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Fishtail Totes
(part 1)

E Taft / In Mendon (b 1756 - d1843) 

J Perry (GAWP5 imprint "A" - ca 1770)

R Thayer (ca 1800 vs ca 1790 GAWP5)

Photos and planes details courtesy of Mike Humphrey.

Fishtail Style Open Totes (part 1)

E Taft, J Perry and R Thayer

Several plane enthusiasts recently posed questions about 18thC "fishtail" style open totes found on a limited number of New England marked planes. The questions included:

1) which marked planes exhibit this style,

2) who were the possible craftsmen behind the planes,

3) did the planes come from a common geographical area? 

An initial survey came up with three imprint names; E Taft,

J Perry and R Thayer. (In GAWP5, a plane marked A Foster was reported to have a similar tote design, but this turned out not to be the case.) Of these three imprints, only Enos Taft from Mendon (1756-1843), is an identified craftsman. Additional names and examples are solicited so that we can expand our knowledge and understanding.


(Steve Frazier reported (8-2023) a J Miller toted tongue plane with a robust fishtail tote. However, the plane is likely of PA origin and so, lies outside the scope of this investigation.)

First, a look at the planes of Taft, Perry and Thayer.


In considering the open totes, while the totes share the uncommon feature of the "fishtail" form, they have different profiles and details. Why is this an important consideration?  Typically, it's in the details that close relationships such as master - apprentice are revealed. Look at the jointer totes of H Wetherel and E Clark, or of E Clark and L Bisbee and see how the common details reveal / indicate a master - apprentice link. Additionally, how close are the chamfer stops, the cheek chamfers, the molding plane wedges, etc.? (The construction / style elements need to be assessed carefully as they often change over time, even for a given craftsman.) So, starting with the varied open tote details, it makes sense that while these craftsmen might have influenced and borrowed from each other stylistically, they were not necessarily closely aligned with each other, such as master - apprentice. 


What about the molding planes elements?

Unlike the tote details, the construction details / chamfers of the Perry molding plane bodies and the Thayer molding plane bodies are very similar. This point, mentioned in GAWP5, seems to indicate a geographic closeness and / or a professional closeness. However, the molding plane wedges are quite different for the two craftsmen. Why the dual similarity and contrast?  GAWP5 estimates the date of the Perry planes to be ca 1770 while the Thayer planes are closer to 1790. (Based on the wedge profiles, the editor would place the Thayer molder dates closer to 1800.) Thus, with Perry and Thayer, the 30 years gap between the craftsmen probably accounts for the wedge differences.


While close in age, the E Taft molders are quite different than the ca 1770 Perry molders in their details; specifically in the wedge profiles and the chamfer stops. Taft's wedges have flat back finials which are very close to those seen in the late phase Ce Chelor molding planes. Taft's chamfer stops end with a faint, sometimes angled step and a gouge cut / turn out return, which can mirror those of the late phase Ce Chelor planes. In contrast, Perry and Thayer chamfer stops both end with a bolder strait step followed by a simple turnout. As mentioned, Thayer's wedge finials are transitional, 1800 or later, and thus don't follow the profiles found in the earlier planes. Perry's finials are "squarish" and weakly relieved similar to those of I Iones and H Wetherel ... classic SE Massachusetts forms.


In review, the Perry and Thayer planes were likely made in the same general geographical area, but of different generations. The Taft and Perry planes seem to indicate a weaker link, perhaps limited to craftsmen trends of a common time and region. All three craftsmen starting out in SE Massachusetts in the time frame of 1770 to 1800.

An observation by Mike Humphrey that late period Ce Chelor open totes exhibited a faint fishtail form and that late period Ce Chelor planes share similarities with planes made by E Taft, have resulted in plans to add Fishtail Tote, part 2.

R Thayer molders of birch, 9 3/8" long, sprung profiles.

J Perry molders of birch, 10 1/16" and 10" long, unsprung profiles.

J Perry below.

R Thayer above.

E Taft 13 1/2" skewed rabbet with molding style wedge and late period Ce Chelor skewed rabbet.   

P Lasswell.

E Taft and late Ce Chelor chamfer stops with tipped step element.

The search for possible craftsmen.

Using the starting location of Mendon, a regional search was made for the other two craftsmen; first R Thayer and then J Perry. The R Thayer search was done first as this is a relatively uncommon name and the craftsmen should be easier to find. Having a few limited Thayer locations from which to start, would help constrain the Perry search which would otherwise yield a great number of candidates. (In the 1800 census from New England, there were 224 J Perry's and 11 R Thayer's.)

Two R Thayer craftsmen were found: a Rufus Thayer in Milford, MA and a Richard Thayer Jr. in Braintree, MA. Rufus seems to be a stronger candidate as the time is close (a starting year of ca 1797 vs ca 1800 for his molding planes) and Milford is very close to Mendon. Richard Thayer was born in 1769 and ca 1789 is a bit too early for the molding planes.


With an E Taft in Mendon and a fairly strong candidate of Rufus Thayer in Milford, the surrounding area was then searched for possible J Perry's. Four possibilities were found; James Perry of Holliston and Milford (1757- 1823), Joseph Perry working in Boyleston in 1804 and 1808 (1779-1867), John Perry a carpenter in Boston from 1807-1816 who was probably born ca 1785 and James Perry a cabinetmaker in Boston in 1809.

The "A" imprint J Perry molding planes are ca 1770 per GAWP5 and thus Joseph Perry, John Perry and James Perry of Boston are likely to be too late. This leaves James Perry of Holliston and Milford as the more viable candidate. It is interesting to note that both James Perry and Rufus Thayer were selectmen in Milford, their services separated by only five years.


Note: period J Perry deeds were searched for trades in Middlesex, Bristol, Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcester Co's. The John and James of Boston were not found in the deed records. Instead, they were found in the Boston Directories as recorded in GAWP5; John Perry in Boston, housewright 1807-1816, and James Perry in Boston, cabinet maker 1809. (The Boston Directories were searched from 1788 through the 1820s and these two craftsmen were found only in the years cited.) These two individuals could well have been associated with the ca 1810 J Perry / Boston imprint "B" also reported in GAWP5 but as stated, are probably too late to be associated with the earlier J Perry "A" imprint being considered here. 

Additional details on the candidates.

Rufus Thayer, Milford carpenter in an 1804 deed.  b 1777 - d 1850.  Parents were Ichabod and Mary. He was a selectman in Milford between 1816 - 1833. The History of Milford, vol 2, records "Capt. Rufus was a prudent carpenter and farmer. He resided on the northerly slope of Silver Hill, where his son Augustus now dwells. He was a highly respected and honored citizen. He was captain of the Mil. Artillery Co. in 1814, when it marched into camp at South Boston. His family, by inheritance and personal worth, occupied a high social standing."

Richard Thayer Jr., Braintree housewright in 1793, 1796 deeds. Boston carpenter. A member of the Mechanic’s Association in 1800. A local newspaper recorded a fire at his shop in 1803. Also recorded was his being a housewright with an apprentice Henry Fullerton. Richard was born in 1769 to Richard and Sarah of Braintree. He married Ruth Appleton in 1798.


James Perry, Milford housewright in 1788 and 1793 deeds. b 1757 in Holliston - moved to Milford ca 1783 - d 1823 Milford. Married Sarah Johnson in 1782. He was a selectman in Milford between 1790 – 1811. In The History of Milford, vol 2, James was described as ...  "a man of good natural abilities and trustworthy moral integrity. He had an impediment in his speech ... but such were his capabilities as a citizen, that he was nine times elected selectman and eight times an assessor."


Joseph Perry, Boyleston housewright in 1804 and 1808 deeds, probably in Hopkinton as a carpenter in 1800. b 1779 in Holliston d 1867 in Wilton Me. Moved to ME by 1810. Married Sally Sawyer in 1803.


John Perry, carpenter in Boston, b 1785.

John Perry, housewright in the Boston Directories between the years 1807 and 1818. (Likely the same John as above.)

James Perry, cabinet maker in the Boston Directory for year 1809 only.


Enos Taft, Mendon, b 1756 – d 1843 Mendon. Carpenter, joiner and housewright.

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