. The “proportion” and “assortment” of wares he mentioned may have resembled the mix of furniture that Loring & Egerton sent to the port less than two years later. This document also helps explain why men like Blossom accompanied furniture cargoes abroad:
|Cabinet Wares or Furniture|
|This article will answer well in any reasonable quantities, and will generally sell at an advance of 75 to 80 per % from the first cost. Several considerable parcels have arrived from the United States of late, & they appear to have been much demanded, as the Inhabitants have really been hurrying for a choice, and they have all sold in a few days, and for a very handsome profit.
The kinds most suitable for this market at this moment, are Dining, Pembroke, Card, Dressing and Night Tables, Bureaus, Bidets, Wardrobes, Secretaries, writing desks with book cases, Sideboards, Sofas with and without Cushions & with Chairs to match, wash stands, Bedsteads &c. &c. – Of writing Desks the market appears to be well supplied – and if more are shipped immediately, they will become quite a drug, but whenever they are shipped, they ought to be furnished with Inkstands, Sand boxes &c. &c. & generally furnished with shaving apparatus.
Common or Windsor chairs & Sofas, are also abundant in the market, but when a sale is made, it is generally at a very handsome price.
A few well made and well contrived Counting room Desks would sell to advantage, and perhaps a few counting room Cases for Papers, Books &c. –
The following may be considered as to proportion, as a good assortment, viz –
|6 Side Boards||12 Dining Tables,||20 Pembroke Tables|
|30 Night Tables||singles & in setts||50 Bidets|
|20 Bedsteads||12 Dressing Tables||12 Secretaries & field &|
|6 Wardrobes||high posts Bookcases|
|3 do Cases for Books|
|8 pair Card Tables||3 Counting room Desks||12 washstands, Sofas|
|12 Bureaus||6 doz, Chairs||&c. &c. –|
|This furniture should be of the best workmanship & mahogany, or eather it should be so in appearance, but it ought not be of the highest priced and most expensive kinds. They ought also to be well packed and secured from injury, and if a Cabinet Maker was in the Ship to put them in good order when opened and repair any damage they may have sustained on the passage, his services would be useful. Your bedsteads or some of them at least ought to have a sacking bottom & other wooden bottoms, but all prepared for sacking bottoms. Care should also be taken to have all the locks in this furniture of the very first kind, and as you can get no mahogany here to repair with, you had better have a little, as if you lose a leg to your tables, or anything of that kind you will find it useful to repair with.|
The aforementioned Patrick Lennon played a major role in Blossom’s economic life and subsistence in Rio. Between June 10 and June 14, 1801, Elisha made this merchant and dry goods grocer thirty-seven frames (presumably for prints) and sold him “40 brass rings” to hang them. Lennon later purchased twenty-seven pieces of furniture and several additional frames and commissioned Blossom to repair and alter objects the merchant already possessed. In exchange, Lennon supplied Blossom with trousers, shirts, stockings, butter, potatoes, tea, farina, porter, rum, quires of paper, and a pitcher and tumblers. The merchant seldom paid in cash, both men apparently preferring to work within the typical system of debits and credits found in a barter economy. On October 21, 1811, Blossom and Lennon settled their accounts as the former prepared to board ship for his eventual return to New York. Adjacent entries in the cabinetmaker’s daybook—“Mr. P. Lennon’s Bill, 341-350 (341 mill reas/350 reas)” followed by “Mine 305-310 (305 mill reas/310 reas)”—indicate that Lennon owed Blossom 36 mill reas/40 reas. The merchant settled his debt with cash and twenty-one bottles of porter, perhaps to be enjoyed by Elisha on his long voyage home.
Blossom’s single greatest expenditure with Lennon occurred on June 30, 1811, when he recorded a credit to him of 108 mill reas/800 reas “By 1 Boy,” obviously a slave. Blossom may have had problems with this slave since he exchanged him for another two weeks later. On July 15, 1811, Elisha credited Lennon 19 mill reas/20 reas for the “difference between the Black boys.” The second slave evidently suited Blossom’s needs. On July 12, 1811, the cabinetmaker charged a Mr. Maden for seven days of carpentry work as well as one day’s “Negro hire,” the latter of which came to 960 reas. Between August 20 and 22, 1811, Blossom repaired furniture for a Mr. Halkman and a Mr. Morgan, charging the former half a day’s “Negro Hire,” presumably for general shop work, and the latter a full day’s “Negro hire [for] carrying tables & wardrobe.” Although it is unlikely that the slave received remuneration, Blossom purchased him a pair of shoes on October 9, 1811. No further reference to the slave occurs in the daybook, which suggests that Blossom leased him from Lennon on a short-term basis, principally as a porter but also perhaps as a general shop hand and carpenter’s helper.
Halkman and Morgan, who may have been furniture importers, provided Blossom with plenty of repair work in Rio. Sometimes these tasks earned him significant sums. Elisha charged John Morgan 14 mill reas/500 reas for repairing a French press on August 17, 1811, and an additional 12 mill reas/800 reas for repairing eighteen tables on August 21. Another entry on August 21 debited Lewis F. Halkan 16 mill reas for Blossom’s repair of another French press. The surcharge of 480 reas added to Halkan’s account may have been a half-day’s “Negro hire,” probably for a porter to pick up and return the press. Except in parts of Canada and the Mississippi River Valley, the French press was a new furniture form in early nineteenth-century America. Its case design was based on the traditional French armoire, but it typically had neoclassical turnings and moldings (fig. 6). New York furniture makers coined the term “French press” during the first decade of the nineteenth century, and by 1810 the designation had become popular enough to be included in the New York cabinetmakers’ book of prices. Although neither Morgan nor Halkman are known to have worked there, they may have served as agents for New York firms like Loring & Egerton. The final entry for Halkman and Morgan in Blossom’s daybook is dated October 25, 1811. He credited the former 60 mill reas “by [a] bill of Exchange” and 28 mill reas “in Rice,” and the latter 284 mill reas/60 reas “By Sundries.” No cash payments were recorded for these significant sums.
Blossom supplemented his income in Rio with various types of house and ship carpentry. On June 16, 1811, he charged a Mr. Conolly for “Shelves in Kitchen,” “Pieces for a hencoop,” “11-1/4 yds. of canvass for Blinds,” and “4 frames, Rollers, Brackets for blinds.” Other tasks performed by Blossom included putting on a roof, making doors and door cases, and unspecified work on the Piscataquay and the Osprey, the ship he took to New York later that fall. He charged 1 mill rea/600 reas for his day labor on the ships, which was forty percent more than what he received in New York the following year. This differential stemmed from the high demand for shipwrights and other woodworkers in the South American port, an enviable situation for a skilled, multitalented man like Blossom.
The purchases recorded in Blossom’s daybook indicate that he had a comfortable life in Rio and that his credit was good with the local merchants. Patrick Lennon seems to have supplied most of his staples and some of his apparel. In fact, Elisha bought clothing and shoes with considerable frequency, perhaps because he chose to travel light on his journey from New York. He purchased a pair of shoes from Cyrus Bridge and nine shirts from Lennon on June 13, bought four more shirts from Antonio Joze Mendes on July 19, and acquired two pairs of “trowsers” from Lennon on July 22. On June 28 he made a rare cash payment of 20 reas to Portuguese tailor Antonio Mellendes for six pairs of pantaloons—tight-fitting dress pants—a vest, and alterations to his coat. These were the clothes of a merchant craftsman, a role Elisha seems to have assumed in Rio.
Another entry in Blossom’s daybook documents a second New York journeyman cabinetmaker in Rio in 1811. On June 25 Elisha debited Andrew Hill for a pair of shoes purchased from Cyrus Bridge. This may have been the same Andrew Hill who was a member of the New York Society of Cabinet Makers in 1810. The Andrew Hill in Rio repaid his debt by “Making [a] table for Mr. Bridge” on July 26. Two other men whose names appear in the daybook may also have been cabinetmakers in Rio, although neither of them appears in New York City directories. Andrew Laurie’s debit entries on September 26 and October 11 totaled 38 mil reas/400 reas for a work bench, a dozen boards, a compass, bead and tooth planes, files, sandpaper, a glue pot, varnish, castors, bed caps, and other items. Similarly, Patrick Robinson owed Elisha 70 mill reas for tools, a chest, a plane, and patterns purchased on October 12. Blossom, who departed Rio two weeks later, seems to have been disbanding his workshop.
Little details gleaned from the daybook add texture to Blossom’s life. Along with his stylish coat, vest, and pantaloons, Blossom had a pocket watch, which Messrs. Barrow and Westwood repaired on July 14. The cabinetmaker’s leisure hours may have been spent hunting tropical birds in the mountain forests around Rio with a fowling piece he purchased from Andrew Laurie for 16 mill reas. Elisha may also have had an appreciation for the arts. Soon after returning to New York, he charged Mathias O’Connor twelve dollars for “4 pictures of Paul & Virginia,” the innocents in Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint Pierre’s sentimental prose idyll, Paul et Virginie (1788). A notation in the margin of Blossom’s daybook indicates O’Connor returned the pictures on October 24, 1812, twelve days after their purchase. It is possible that Blossom had acquired the prints in Rio from Patrick Lennon, the merchant for whom he made so many picture frames.
According to historian Sean Wilentz, approximately twenty-five percent of New York journeymen were “single men in their twenties with flat purses and high hopes, the proverbial craft novices in search of . . . a quick savings.” This characterization certainly fits Blossom, who was remarkably industrious during his time in Rio. Elisha recouped his monthly rent and made a small profit by subletting space to Barrow & Whitehead, the watch repairers; Mr. Bridge, the shoemaker; and Mr. Fidae, whose occupation is unknown. Blossom appears to have been leasing a commercial building/warehouse, where he and possibly others lived and worked. On September 9, 1811, Elisha recorded payment for six months rent at 38 mill reas/400 reas per month. In comparison, rental on a typical journeyman’s house in an outer ward of New York City was approximately $55.00 a year in 1809. The high rate that Blossom paid suggests that he leased a large building in a good location and that the mercantile interests he represented in New York assumed all or some of the cost. The advance payment of the rent was also a harbinger that Blossom’s days in Rio were numbered and that David Loring and/or other New York artisans and merchants were trying to maintain a foothold in Rio for future shipments and trade.
On October 26, 1811, he recorded a debit of 80 mill reas, “Cash in full for passage to New York on Ship Osprey.” No further entries appear in his daybook between that date and late February 1812, a four-month period that roughly represents the duration of his voyage.
New York City, February 23, 1812–December 28, 1818
Blossom’s daybook entries in New York document his activities as a journeyman working for several master cabinetmakers as well as his abandonment of the trade for a steady salaried job before returning to ship carpentry, his first-learned skill. Still single when he returned from Rio, Elisha “Began Board with Loring & Blossom” on February 23, 1812, for a weekly charge of $3.00, or $3.31 when it included washing. Precisely which Loring and which Blossom is referred to in the daybook is uncertain, however. It could be his grandmother, Innocent Loring, who ran boardinghouses in the city for years, and Elisha’s mother, Betsy Loring Blossom. On the other hand it could be Blossom himself and his uncle David Loring who might have shared the annual rent on 25 Beekman Street, Loring’s business address from the time of his partnership with Egerton in 1810–1811 until 1814, when the property was destroyed by fire. An entry in the daybook on March 7, 1812, crediting Innocent Loring $6.00 for two weeks board supports the latter scenario. Even after Elisha Jr.’s marriage to Maria Ann Anderson on October 31, 1812, the couple boarded with Loring & Blossom. On January 30, 1813, they began paying a new weekly rate of $4.50. Elisha and Maria did not continue in this living situation for long; their final payment for board with Loring & Blossom occurred on May 13, 1813, about the time Elisha departed—albeit temporarily—from his uncle’s shop.
Neither the city directory nor the daybook provide clues as to where the couple lived in the year after Elisha parted with David Loring, but it’s possible they moved in with Blossom’s mother, Betsy, at 431 Pearl Street, where she ran a millenary shop. Tragically, Betsy Blossom was widowed on September 6, 1813, when her husband died from wounds he received in a naval engagement between the U.S. Brig Enterprise and H.M.S. Boxer during the War of 1812. A particularly poignant entry in Blossom’s daybook occurred on Independence Day 1812, when he debited the account of “Mr. E. Blossom Senr.” seven dollars for “Passage Paid Capt. Tripp to New Bedford.” With America declaring war on Britain on June 14, 1812, Elisha and his father may have unwittingly bid their final farewells to each other on that fateful day in July.
From 1814–1815 until his death in 1823, Blossom appeared in the New York City directory every year except 1818. During this period, he is listed as plying three separate occupations: cabinetmaker (1814–1815), accountant (1815–1818), and finally shipwright (1818–1823). The master cabinetmakers he worked for are discussed below.
Elisha Blossom probably trained as a cabinetmaker with David Loring, worked for him in Rio, and served as a journeyman in the latter’s shop at 25 Beekman Street immediately after he returned to New York. Elisha made only ten pieces of furniture while working for Loring in 1812. The first two pieces recorded in Blossom’s daybook on May 9, and 16, 1812, were Pembroke tables—classic New York forms with double-elliptic leaves. His labor charge for the more elaborate table, which had reeded legs, inlaid banding, and a sham drawer with a bead in the end rail, was $5.52. In comparison, he charged $4.80 for the other table, which had plain tapered legs and no end drawer. The following month, Blossom made a relatively expensive sideboard for which he charged $30.00—the second highest amount recorded in his daybook. Based on Elisha’s description, this object may have been what New York cabinetmakers termed a “French sideboard” (fig. 7). On August 1, 1812, Loring instructed Blossom to complete an English-style, two-part wardrobe—as opposed to the French-style armoire or press described earlier—for which the latter charged $25.94.
Although constructing the wardrobe took a considerable amount of time, over five months passed before Blossom made another piece of furniture. On January 22, 1813, he recorded labor charges for a pair of Pembroke tables with reeded legs. During the preceding September and October, he tided himself over by working for George James, a shipwright who paid him a day rate of $1.44, presumably for building or repairing ships. Between January 22 and April 3, 1813, Blossom received only four furniture-making projects from Loring. These included a Pembroke table with reeded legs, a counting house desk, another English-style wardrobe, and a pillar-and-claw Pembroke table with fashionable, Grecian-style saber legs and four columns on a block-like plinth. Blossom’s labor charge for the latter object was $9.44, almost twice what he charged for Pembroke tables with turned and reeded legs. Moreover, this charge was exclusive of any expenses Loring incurred for having the table ornamented in typical New York fashion with distinctive water-leaf carving on the legs (claws) and columns (pillars) (figs. 8, 9). Carving was generally restricted to specialists, who either worked for larger shops or as independent contractors. Loring may also have purchased the plinth columns from a turner if he did not have such a tradesman in his employ. Turners typically furnished cabinetmakers with legs, stretchers, and other components on a piecework basis. Journeymen cabinetmakers like Blossom performed other tasks such as sawing, joinery, running molding, veneering, and finishing. The parameters of their work are clearly delineated in New York cabinetmakers’ price books, and corroborated by entries in Blossom’s daybook.
A section of David Loring’s daybook photocopied by furniture historian Jane Sikes Hageman records the sale of furniture during a two-month period from mid-March to mid-May, 1813, a time frame that partially overlaps Blossom’s tenure in his uncle’s shop. During this period, Loring sold only seven pieces of furniture, a testament, perhaps, to the depressed state of the trade. Two of the sales were to cabinetmakers: On April 26, 1813, Loring charged John Linacre $67.00 for “One sideboard payable the 20th of July next” (possibly the same sideboard Blossom made for Loring in January 1813), and on May 26, Loring debited William Turner $82.00 for “One Sopha.” A consistent, albeit little-known presence, in the New York furniture trade from 1806 to 1818, Turner kept his shop a few blocks from Loring at 50 Beekman Street. Such close proximity obviously was helpful in the cooperative environment that characterized the furniture trade in Federal New York. On May 8, 1812, the New-York Gazette & General Advertiser reported that Turner maintained a “Cabinet Ware-Room” at 163 William Street and had an extensive selection of furniture, including “Side-Boards, Sophas, Secretaries, Bureaus, Card and Tea Tables, sets of Dining Tables, wash hand Stands, Bedsteads, &c.” This was followed by another advertisement on May 25 for the “Sale of Elegant Cabinet Furniture/ By [auctioneer] M’Mennomy Tuesday, at 10 o’clock at the Warehouse of Wm Turner.” The objects mentioned in this notice were the same ones that Turner had advertised earlier, with the addendum that “all [were] manufactured of the best materials and very highly finished in the most modern fashionable style.” That style, of course, was the French-inspired gout antique, or rich antique style. M’Mennomy did not state that all of the furniture being auctioned was made by Turner. Indeed, Turner’s purchase of a sofa from Loring in 1813 suggests that the former sold mixed lots. Some New York cabinetmakers took exception to this practice, believing that selling furniture only of their own manufacture provided potential buyers with the best guarantee of quality. That is not to say that Turner or Loring sold shoddy goods; rather that they responded to the demand for well-made furniture at a reasonable price as did most of their contemporaries. Such tradesmen produced furniture for stock-in-trade, auction, and export. A French sideboard labeled by William Turner and dated May 1813 (fig. 10) is typical of this class of furniture, but it does not approach the level of work achieved by Charles-Honoré Lannuier (fig. 11) or his peers in the upper echelon of New York’s cabinetmaking trade.
Even within the short period covered by Sikes’ photocopies of Loring’s daybook, it is apparent that he did business with other New York cabinetmakers, including two tradesmen who worked nearby. He sold eighty feet of cherrywood to John Dolan on March 23, eight feet of mahogany “joist” to John L. Everitt on April 22, and sixty-eight feet of white pine to Dolan on April 26. Dolan evidently closed his shop at 30 Beekman Street the following month. On May 12, 1813, he advertised his benches, tools, wood, the lease on his house and shop and his stock, which included “a large assortment of Sideboards, sets of dining Tables and Ends, Tea and Breakfast Tables, high post and canopy Bedsteads, Bureaus, &c. manufactured out of seasoned wood . . . in the first stile of fashion and elegance.” Peremptory sales like this were relatively common in nineteenth-century New York. They underscore the risks associated with running a furniture manufactory and wareroom and illustrate the problems associated with balancing inventories with fluctuating demand, especially in the uncertain economic times brought on by the War of 1812. Everitt, on the other hand, endured the hardships and later sought markets for his furniture in the American South. In 1816 he auctioned off a large quantity of furniture in Richmond, Virginia, and two years later began marketing his wares through an agent in Charleston, South Carolina. Besides being involved in the export trade, Everitt’s career had another point of intersection with Loring’s; he also employed Elisha Blossom, Jr., in 1813.
John L. Everitt
Between April 14 and May 15, 1813, Everitt made a series of cash payments to Blossom for making a set of pillar-and-claw dining tables. For his labor, Blossom received twenty-eight dollars, part in advance, part while working on the tables, and a final payment upon completion. Advances as well as payments exceeding the amounts stipulated for piecework in the journeyman cabinetmaker’s price books were two strategies employed by master cabinetmakers to attract labor. Thus, it may have been the promise of fast cash that lured Blossom to Everitt’s shop, where he worked for roughly two months from May until July 1813.
During the time he was employed by Everitt, Blossom made ten pieces of furniture including the aforementioned set of dining tables, four Pembroke tables with double elliptic leaves, two “square dining tables,” a crib, and a bedstead. The “square dining tables” were eight feet long and nine feet long respectively, and each had two “fast” (fixed) legs and falling leaves supported by moveable “flys” or flaps (see appendix). The most elaborate and stylish piece Blossom made for Everitt was a French bureau, a form that resembled and functioned as a small sideboard more than the French-inspired commode or bureau that its name suggests. During the 1810s, French bureaus gained popularity owing to their compact size, which was well suited to the typical narrow townhouses in the city. Their strong architectural character also conveyed the style and monumental character of French Empire furniture.
The description of the French bureau in Blossom’s daybook indicates that it shared features with the example illustrated in figure 12, including gilt-brass lion’s paw castors, a long top drawer divided in two at the center with a banded rail below, and a backboard, albeit of a plainer type without the finials or the broken pitch-pediment. Blossom’s labor charges totaled $22.48 with the work accounted for as follows:
May 22, 1813
|Making french Bureau|
|6 inches in length & height||7.6|
|plinth on front and ends||6.3|
|glueing on block for pilasters|
|and breaking plinth round ditto||4.6|
|sinking groove in plinth||2.8|
|sunk panel in plinth||6.9|
|therm feet each side 1/2||9.4|
|fitting on claw castors||1.1|
|2 pannell Doors||8.3|
|Banding doors||4.8 (crossed out) 3.8|
|hanging doors with centre hinges||2.|
|filet between doors||1.|
|Banding of rail under draw||.7|
|laping each draw 2/6||5.|
|draw sides mahogany||1.|
|cutting legs to lengthen draw||1.|
|account continued on next page|
|amt. Brot over||£6.2.10|
|Pilasters on do||2.8|
|Scroll & caps||8|
|glueing block on back legs||.8|
|1 false bottom||.1|
|Joint in top & bottom rail||1.|
|mitering ends of top rail||1.6|
|Joint in top||1.|
|£9.2.10||£8.17.2 (crossed out)|
|Deduct molding on Doors||3/£8.19.10||$22.48|
The brass side rails, backboard, top drawers, and lower cupboard section leave little doubt that the principal function of Blossom’s French bureau was for the display and storage of silver, cut glass, porcelain, and other serving and ornamental objects used in the dining room. For all intents and purposes the form was a sideboard. Elisha’s extra charge for two paneled doors eliminated the lower two drawers of the three specified in the list of revisions to the 1810 New York price book issued before 1814. Conversely, his introduction of one “fast,” or fixed, shelf instead of drawers or sliding trays behind the doors reduced his labor cost. The disconnect between the term “French bureau” and the form’s use arises from the object’s hybrid nature. As the 1810 price book indicates, “French sideboards” were fashionable somewhat earlier than French bureaus. Master cabinetmakers seeking to meet, or generate, demand for a compact sideboard simply melded these two French-derived forms to create a new one. This apparently caused some consternation among journeymen when it came to pricing their labor. The 1817 New York price book attempted to remedy the situation stating: “When a French bureau exceeds five feet in length, [the labor charges are] to be taken from [the] French sideboard.” The official “start” charge for the French bureau was £4.3, whereas the charge for the French sideboard was £8.17 shillings, with a discount of 1s.3s. for every inch the piece was reduced in length or width. This clause, which was intended to avoid future conflicts between journeymen and masters, reveals that journeymen were extremely aware of the need for reevaluation and revision of the price books.
Blossom’s daybook entry for the French bureau is the earliest reference to the form based on the revised list of additional prices issued as an addendum to the 1810 New York price book. Elisha almost certainly owned a copy of the price book, and he probably owned or had access to the addendum. The descriptions of his labor and the amounts he charged were clearly informed by them. If he owned the addendum, he may have attached it to his copy of the price book as did Daniel Turnier, another New York journeyman cabinetmaker. Blossom’s daybook records the sale of a price book in January 1814, just before he quit the trade for the first time.
The most important individual Elisha Blossom, Jr., worked for was master cabinetmaker and auctioneer Charles Christian, who in 1814 made furniture for the Governor’s Room and Mayor’s office in the recently completed New York City Hall. Christian arrived in New York in 1798 and established his business at 61 New Street. Two years later, he moved to 73 Broad Street, where he advertised: “Charles Christian, Cabinet Maker, Late Foreman to the Furniture Ware Room, of the Society of Cabinet Makers, Philadelphia. . . has removed to Broad street. . . in consequence of several years practice in the first shops of Europe and America, he may venture to solicit a portion of the public patronage. . . N. B. A few good workmen wanted . . . An apprentice wanted.” Although a competent businessman, Christian was an ill tempered man notorious for mistreating his apprentices. In 1803 the court found him guilty on several counts of beating four apprentices, refusing to supply them with sufficient clothing, and, worst of all, failing to teach them the fundamentals of the trade. Christian may have treated his journeymen somewhat better. Blossom’s daybook indicates that he received payment in a timely fashion.
Christian was appointed an auctioneer for the City and County of New York in April 1803. For the next five years, he and his partner, Samuel Paxton, conducted auctions at their store “for the reception and sale of Furniture at auction or on commission” at 7 Burling-slip. One of Christian’s first sales included “his valuable stock of Furniture, all of which is his own manufacture.” Regrettably, only two advertisements document the auctions run by the partners. One described a sale consisting of mixed lots of household furniture, linens, kitchen utensils, and plated wares, whereas the other featured sumptuous imported goods: “Two sets of most splendid India Paper Hanging, a rich Marble Chimney-piece, made in Rome, by an eminent artist, a Sofa and Chair, of Satin damask, made at Lyons, in France.” In addition to conducting sales, Christian repaired “Second Hand Furniture for auction. . . at the cheapest rate.” His advertisements touted “the advantage of employing an Auctioneer who is a perfect judge of the value and quality of Cabinet and other Furniture.”
No record of Christian conducting sales after 1805 is known; however, it is possible that his sales occurred on such a regular basis that advertisements were not necessary. By mid June 1813, he had “recommenced the Cabinet Making Business at No. 35 Wall-street.” This coincided with his hiring Blossom, who recorded labor advances from Christian for two writing tables and bookcases, the first on July 10 and the second on August 1. Blossom’s tenure in Christian’s shop was relatively short, lasting only until mid October when the former received final cash payments for work on a pine bookcase and a portable desk. Altogether, Blossom made seven pieces of furniture for Christian including the four mentioned above, and five Pembroke tables with reeded legs and double-elliptic leaves. A labeled Pembroke table from Christian’s shop (figs. 13, 14) probably resembles those made by Blossom.
Blossom described his labor for making the first two Pembroke tables on September 25, 1813 (fig. 15). It is significant that Christian ordered two examples of the same form, a possible indication that he was amassing an inventory for his new wareroom. The leg stiles of each table had square pateras with canted corners, probably of figured mahogany veneer. This detail may have been new for Blossom, since none of the pieces he made Loring or Everitt had paterae. Christian placed a second order for two Pembroke tables on September 27, 1813, and a third order for a single one on the same date. This effectively meant that Blossom produced five handsome mahogany tables in succession, an efficient procedure that may have kept him in the good graces of his temperamental employer. It may also explain why Christian paid Elisha in advance and on time. According to the descriptions in Blossom’s daybook, the last three Pembroke tables lacked paterae, but the other features of all five were similar. The double-order tables were three feet eleven inches wide when open and three feet long on the bed, or frame; whereas the single table was three feet ten inches wide when open and two feet ten inches long on the bed. The standard starting size for a Pembroke table in the 1810 New York price book was three feet four inches wide when open and two feet six inches long on the bed. As one might expect, the size and ornament of the tables determined Blossom’s labor charges. The two tables with the paterae were $6.93 3/4 each, the other pair was $6.20 3/4, and the single was $6.16 1/2. Christian may have wanted several Pembroke tables with different prices and decorative options to appeal to the tastes and pocketbooks of his diverse clientele. Alternatively, the most elaborate examples could represent a custom order.
The writing tables and bookcases, which also represent a double order by Christian, were new to Blossom’s repertoire. At the top of the entry for these two pieces are the dates “August/1/21,” the only time such a dating system appears in the daybook. In all other instances only one start date is given. This dating system could mean one of two things—that Blossom began work on the first writing table and bookcase on August 1 and completed it on or before August 21 or that he began working on both pieces simultaneously and completed them in three weeks time. The first scenario seems the most likely as Blossom’s labor charge for one of these pieces came to approximately twenty dollars, or just over a dollar a day. According to furniture historian Charles Montgomery, American journeymen worked six days per week and approximately eleven hours per day, which means that Blossom put in eighteen to nineteen days labor for Christian during this three-week period. Montgomery also stated that journeymen averaged one dollar per day through much of the Federal period. Given the fact that Blossom had received as much as $1.44 a day for shipwright’s work, it is difficult to understand why he continued in the cabinetmaking trade.
Blossom’s daybook entries (fig. 15) reveal that the design of his writing tables and bookcases was distinctive when compared to most surviving examples of this rather neglected form. The writing table and bookcase illustrated in figure 17 shares some features with those made by Elisha, in particular the veneered, temple-form pediment board with flanking pedestals and urns and the book-matched “joint in [the] veneer of [the] Draw front.” Blossom’s pediment board, which was “hollow” on top, may have resembled the backboard on the small, French sideboard shown in figure 12.
Both of his upper cabinet sections had fall fronts “lip’d for cloth” and interior compartments for letters, bills, receipts, and business ledgers. The compartments consisted of sixteen pigeon-holes arranged around a core of eight tall partitions with scalloped front edges which formed slots for the ledgers and three shallow drawers below the “1 partition across [the] Case.” Two writing tables and bookcases in institutional collections (Yale University Art Gallery and New York State Museum) have similarly fitted interiors, indicating that these pieces served as the business center in many nineteenth-century households. Functional, unadorned counting house desks with fitted interiors, on the other hand, were used in most offices and shops. The two furniture forms’ shared features and functions are recalled in the 1810 New York price book entry for a “Writing Table and Book Case” (fig. 16): “For work inside of Book Case, see Counting House ditto.” Options listed for the writing table and bookcase included a hinged writing fall “to turn over like card table” (with sliding supports), a recess, or “kneehole,” at the center, and glazed bookcase doors with mullions arranged in handsome geometric patterns. The most important surviving example of this stylish type is a labeled and dated writing table and bookcase made in the shop of Duncan Phyfe in August 1820.
While Blossom was working on the writing tables and bookcases, his wife, Maria, became ill. Given the fact that they had been married exactly nine months, it is possible that her problems were associated with pregnancy. On September 18, 1813, Elisha noted that he had paid $5.50 to Doctor Samuel Torbert for “medicine & attendance” and $10.50 to Mrs. Mooney for “3 weeks Nursing wife.” Nine days later Blossom credited David Loring $8.25 for a cradle which he may have purchased in preparation for a new baby’s arrival. A Blossom family genealogy states that Elisha and Maria Ann Anderson had only one child, Elisha William, born August 12, 1816, but it is possible that the couple had another earlier baby who never reached full term.
After leaving Christian’s shop, Blossom found employment with John Linacre, who worked as a journeyman for cabinetmaker John Hewitt in 1811. Linacre established his own business at 382 Pearl Street in 1812 but left the cabinetmaking trade three years later. He was listed in the city directory as a merchant in 1815 and as a grocer in subsequent years. Linacre’s experience was not unique among New York journeymen in the 1810s. Many small cabinet shops emerged in New York City, especially after the War of 1812, causing owners of larger, more established shops to complain that their business suffered from too much competition. This set the stage for the consolidation that occurred in the cabinetmaking trade in the late 1820s and 1830s.
Blossom first referred to Linacre on October 23, 1813, when he credited his new master with the first of five cash payments ending on November 20, 1813 and totaling $42.00. During this same period he posted debits totaling $54.20. These charges included nine dollars for “1 clarinet bought by Mr. Rosetti,” $1.50 for “finishing Dining Tables,” and $43.70 for “Making [a] Sideboard.” Based on Blossom’s description, the latter object was a French sideboard. It had an overhanging frieze with drawers at the top and four doors and columns in the lower section. The “start” charge of nine pounds was the same as that given for the basic model of this form in the 1810 New York price book.
By 1813 French sideboards were all the rage in New York. The example made by Blossom had many optional refinements: a “hollow” molding under the top, a frieze rail with cross-banded crotch mahogany, three top drawers—the center one with book-matched veneers and all three with solid mahogany sides—veneered paneled doors with cross-banding on the stiles and rails, and four columns with crotch veneers. Although not specified, the columns probably had carved capitals. All of these features can be observed on the French sideboard made by Lannuier (fig. 11). According to Charles Montgomery, the retail price of a piece of furniture was usually three and one half times the cost of the labor. Therefore, Linacre may have priced Blossom’s sideboard as high as $150.00. By comparison, John Hewitt paid journeyman Thomas Constantine forty dollars each for three French sideboards in April, May, and June 1812, $46.34 for another example in March 1813, and thirty dollars for a “French sideboard plain” the following May. In turn, Hewitt sold at least two French sideboards in 1812, one for $110 and another for $115.00. The sideboard that Blossom made for David Loring in June 1812 may have been comparable to the “plain” example made by Constantine. The labor charges for both journeymen were the same, and the daybook entry for Elisha’s sideboard describes a relatively simple form. On April 28, 1814, Linacre advertised a variety of furniture, including pillar-and-claw card tables, tea tables, and dining tables along with “an elegant Sideboard on a new construction of a superior quality.” Although it is impossible to determine if the sideboard in the advertisement was the one Blossom made five months earlier, it is obvious that Linacre had enough confidence in his journeyman to assign him the job of making one of these valuable and impressive forms.
Blossom’s other work for Linacre included two worktables, one completed on December 11, 1813, and the other on December 31; a cradle completed on December 15; and two Pembroke tables with turned, reeded legs completed on January 22, 1814. The worktables were the first examples of that form recorded in Blossom’s daybook.
Blossom left Linacre’s shop by January 22, 1814, when the former sold the latter “1 Book of prices Bound” for $1.50. This may have been the 1810 New York book of prices (fig. 18), possibly with the supplement issued somewhat later. Nine days later Elisha wrote that he had “Engaged and Commenced as a clerk With Richard Scott Book Seller for $375 per year Paid.” An adjacent notation in the cabinetmaker’s daybook indicates that Blossom “could not agree as [the clerk’s job] . . . was too confining & Quit 10th Feby.” Although his candid admission suggests that he preferred the relatively independent life of a journeyman, economic imperatives caused him to return again to the security of a salaried job in 1815.
Return to David Loring’s Shop and Subsequent Abandonment of the Trade
The same day Blossom left Scott, he “Returned by mutual Consent” to his uncle’s cabinetmaking shop, debiting Loring $160 for “1 chest of tools & work bench as per agreement.” Business must have been relatively slow, for Elisha received only half a dozen furniture making projects between March 5 and July 6, 1814. These included the end section of a dining table with “octagon” (canted) corners on a single hanging leaf, a bookcase, two corner basin stands, and three pillar-and-claw Pembroke tables. Blossom’s relationship with Loring ended when he completed the last Pembroke table on July 6. The latter’s shop burned later that year, and Loring and his family moved west, traveling by stage over the Allegheny Mountains to Pittsburgh before completing their journey by keel-boat down the Ohio River to Cincinnati.
Entries in Blossom’s daybook summarizing “Wages Earnd . . . from May 1st 1814” to September 9, 1814, suggest that he was concerned about his finances and wanted to gauge his income over a fixed period of time. Some of the furniture making projects and odd jobs listed during that period do not appear in the main body of the daybook, but the wages he earned making furniture for his uncle during this time frame are recorded. Loring always paid the exact charges Blossom recorded in his daybook for specific furniture forms. These charges matched those prescribed in the 1810 New York price book (fig. 18) and later addendum, indicating that Loring accepted the wage scale set by the masters and journeymen of the city and that he considered Blossom’s work to be of good quality. Obviously, masters were not obligated to pay journeymen the amounts specified in the price book for substandard work.
Between May 1 and September 9, 1814, Blossom received additional income from making cheap “press boards” (probably ironing boards), a fireboard, a coffin, and a mill of some sort for $5.00. He also produced six pieces of furniture—three breakfast tables, a pair of circular washstands, and a bookcase—that do not appear in the main part of his daybook. Odd jobs performed by Blossom included taking a sideboard out through a window, minor house repairs, “writing” for a church (probably bookkeeping), and “3 Months service at Society”—presumably the New York Society of Journeyman Shipwrights and Caulkers, of which Blossom was a member in 1818, or the New York Society of Cabinet Makers. Elisha’s wages for this four month period totaled $100.46 3/4. This translates into an annual wage of $304.41, or $70.59 less than the salary he was promised by the bookseller Richard Scott and approximately $100 less than the average annual wage of a journeyman house carpenter.
Blossom performed fifteen days of unspecified labor for John Linacre in December 1814 but appears to have received little other work after leaving Loring’s shop. Elisha made only three entries in his daybook during the following seven months and none pertained to cabinetmaking. Several possibilities might explain this radical drop in activity. Blossom could have left the city in search of work or lost his tools in the fire that destroyed Loring’s shop. Alternatively, he simply may have become dispirited by that disastrous turn of events and dropped out of the work force for a while. One yearns to know more about this difficult time in Blossom’s life, how he reacted to adversity, and what brought him to the decision finally to abandon cabinetmaking for good.
On July 1, 1815, Blossom “Began to write For Henry Eckford . . . @ $600 per year house rent free of expense.” The salary alone was far more than Elisha could have earned as a journeyman cabinetmaker, not to mention rent-free housing. Blossom’s landlord excused him from his current lease, which was due to expire November 30, 1815, for “ten dollars in consideration of his taking the house off my hands for the remainder of the year.” Evidently, Blossom’s new salary allowed him to engage in other income producing activities. In 1815–1816 he recorded sales of lumber, pitch, nails, brads, and other hardware, most to Henry Eagle of Oswego, New York. On February 19, 1816, Elisha paid state and city taxes on a “House in Mott Street” that he leased for £31, or $77.50, annually.
Blossom probably kept Eckford’s books for about three years beginning on July 1, 1815. New York City directories listed Elisha as an accountant through June 30, 1818. Although not recorded in the 1818–1819 directory, he was listed as shipwright the following year and worked in that trade until his premature death at the age of thirty-four on December 22, 1823.
The entries in Blossom’s daybook end around the time he left Eckford. Dated December 28, 1818, the last entry is a debit to Robert Bogardus “To cash for a Judgement of Bodie and McKean against Andrew Anderson assigned to me in full for $40.00.” Blossom made note of a few rental agreements for the years 1820 to 1822 but declined to record any of his activities as a shipwright. It is likely that he maintained another ledger for that purpose. Nearly half of his calf-bound folio daybook (probably assembled from the four quires of paper Elisha acquired immediately upon his arrival in Rio) remains empty.
With the exception of his ten-day hiatus with bookseller Robert Scott, Blossom worked as a journeyman cabinetmaker in New York for just over three years. Between May 16, 1812, and July 1, 1815, he recorded the production of forty-eight pieces of furniture for which he charged $962.36. If Blossom had received the standard journeyman’s wage from all his masters, as he did after resuming work in David Loring’s shop in 1814, his average annual wage from cabinetmaking (assuming he was fully employed) would have been about $320. However, Blossom received only $183.60 between May 16, 1812, when he got his first furniture-making project in New York from his uncle, and May 22, 1813. In contrast, New York journeyman cabinetmaker Thomas Constantine made $453.20 during the same period. Blossom may not have been as skilled or as proficient as Constantine, or he may not have received the same amount of work. Either or both of these factors could have contributed to Elisha’s decision to abandon the cabinetmaking trade.
Elisha Blossom was never an important figure in the New York cabinetmaking trade. Were it not for the survival of his daybook, his life and career would be as transparent as those of many other New York journeymen and apprentices who failed to attain the status of Thomas Constantine, much less Duncan Phyfe. As a group, however, these unrecognized artisans helped create one of the most recognizable and renowned schools of cabinetmaking in early nineteenth-century America.
For assistance with this article the author thanks David Barquist, Elaine Bradson, Luke Beckerdite, Andrew Brunk, Jane Sikes Hageman, Charles T. Lyle, Thomas Michie, John Scherer, Leslie Symington, and Karen Zimmerman.
Martin Johnson Heade, Sunset Harbor at Rio, 1864. Oil on canvas, 20 1/8" x 35". (Courtesy, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Henry C. Gibson Fund.)
William J. Bennett, Bowling Green, north on the west side of Broadway, New York City. Aquatint, 13 1/2" x 9 3/8". (© Collection of the New-York Historical Society.) Bennett’s view depicts Bowling Green about 1826. No. 1 Broadway is the first house on the left in the foreground and has a pedimented, projecting center bay. According to Iconography of Manhattan Island, 6 vols. (New York: Robert H. Dodd, 1915–1928), 3: 589–90, No. 1 Broadway was the site of a boarding school for young ladies before Innocent Loring established her fashionable boardinghouse. It became the private residence of Robert Kennedy in 1798 and Nathaniel Prime in 1810.
Launch of the Battleship Ohio at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, Tuesday Morning, May 30, 1820, attributed to William J. Bennett, New York City. Watercolor, 14 1/4" x 23". (© Collection of the New-York Historical Society.) The ship’s figurehead depicting Hercules, carved by Jeremiah Dodge (1781–1860) and Cornelius Sharp (active ca. 1810–d. 1828), is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.
Page 1 in Elisha Blossom, Jr., Daybook, Rio de Janeiro and New York, 1811–1818. (© Collection of the New-York Historical Society.) This daybook was half of a two-part bookkeeping system that also included an alphabetized ledger where daily credits and debits were totaled up under the names of the individual with whom Blossom made transactions. The ledger is missing.
Cradle, New York City, 1815–1825. Mahogany and mahogany and rosewood veneers with white pine; brass inlay. L. 45". (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sylmaris Collection; gift of George Coe Graves, by exchange.) The crotch mahogany veneer on the dome, separated by brass line inlay, radiates from a brass star inlaid at the center in a rosewood field; the dome is lined with the original cream-colored silk. Matching silk or mull draperies, suspended from the dome, very likely completed the cradle’s sumptuous original decorative scheme.
French press, New York City, ca. 1810. Mahogany with yellow poplar and white pine. H. 83 1/2", W. 54 1/2", D. 20 3/4". (Courtesy, Boscobel Restorations, Inc.)
French sideboard, New York City, 1810–1820. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with yellow poplar. H. 57 1/2", W. 73 3/8", D. 25 1/2". (Courtesy, New York State Museum; partial gift of the Wunsch Foundation.)
Pembroke table, New York City, 1810–1820. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with white pine and cherry. H. 28 3/4", W. 35 3/4", D. 48 3/4" (open). (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Detail of the side apron of the table illustrated in fig. 8, showing the two hinged “flys” that support the leaf. In the 1810 New York price book only one “fly” on each side was standard for both turned leg and pillar-and-claw pembroke tables. A charge of 1s.4p. was assessed for each additional fly.
French sideboard, possibly by William Turner, New York City, 1813. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with unrecorded secondary woods. H. 35 1/2" (to top), W. 77 1/4", D. 22 3/4". (Courtesy, Christie’s.) The sideboard has a partial label that states: “AK[ER]/No. 50 Beekman Street/ New York/ All orders Thankfully Received and Favor[ably] attended to/ May, 1813.” William Turner was listed at this address in the 1813 New York City directory.
Charles-Honoré Lannuier (1779–1819), French sideboard, New York City, 1812–1819. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with yellow poplar, mahogany, white pine, ash; vert antique. H. 57", W. 76 3/8", D. 27 3/4". (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art; gift of Fenton L. B. Brown.)
French sideboard, New York City, 1810–1820. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with white pine. H. 59 3/4", W. 61 3/8", D. 22 1/4". (Courtesy, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; bequest of Martha B. Lisle, by exchange; photo, Erik Gould.) The addition of two tall, narrow bottle drawers between the cupboard doors is frequently found on small-form French sideboards from New York.
Charles Christian (active in New York 1798–1826), Pembroke table, New York City, 1816-1817. Mahogany and mahogany veneer. H. 29" (approximately), W. 36", D. 43 3/4" (open). (Courtesy, Christie’s.)
Detail showing the label on the Pembroke table illustrated in fig. 13. Partition and Fair Streets were joined to form Fulton Street in 1816. When this occurred, Christian’s Fair Street address changed to 90 Fulton Street, and he adjusted his label in ink accordingly. In May 1817 he moved his shop to No. 58 Fulton.
Folio 112 in Elisha Blossom, Jr., Daybook. This page records Blossom’s work on a Pembroke table for Charles Christian under the date September 27. Blossom credited Christian $5.00 for a cash payment three days earlier.
Transcriptions from the Elisha Blossom, Jr., Daybook and the 1810 New York cabinetmakers’ book of prices showing side-by-side comparison of the “Writing table and Book case” Blossom made for Charles Christian and the price book entry for the same form, which Blossom used as the basis for his charges.
Writing table and bookcase, New York City, 1810–1820. Mahogany and mahogany veneers with white pine. H. 66", W. 36 1/2", D. 23". (Courtesy, New York State Museum.)
Title page from The New-York Revised Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet and Chair Work, June, 1810. (Courtesy, Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection.) This page from Duncan Phyfe’s personal copy depicts a pedestal-end sideboard that was more Angloinspired than the “French sideboard” also listed (for the first time) in the 1810 price book. During the early 1810s, elite New Yorkers probably considered the latter form more avant-garde.
The author respectfully borrows the phrase "Artisan of the New Republic" from Howard B. Rock’s Artisans of the New Republic, The Tradesmen of New York City in the Age of Jefferson (New York: New York University Press, 1979). This excellent book brought Blossom’s daybook to the author’s attention. Only three other New York City cabinetmakers’ account books from the early nineteenth century are known: John Hewitt, 1800–1803 and 1810–1813 (New Jersey Historical Society); Fenwick Lyell, 1800–1811 (Monmouth County Historical Society), and David Loring (whereabouts unknown).
William Duncan, New-York City Directory (1793). The 1795 edition was the first to give Innocent Loring’s occupation. See Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498–1909, edited by I. N. Stokes, 6 vols. (New York: Robert H. Dodd, 1915–1928), 3: 589–90 for a discussion of the successive occupants of No. 1 Broadway. Stokes states that from 1792 to 1797 Loring kept a fashionable boardinghouse on the premises. Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic, New York City & the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 52.
David Longworth, Longworth’s American Almanack, New-York Register, and City Directory, 1797–1812 (1819). Wilentz, Chants Democratic, p. 52. Elizabeth Blackmar, New York for Rent, 1785–1850 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Unversity Press, 1989), pp. 213–14. Genealogical information on the Blossom family is available at email@example.com/dashmom/ blossom/html. Innocent Loring is listed as a widow in the 1802 New York City Directory for the first time. Evidently her husband died the year before.
Wilentz, Chants Democratic, p. 135.
Elisha Blossom, Jr.’s Daybook, 1811–1822 (hereafter cited Blossom Daybook), August 1815, New-York Historical Society. Blossom’s daybook will only be cited when no specific dates are given in the text. For Eckford, see Robert Greenhalgh Albion, The Rise of the New York Port, 1815–60 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939), pp. 288–89.
Longworth, Longworth’s American Almanack. Albion, Rise of the New York Port, pp. 292, 299.
Elton W. Hall, “New Bedford Furniture,” Antiques 113, no. 5 (May 1978): 1118. Samuel Blossom’s death date is given in Vital Records of New Bedford, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, edited by Florence Conant Howes, 3 vols. (Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1941), 3: 26. Samuel Blossom was the son of Benjamin Blossom (1753– 1837), brother of Elisha Blossom, Sr., and Rebekah (Blossom) Tobey (1757–1832) of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Samuel appears to be the first Blossom trained as a cabinetmaker, and he may have apprenticed with Lemuel Tobey (1749–1829) of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Margaret K. Hofer, “Furniture Makers and Allied Craftsmen in Plymoth and Bristol Counties, Massachusetts, 1760–1810,” Antiques 159, no. 5 (May 2001): 812. Lemuel Tobey’s account is in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts and is discussed in Philip Zea, “Rural Craftsmen and Design” in Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: The Colonial Era: Selections from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (Boston: Houghton MiZin, 1984), pp. 64–65. The author thanks Leslie Symington for compiling genealogical information on the Blossoms and Lorings for this article.
People’s Friend & Daily Advertiser, March 7, 1807; New-York Evening Post, May 19, 1810. For more on Abraham Egerton, son of Matthew Egerton, see Marilyn A. Johnson, “John Hewitt, Cabinetmaker,” Winterthur Portfolio 4 (1968): 200, n. 34. For more on the destruction of Loring’ s business and move to Cincinnati, see Jane E. Sikes, The Furniture Makers of Cincinnati, 1790 to 1849 (Cincinnati, Ohio: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1976) pp. 147–49. One of Loring’s account books which survived the 1814 fire was among the possessions brought with him to Cincinnati. Historian Jane Sikes Hageman examined this document for the aforementioned study and illustrated a page from it dated March 16, 1813. Although the account book’s current whereabouts is unknown, Hageman photocopied a few pages dated between March 16, and May 20, 1813, and was kind enough to share these with the author.
William S. Auchincloss, Ninety Days in the Tropics, or Letters from Brazil (1874), pp. 27–28, in Katherine Emma Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance, North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839–1879 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), p. 144. The value of the U. S. dollar in relation to the Portuguese rea is based on the 1809 rate given on page 93 in “Notebook of an Unidentified American Trader,” Rhode Island Historical Society, microfilm, Downs Manuscript Collection, Winterthur Library, Winterthur Delaware, M6.: $1.00 U.S. equals 750 Portuguese reas. For carpenters’ and cabinetmakers’ wages, see Rock, Artisans of the New Republic, pp. 251–53.
Honoré Lannuier charged a Mr. Brinckerhoff of New York $42.00 for “A Mahogany Crebe.” The bill for the cradle is illustrated in Peter M. Kenny, Frances F. Bretter, and Ulrich Leben, Honoré Lannuier Cabinetmaker from Paris: The Life and Work of a French Ébéniste in Federal New York (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), p. 231.
“Notebook of an American Trader,” p. 131. Salem cabinetmaker Nehemiah Adams sent a cargo of furniture valued at $869.90 (Mabel Munson Swan, “Coastwise Cargoes of Venture Furniture,” Antiques 55, no. 4 [April 1949]: 280.)
A printed list of the ninety-two members of the New York Society of Cabinet Makers is bound into a copy of The New-York Revised Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet and Chair Work (1810) in the library at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. This copy is inscribed by New York journeyman cabinetmaker Daniel Turnier, one of Blossom’s contemporaries. Hereafter the various editions of the price books will be referred to as New York Price Book followed by the date of publication.
Wilentz, Chants Democratic, p. 49. Blossom Daybook, July 24 and August 5, 1812. Barrows & Whitehead paid 1 mill rea/820 reas rent up to July 21 (July 24). Mr. Bridge paid 12 mill reas/800 reas for one month’s rent “due 5th September,” and Mr. Fidae 21 mill reas/300 reas rent “due this day” (both August 5). A journeyman carpenter’s estimated annual budget made in 1809, including an average house rental of $55.00 (Rock, Artisans of the New Republic, p. 253).
Blossom’s “start” charge for the sideboard was £9, or about $22.50, the same start charge given for a French sideboard in the 1810 New York price book. It had the form’s usual four cupboard doors below three frieze drawers, a backboard, and reeded legs and castors, but lacked many of the extras that made some examples very expensive. For more on the French sideboard and its sources in France, see Kenny et al., Honoré Lannuier, pp. 83–84.
The author thanks Jane Sikes Hageman for providing photocopies of pages from David Loring’s daybook. Despite repeated attempts to locate Loring’s daybook through family descendants in Cincinnati, it still remains to be found. New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, May 8, 1812; and New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, May 25, 1812. Christies, Important American Furniture, Silver, Prints and Folk Art, New York, May 29, 2002, lot 185.
New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, May 12, 1813. Dolan is listed as a cabinetmaker in New York City directories from 1802 to 1814. From 1815 to 1825 he ran a hardware store. A card table with reeded legs and a treble-elliptic top labeled by Dolan when he was at the 30 Beekman Street address (1809–1813) is shown in Antiques 80, no. 4 (October 1961): 298. A nearly identical card table is in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, and was included in the catalogue Furniture by New York Cabinetmakers (New York: Museum of the City of New York, 1957), p. 60, no. 96. Forsyth M. Alexander, “Warehousing in the Southern Atlantic, 1783-1820,” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 15, no. 2 (November 1989): 16.
See New-York Evening Post, May 13, 1817, for an advertisement by Charles Christian mentioning “large and small Side Boards.” The list of Additional Revised Prices (n.d.) is bound into the previously cited New York Price Book (1810). “A French Sideboard,” is listed on p. 42 of the aforementioned price book. In the 1817 edition of the New York Price Book, “A French Sideboard” is listed on p. 71.
The aforementioned New York Price Book (1810) has the following inscription above table 4, p. 62: “This Book is all most [sic] out of use for the next comes first April 6th 1817 T. C. for D T n [probably Daniel Turnier].” Blossom Daybook, January 22, 1814: “Mr. John Linacre [debit] To I Book of prices Bound $1.50.”
For Christian’s commission at City Hall, see Kenny et al., Honoré Lannuier, pp. 142–43. Daily Advertiser, May 8, 1800. For more on the Philadelphia furniture wareroom and the Society of Cabinet Makers, Philadelphia, of which Christian was president in 1796, see Charles F. Montgomery, American Furniture, The Federal Period in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (New York: Viking Press, 1966), pp. 22–23. For Christian’s mistreatment of apprentices, see Kenny et al., Honoré Lannuier, pp. 63; 100, n. 75.
New York Directory, 1808. American Citizen, April 16, 1803; March 11, 1805; and May 3, 1804; and February 6, 1805; and New-York Commercial Advertiser, May 20, 1805. New-York Evening Post, November 2, 1803.
Statesman, June 15, 1813; Columbian for the Country, June 16, 1813; New-York Evening Post, June, 18, 1813; and National Advocate, June 22, 1813.
Montgomery, American Furniture, p. 23.
Never very popular with collectors because their upper cabinet sections were paneled rather than glazed and, therefore, unusable for the display of ceramics, glass or other collectibles, examples of this form are in three public collections: Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut; House of History in Kinderhook, New York; and the New York State Museum in Albany. Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988), pp. 357–59 shows Yale’s writing table and bookcase with the fall front closed and open. Nancy McClelland, Duncan Phyfe and the English Regency, 1795–1830 (New York: William R. Scott, 1939), pl. 167 illustrates the writing table and bookcase in the House of History. New York Price Book (1810), pp. 32, 33, 35, 37. See McClelland, Duncan Phyfe, pl. 251 for the labeled 1820 writing table and bookcase by Phyfe.
John Hewitt Account Book, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey, unpaginated as cited in Johnson, “John Hewitt, Cabinetmaker,” p. 187, n. 6. A photocopy of the account book is in the scholarship files of the American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Linacre is included at the back of the account book among a group of journeymen who worked for Hewitt, along with their aggregate charges for furniture making in 1812–1813. For competition among cabinetmakers in New York, see Kenny et al., Honoré Lannuier, p. 45.
New York Price Book (1810), pp. 42-43.
John Hewitt Account Book, “Work Done by Thos. Constantine,” as cited in Johnson, “John Hewitt, Cabinetmaker,” p. 196. New-York Evening Post, April 28, 1814.
Sikes, Furniture Makers of Cincinnati, p. 148.
Some master cabinetmakers failed to follow the established wage scale for journeymen. This problem was addressed on p. 1 in the preface to the 1817 revised New York Price Book: “[the committee of journeymen who worked on the price book] have endeavoured to equalize the prices in such manner, that two men working at different pieces of work, will not be paid, one more than the other, which has been hitherto, in many instances, the cause of much jealousy of men, working for the same employer.” With regard to the issue of quality of workmanship, the committee stated that the prices listed “are considered for work of good quality, and when not such, to be valued and paid for accordingly” (p. 6).
For a carpenter’s annual wage in New York City, see Rock, Artisans of the New Republic, p. 252.
New York City Directory, 1815. New York City directories covered the period of July 1 in any given year until June 30 of the next, and information for them began to be compiled after May 1, which was traditionally moving day. Blossom lived at 25 Roosevelt Street and gave his occupation as cabinetmaker in May, but by July 1 he had abandoned that trade. Blossom Daybook, November 4, 1815. On June 18, 1816, Blossom charged the “Estate of I Loring” $11.75 for “cash paid for her burial.”
New York City Directories, 1816–1823. As previously stated, Blossom appears to have been a partner in the firm listed in New York City directories as “Blossom, Smith & Demon.” The firm’s shipyards were located at “Stanton, M. I.,” the same address given for Blossom when he worked for Eckford.
John Hewitt Account Book, “Work Done by Thos. Constantine,” as cited in Johnson, “John Hewitt, Cabinetmaker,” p. 196. For all his furniture-making activities between February 14, 1812, and April 29, 1814, Constantine’s wages totaled $1,060.26. That averages out to about $489.00 per year, or just under one-and-one-half times more than Blossom’s annual earnings from cabinetmaking. Constantine was an unusually motivated artisan. Although he ran away from his master John Hewitt in 1811, Constantine displayed considerable energy in establishing a Cabinet Furniture Store at 157 Fulton Street in 1817. There he sold English pianos, patent bedsteads, and the latest “Elastic Spring Sofas,” which were reportedly “not the description of spring seat sofas made some time since in Europe, . . . but . . . an improvement in the mode of making and applying them, by which the elasticity is never lost.” In 1819 he won a contract to make desks and chairs for the House of Representatives in Washington. See the Commercial Advertiser, June 18, 1811, and Mercantile Advertiser, October 2, 1822, and New-York Daily Advertiser, November 2, 1819.