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Bacon, R

Rufus Bacon Sr. (1758-1820)

  • Spencer, Charlton and Sutton, MA, house joiner and mechanic

  • RW 1775 fifer, 1776-1781 drum major

  • 1820 inventory "chest of carpenter tools, benches and shop tools" $15

Rick Slaney

July 17, 2017

 

A new look at the plane maker R. BACON

 

In May 2013, I identified the plane maker R. BACON as Richard Bacon, born 1733 in Wrentham, MA and living in Providence, RI from April 1760 through Dec. 1762.  I no longer think this is the case.

A  22 3/4 inch jointer plane with the R. BACON mark was sold at auction in Sept., 2014 and is now in the collection of Patrick Lasswell of Spring, Texas.  In the EAIA “The Chronicle” of Sept., 2014, Pat describes the details of this plane, especially a closed handle the front of which sweeps forward in a dramatic fashion, what he calls a “swept” tote.  Pictures and line drawings in his article show similarities between the BACON handle and handles on jointer planes made by Jonathan Tower of Rutland, MA, Uriah Clap, also of Rutland before moving to Gardner, MA , and Daniel Hubbard of Royalston, MA.  Pat notes that no other known plane makers had this “swept” style tote.  When I was not able to connect such a “swept” tote with either Wrentham or Providence, I began to doubt whether I had correctly identified the plane maker R. BACON.  Other doubts arose when I saw pictures of another R. BACON jointer plane in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village.  This plane has the same maker mark found on all R. BACON planes, but its wedge and iron, the chamfering and a centered handle footprint (the handle is missing) all suggest a plane made after 1800.  I thought it unlikely that such a late looking plane would have been made by the Richard Bacon who was born in Wrentham in 1733.

I now think a better candidate for the plane maker R. BACON is Rufus Bacon, born Nov. 12, 1758 in Spencer, MA, died Sept. 23, 1820 in Sutton, MA.  His Probate Inventory, dated Oct, 21, 1820, includes “1 Chest of Carpenters tools, benches & shop tools - 15.00.”  During his lifetime, Rufus lived in the towns of Spencer, Charlton, and Sutton, a cluster of towns about 45 miles west-southwest of Boston.  Spencer is about 9 miles and Charlton about 16 miles south of Rutland, MA where both Jonathan Tower and Uriah Clapp lived.  Jonathan Tower was born in 1758, the same year as Rufus Bacon, and Uriah Clap was born 11 years later in 1769.  These three plane makers lived and worked in close proximity and it should not be surprising that they had similar “swept” totes.

Rufus Bacon (born 1758) had a son also named Rufus Bacon.  The son was born in 1794 in Sutton, MA and died in 1846 in Sutton.  His Probate Inventory, dated Mar. 3, 1846, lists work benches, saws, planes, chisels, drill bits, and just about every other imaginable shop tool.  Two

entries may relate to plane making, “1 Lot Old Molding Tools & Sash Clamps” and “Lumber for Plane woods Chisel handles.”  And on April 11,1846, when his tools and lumber were sold at public auction, someone named W. A. Marcy paid $3.30 for “Irons & plane Woods” and an L. Barry paid $2.60 for a “20 Set of Moulding tools.”  In both the inventory and the auction listing the word “plane” is repeatedly used in referencing what we today call a woodworking plane.  The term “molding tools,” especially ”old molding tools” may be something different.  Given the low valuation placed on these “molding tools,” they may reference tools and fixtures used in making planes.  The items that seem to relate to plane making were probably inherited by the son when the father died in 1820, but the son may have made the occasional plane, having learned from his father.  If he had held onto his father’s name stamp, this could explain the late looking jointer plane at Old Sturbridge Village that is marked R. BACON.  If not the son, then the father could have made the OSV plane when in his forties or fifties.  One other note about the OSV plane.  It has an owner’s mark “Stedman” stamped on the toe end.  This could be William Stedman, a carpenter, who resided at Oxford, MA in the 1840s.  Oxford borders on both Charlton and Sutton.

When I made my first attempt at identifying the plane maker R. BACON, I placed great importance on the name E. EDDY which was written in script on the front end of two R. BACON molding planes in my collection.  After comparing the signature on the planes with recorded signatures of Esek Eddy, an early Providence shipwright, I thought I saw a match and attributed ownership of the planes to Esek Eddy.  I still think the signatures are close, but decided to take a look in the Spencer / Charlton area to see if I could find other candidates for E. Eddy.  I found an Edmund Eddy, born 1749 in Oxford, MA, who lived in Charlton all his life.  Rufus Bacon, who

also lived in Charlton, would have known this Edmund Eddy, but I don’t know Eddy’s trade.  Perhaps a better fit is his son, Edmund Eddy, born 1776 in Charlton, who moved to Vermont sometime after 1800.  His trade was carriage maker and by 1820, he was working at that trade in Walden, VT.  The two R. BACON planes in my collection with the E. EDDY name

were in a grouping of five R. BACON planes that were sold privately by the late Mark Hughes of Vermont.  Mark was known to have tirelessly criss-crossed the State of Vermont in his search for tools.  Perhaps he found the grouping of five R. BACON planes in the Town of Walden. 

My decision to spotlight Rufus Bacon (born 1758) as a better candidate for the plane maker R. BACON is mine alone.  But I would not have arrived at this decision without the help of Pat Lasswell who shared with me the probate inventories he found online for both Rufus Bacon and his son.  Pat also arranged to have the R. BACON jointer plane at OSV photographed for study purposes.  I am not sure of Pat’s thinking about Rufus Bacon (born 1758), but I want to thank him for the invaluable help he provided. (Editor's note: I fully endorse Rick's assessment, P Lasswell)

A Rufus Bacon Jointer Plane

 

By Patrick Lasswell

 

This revised article will focus on one jointer plane by R Bacon.1 The details of construction will be noted as well as similarities with a few other New England Colonial/Federal plane makers. Hopefully, this will help shed light on possible linkages between the plane makers, as well as sharing the product of a craftsman with a flair for a tool well crafted.

 

AWP5 presents Rufus Bacon (1758 – 1820) as a house joiner living in Spencer, Charlton and Sutton, MA.2 He was not a prolific maker, with only about 10-50 examples known. Rick Slaney researched Rufus and provided a significant amount of information on this craftsman. Here are the basics: the “R” stands for his given name of Rufus, his birth was in Spencer, MA on 11-12-1758 and he was living and working in Charlton and Sutton in the 1780s through the 1810s based on deeds.3 In addition, he served in the RW as a fifer in 1775 and as a drum major in 1776, 1777 and 1781. His 1820 inventory included “1 chest of carpenter tools, benches & shop tools” valued at $15.

 

This particular plane is simply a beautiful piece due to the gracefully shaped tote. It catches one’s eye. It is also fairly early…probably dating +/- from around the time of the American Revolution.

 

Planes with this swept tote design are uncommon and are usually unmarked. Named examples, early to late, include Jn Tower (1758-1846), U Clap (1769-1852) and D Hubbard (1778-1866), all from Massachusetts.4 U Clap is possibly Uriah Clap of Rutland and Gardner, while Tower and Hubbard have more substantive documentation with respect to their identities.

 

 

 

Figure 1. The R Bacon jointer plane.

 

The plane.

 

The chamfer details, the round topped wedge and tote details do not follow one particular maker, so a strong case of association cannot be made at this time. However, with details taken separately, certain craftsmen “links” might be deduced.

 

This particular plane has chamfer details which conform with the ones seen in the later work of I Nicholson. In particular, the body chamfers are flat, 5/16” wide and are mostly on the sides. In addition, the chamfer stops on the ends begin with

a small limited step followed by a tapered cut of approximately ½” in length. On the other Bacon planes, the step has been found at an angle as well as at 90 degrees. On this plane they are mostly at 90 degrees as can be seen in the figure 2, left. Other plane makers with this style of chamfer stop include the Jo Fuller (3 dot mark), S Doggett / Middleboro and M Lewis.     

 

 

 

 

Figure 2. Chamfer stop details.

 

                                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3. The R Bacon tote.

While the chamfers and chamfer stop details, as well as the round topped wedge, follow these early makers, the tote style most certainly does not. As mentioned, the named examples which are most similar are Jn Tower, U Clap and D Hubbard with the tote of Jonathan Tower being the closest in design. However, the chamfers, chamfer stops and wedges are quite different with these plane makers.

 

While being close to the Tower tote in outline, this Bacon tote does not taper in the front. The Clap example also has a taper and the two are shown in the outline drawings. The Hubbard tote while related, is further removed from the Bacon tote. In general, the Hubbard bench planes seem to be several decades later.

 

To provide a comparative scale for the totes, here are the tote heights: Bacon (3 15/16”), Tower (3 15/16”), Clap (4 1/8”) and Hubbard (4 1/8”).

 

The tote is offset to the right and the heel of the tote is undercut which are both early features. The tote is full width with respect to the mortise cut into the body. It is tacked into place with a small nail and is not pegged into place as is usually found with this tote style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Figure 4. Jn Tower Tote                                                                             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                             

 

Figure 5. U Clap Tote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Figure 6. D Hubbard Tote

 

Specifics on the R Bacon jointer plane:

 

1. Maker:                              Rufus Bacon. Charlton and Sutton, MA.

2. AWP (4) mark:                  Only one mark is known

3. Length:                              22 ¾”

4. Maximum width:                2 ¾”

5. Overall height:                  6 1/2”

6. Wood:                               Birch

7. Chamfers:                         Flat, 5/16”

8. Chamfer Stops:                Slight step then tapered cut

9. Wedge:                             Round topped

10. Strike knob:                    Wood

11. Surface:                          Untouched

12. Mouth details:                 Rather non-descript chamfers on the cheek abutments

13. Layout marks:                 Wedge and tote mortise layout marks on top of body. Chamfer layout marks on body.

14. Iron:                                 2.05” wide, single, round topped P Law (crown). The iron may be a later period replacement.

 

                                                                               

 

Figure 7. The R Bacon toe.

Overall, this plane is in reasonably good untouched condition with original surfaces. It does not seem to have been abused. The sole remains flat and is not so worn that the mouth has opened up and the plane rendered un-usable. However it is a tool that has been used. The worn top chamfers and lighter coloration patterns in front of the escapement, figure 1, evidence the effects of handling and use. The same can be said of the tote with its’ repairs. It is rather pleasing to pick up a 200 year old tool and recognize such patterns left behind by a colonial craftsman.

 

There is one final note that adds a second dimension to this plane maker. This is in regard to a second known jointer plane. It is made of birch and is 24” long. This plane, in the Old Sturbridge Village collection, is a significantly later product based on the features.5 Specifically it has a centered tote and has heavy round chamfers…. features which point to a ca 1800-1820 date. It is possible that Rufus Sr. made this plane but it is more plausible that his son Rufus Jr. made the plane. Rufus Jr. (1794 – 1846) was born, lived and died in Sutton. Work benches, saws and planes were included in his inventory along with “Lumber for Plane woods and chisel handles.” Additionally, no other later planes have been recorded and there are no known transitional forms.  

 

I trust additional research will continue to be productive, adding to our knowledge about this early and talented craftsman.

 

(Addendum: Jointers by B Child (Woodstock, CT ?) and H Healy (Hezekiah in Dudley, MA and Harmon in Paxton, Leister and Beverly, MA) also have totes that match this jointer’s style.)

Notes.

 

  1. This article on the R Bacon jointer plane was originally published in The Chronicle in 2014. In that article, the identity of R Bacon was given as Richard Bacon. Subsequent research by Rick Slaney (2017) now points to Rufus Bacon.

  2. “A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planers” by Thomas Elliott, 5th Edition, 2018, pg 16.

  3. Rick Slaney correspondence covering his research efforts, provided under separate cover. Additional investigative work by Will Steere.

  4. Tote similarities recorded by Mike Humphrey in Plane Talk, Spring 1991, pg 312.

  5. Tom Elliott personal correspondence and AWP 5, page 16.

  6. Additional Tower and Clap bench plane information can be found in Sign of the Jointer volume 4-2, 2002, by Pat Lasswell.

 

Author.

 

Patrick Lasswell lives in Union Mill, NC and has studied / collected 18th century planes for over 40 years. He is one of four authors who share writing responsibilities for the “Plane Chatter” column of The Chronicle, EAIA. The original version of this article was published in 2014 in The Chronicle.

 

 

Additional R Bacon planes.

Molder photos courtesy Jim Bode.

Smoother with flat chamfers but somewhat later chamfer turnouts on ends and a somewhat later style of wedge abutment cheek chamfers.

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