Joseph Smith's Key to Manufactories of Sheffield

Joseph Smith's 1816, Explanation or key, to the various manufactories of Sheffield, with engravings of each article is one of the most important sources of information about the forms and designs of tools manufactured in England at the end of the 18th century.  The key itself was printed for Peter Stubs, the Lancashire tool manufacturer who began work in 1777.  The correspondence between Stubs and Joseph Smith, reprinted in Appendix one is dated March 11, 1801.  The first part of the key includes tools made by James Cam, another prominent Sheffield manufacturer of hand tools.  A single copy of a Cam catalog surfaced in the Sheffield Central Library and correlates with the first 826 illustrations in Smith's key.  Cam worked with Marshes and Shepherd so the catalog listing of tools has the heading "Stamped James Cam or Marshes & Shepherd".  The reproduction of Joseph Smith's key by the Early American Industries Assoc. (1975) is prefaced by this important document.  Its listing of tools is reproduced below and graphically illustrates the primary tools being produced in Sheffield for the woodworking trades, including shipbuilders, coopers and housewrights.  Also included in Cam's catalog listing are  masons, agricultural, butchers and cobblers tools.  These correlate with the illustrations in the first part of Smith's key.  The remainder of the key include an incredible series of illustrations of Sheffield produced cutlery, including scissors, candle snuffers, razor blades and knives.  These were not produced by Cam or Marshes & Shepherd and are not included in this catalog from the Sheffield library.  It should be noted here that Stubs, who is apparently financed the publication of Smith's key, was both a manufacturer of tools similar to those produced by Cam, but was also a wholesaler who purchased tools through many smaller manufacturers and then sometimes added his cartouche.

Reproduced below are several of the most relevant etchings from Smith's key.  Both the list of tools produced by James Cam along with the illustrations in Smith's key are particularly relevant to the Davistown Museum exhibition and Archaeology of Tools.  Up until the early years of the 19th century a large percentage of woodworking tools used by the colonists and citizen's of the early republic were either imported from England or brought in the tool kits of immigrants.  All the tools in the Museum display An Archaeology of Tools come from New England area tool chests, tool collections and workshops.  In most cases the typical tool chest dating from the late 19th century or earlier will contain a mixture of American made tools and English made tools.  The two most common manufacturer's marks which turn up in these tool collections are those of Peter Stubs and James Cam.

Perhaps the most noteworthy observation to be made about these illustrations is how modern the design of these tools appears.  There are only slight variations in the construction of most of the tools illustrated in the key which would differentiate them from tools manufactured 150 years later in America.  The joiner and fore planes (658, 653) appear to have offset totes characteristic of planes of this type made before 1800.  The larger hand saws have a typical handle with a flattened base on the grip; this style of handle was shortly discontinued.  Draw knives with their bulbous handles still frequently turn up in tool chests, the peculiar shape of the English draw knife handles is the only thing that differentiates them from the ubiquitous draw knife of the American carpenter's tool kit.  Only the slightest variations in design and production, along with maker's stamps, can differentiate the English planes illustrated below from those produced in America.  The one exception is the famous Yankee plow plane, which has a construction that's obviously different from the plow plane illustrated below.  One explanation for this similarity between English and American tools in the 19th century is that many of the Sheffield artisans who made edge tools migrated to the United States to found their own companies, bringing English designs as well as knowledge of the technology of manufacturing cast steel with them.

List of tools in James Cam and Marshes & Shepherd catalog

          Selection of illustrations from Joseph Smith's Explanation or key, to the various manufactories of Sheffield.             
Tools of James Cam in the Museum collection.