The Society for the Preservation and Study of American Wooden Planes
WHO TAUGHT J. W. GIBBS?
Today something interesting happened. I always enjoy that, especially when that something concerns a tool, as this did. Since I’ve begun concentrating on wooden planes, my collection has begun to mushroom. Since I have not yet gotten around to converting the attic to living space, I’m losing ground, a situation in which I’ve surely got company. This, however, means that things are in a state of perpetual motion in a vain attempt to find a permanent home.
I was in the process of trying to consolidate and reorganize so that my Baldwin plows could be together. That meant moving a wedge-arm plow by J. W. Gibbs and replacing it with one by A. & E. Baldwin, the “D” mark. While holding both of them in my hands at the same time I was struck by the strong similarities. Could there be some connection?
The first step I took was to refresh my memory regarding Gibbs’ working years.It seems that Mr. Gibbs, a New York maker, began trading under his own stamp in 1829, the year of Enos Baldwin’s death, the year before the first “A & E” appeared. It seems that Gibbs produced planes both alone and in a partnership with David Cation at the same time. According to AWP III, Gibbs’ working years were 1829-33 and the partnership ran from 1830-34.This may require some clarification as well.
The first thing that caught my eye was that the decorative “O” rings on top of the arms were nearly identical, the difference being accountable to rougher installation on the Gibbs plane. Also, the skates are similar in size but also in the pattern in which they are shaped. The list continues to the thumb screw for depth adjustment, the depth shoe and the cover plate. Even the brass tips are close enough to have been identical originally. While this is intriguing, it must be considered that these similarities might be due to the two makers using parts from the same foundry.
If the similarities ended here, that would probably be the extent of the relationship. However, the list continues. Both planes have chamfers 9/16” long, extending front to back, although Gibbs’ are less pronounced. Each front chamfer ends in a 1/8” lamb’s tongue located within 1/8” of each other when measured from the top of the toe. The strongest similarity is seen when the two planes are examined from the rear, whereupon they become nearly indistinguishable. Each is rounded to accept the hand in a comfortable manner but so nearly identically that if it were possible to distinguish the makers, the question of shared training must be suspected.
There are differences, to be sure. Notable in this regard are that the skate on the Gibbs plane is slightly thinner, as is the body of the plane itself. Also, the cuts are a bit cruder at the front of the fence and inside the throat where the curl is ejected. Three possibilities come to mind here.
The first is that, if Gibbs was apprenticed to Enos Baldwin, he may have been released from his indenture early due to an untimely death, leaving his final training undone. Or perhaps, Austin and Eldridge released him in the belief that he was unnecessary or in fear that with their father gone, the business might falter and perhaps it did.
The next possibility is that young Gibbs, in a new business, was rushing in an attempt to produce enough planes to sustain himself.
Finally, there is the possibility that Gibbs was just not the craftsman that the Baldwins were. When all is said and done, the Baldwins produced some extremely well crafted planes for over a period of 43 years. Whatever the case, this would seem to require some further investigation.
Any takers??MARK R. THOMPSON
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