Jocasta

This New England wheel is a striking contrast to Scarlet, the wheel in the previous post.  Although both wheels likely were made in Vermont, they represent two ends of the decorative spectrum.  While Scarlet flaunts her beauty, with ornate turnings from spokes to legs, Jocasta is spare, with sleek lines and only subtle touches of adornment. 

Like many northern New England wheels, Jocasta shows the influence of the area’s Shakers, whose wheels popularized simple turnings and clean lines.  (see previous post “Patience”)

Beginning in the 1790s, the Shakers manufactured thousands of wheels at their communities in New Hampshire and in southern Maine.   Many non-Shaker wheel makers nearby were influenced by the understated Shaker style.  Traditional turnings in the Scottish or German style became toned down and smoothed out. Jocasta is a good example of that transition, with very Shaker-like lines, but retaining remnants of a Scottish heritage.

I bought Jocasta several years ago at an antique mall in Searsport, Maine, intrigued by her faint maker’s mark.  Mostly worn off and very hard to see under the store’s dim lights, it was not a mark that I recognized.  Looking closer when I brought her home, I thought the mark might be “Ramsey.”

I was familiar with wheel maker Hugh Ramsey, from Holderness, New Hampshire (1754-1831).  His father, James, lived in Londonderry, New Hampshire, a town settled by Scots-Irish who developed it into an early center of New England linen production.  (Feldman-Wood pp. 4-5)  Londonderry had numerous wheel makers, including the Gregg brothers, Daniel Miltimore, John Ferguson, and James Anderson (who, with his brothers, later founded the Shaker Alfred Lake spinning wheel business).  (Taylor pp. 2-4) The Londonderry wheels, some made as early as the 1750s and 60s, usually were 16-spoked and decoratively turned into heavy curves in the Scottish tradition.  (Taylor p. 3) Hugh Ramsey’s wheels retained the basic style of the Londonderry wheels, but his turnings were less ornate. 

Hugh Ramsey wheel

Not as clean and spare as Jocasta, but moving in that direction.  He did not sign his wheels with “Ramsey,” but rather his initials, “HR.”  (Feldman-Wood p. 5) 

Hugh Ramsey maker’s mark

While it was apparent that Jocasta was not made by Hugh Ramsey, I wondered if the maker might be related to him. 

I first looked for a Londonderry connection because Jocasta’s maidens resemble some of those on the Londonderry wheels.  Could Hugh’s father, James, have other wheel-making sons? 

I did some quick research and did not find any obvious wheel makers among Hugh’s many brothers.  Research was complicated by the fact that the family spelled their name as “Ramsey” or “Ramsay” with no apparent pattern. 

I abandoned the research for another day, which came about a year later, when I noticed Jocasta’s twin in the book of Joan Cummer’s wheel collection. It is wheel No. 59 in Cummer’s book, described as 18th or early 19th century and “a typical New Hampshire wheel of that time.” (Cummer pp. 134-35) Like Jocasta, it was marked “Ramsey.” Cummer’s Ramsey wheel was donated to the American Textile History Museum and put up for auction after the museum closed.  Fortunately, we have some photos of it from that auction. 

Joan Cummer’s wheel at auction

Unfortunately, I do not know who bought it.  I also found that Cummer’s wheel is referenced under wheel maker William Ramsey in Pennington & Taylor’s wheel maker list.  (Pennington & Taylor Appendix)  I did a quick online search on William Ramsey, found nothing helpful, and left it at that. 

Cummer’s Ramsey wheel

My sporadic, unproductive research was given a jump-start, however, when, a few months later, Gina Gerhard posted a James Ramsey great wheel on Facebook, with a photograph of the maker’s mark. 

Gina’s James Ramsey great wheel
James Ramsey mark on Gina’s wheel, the letter “I” was sometimes used for a “J” in wheel marks

Although the mark is worn on Jocasta,

what is left appears to be the same as the mark on Gina’s wheel, even down to the little bobble on the tail of the letter “S.” But the first letter is almost completely worn off of Jocasta. 

I think I can see an “I” with one of the double dots, as on Gina’s wheel. But it is hard to be sure.

To compound the puzzle, around this time, collector Craig Evans sent me a photo of a wheel that looks much like Jocasta, but marked with “JR.” 

“JR” marked wheel

Could James Ramsey have changed stamps at some point? Was there another J. Ramsey wheel maker in the family—or a different JR altogether? 

“JR” marked wheel

At this point, I wanted to find a confirmed James Ramsey flax wheel.  He was from St. Johnsbury, Vermont, so I wrote to their History & Heritage Center, but did not get a response.  For the third time, I abandoned the research—this time for about a year. 

I took it up again last month when I decided to do this blog post. 

Both Gina and Craig mentioned that wheel collector, Sue Burns, had donated a James Ramsey wheel to the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury.  I wrote to the museum and found that they had disbanded their wheel collection and had given the Ramsey wheel to one of three other museums, most likely the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center.   

So, I wrote to the History Center again, and this time immediately got a response.  It turns out that the only Ramsey wheel donated by Sue Burns was a great wheel, not a flax wheel.  

Without seeing a confirmed James Ramsey flax, I cannot be sure that this wheel was made by him. Nevertheless, given what we can see of the maker’s mark, it appears very likely that Jocasta was made by James Ramsey.    

Edward Fairbanks’ 1914 history of St. Johnsbury provides an interesting portrait of James Ramsey. He came to St. Johnsbury in 1817, where he took over a previously built grist mill.

“Ramsey was a character, a large, bony Scotchman, with a fund of droll stories which he delighted to tell to the neighbors and over which he would shake with honest laughter.”  (Fairbanks p. 146)

Ramsey settled his family near the mill, set up a carding machine in the home and, in 1820, with a partner, also built a sawmill. 

James Ramsey had served in the war of 1812, with the rank of Captain.  “Cap’t Ramsey as time went on built a new house.  He became a stiff anti-slavery man and his house was one of the underground railway stations, so called, where runaway slaves were taken in and helped on their way to Canada” (Fairbanks pp. 146-47)

During demolition of the home in the 1930s, a second windowless cellar was discovered under the regular cellar—an underground railroad stop that actually was underground.  (Caledonian Record article).

“Ramsey also became a spinning wheel manufacturer; his wheels for spinning domestic flax were considered a superior product; with oil stained red rims and cranks and spindles of best hard Swede stock.”  (Fairbanks pp. 146-47)  His advertisement shows the range of his products:

“Improved Patent Accelerating Wheel Head $1.13 each–Manufactured by James Ramsay–Cast Steel Set in Brass–Will Require Frequent Oiling–Spinning Wheels of every kind; Quilling Wheels, reels, shuttles,–And Spools may be had at the –Shop in St. Johnsbury, Caledonia County, Vermont–All warranted good or no sale.” (Caledonian Record article)

James died in 1860 in St. Johnsbury before seeing his youngest son, John, die in the Civil War in 1862. 

This glimpse into Ramsey’s life and personality made me even more curious as to where he came from and whether he was related to Hugh Ramsey. So, I took another stab at genealogical research on ancestry.com and this time hit pay dirt.  According to several family trees, Hugh Ramsey was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, to parents James and Elizabeth, alongside twelve other children. 

Hugh had seven brothers, named John, Robert, David, James Jr., Matthew, William, and Jonathan.  Hugh’s brother William (1750-1823), like Hugh, left Londonderry, and by 1800 or so was living in Vermont. 

William’s second son, James, was born in Londonderry in 1778, married Hepzibah Crossfield in 1805 in Surry, Vermont, and by 1817 moved to St. Johnsbury, where he and Hebzibah eventually had eight children and he made spinning wheels.  So, it turns out that James, our St. Johnsbury wheel maker, is Hugh Ramsey’s nephew. 

Interestingly, one genealogy showed James’ father, William, making spinning wheels in Walpole, New Hampshire, based on a listing in the U. S. Craftsperson files, which cited a 1797 advertisement selling wheels and seeking an apprentice. 

I have not been able to find any other evidence, however, that this William (James’ father) lived in Walpole, although it’s certainly possible. 

It is also possible that it was James’ brother, not his father, who made wheels in Walpole because The History of Walpole’s genealogy section lists William Ramsey, “wheelwright,” his wife, Elizabeth Hibbard, and their two oldest children as residents.  (Frizzell vol II, p. 237).

The William who married Elizabeth Hibbard was James’ brother, born in 1782.  If the 1797 date is accurate in the Craftsperson files, he would have been only 15 or 16 at the time, which seems quite young to setting up business and seeking an apprentice. 

So, my on-again, off-again research sparked by one flax wheel with a worn maker’s mark continues.  More research is needed to confirm that Jocasta was made by James Ramsey, to determine which William was making wheels in Walpole, and to figure out how the JR marked wheels fit into the picture.

While wheel maker research never seems to be completed—each discovery reveals new paths and wrinkles to explore–it also turns up unexpected treasures, such as this fascinating excerpt from the 1914 History of St. Johnsbury:

Spinning and Weaving

These were necessary accomplishments in the department of woman’s industry.  As soon as wool and flax could be raised on the clearings the spinning wheel was started and later the loom, and all the clothing of the settlement was of homespun made in the family kitchens.  After 1800 nearly every well to do family would have either wheel or loom or both, the girls became skilled spinners and the mothers wrought firmly woven fabrics on their heavy looms.

An average day’s work would be to card and spin four skeins of seven knots each, forty threads to a knot, two yards in length.  Flax spun on the little wheel would be two double skeins of fourteen knots each.  When enough was spun for a web of twenty yards it was boiled out in ashes and water and well washed; then spooled and warped ready to weave into cloth, for various garments.  Table cloths and towels were woven in figures, dress goods from flax, colored and woven in checks.

The volume to which this family industry attained is expressed in the returns given for the year 1810.  During that year, the women of St. Johnsbury turned off from their looms 16,505 yards of linen cloth, 9,431yards of woolen, 1797 yards of cotton cloth.  A total of 27,733 yards.”  (Fairbanks pp. 138-39) “After some years [in the 1820s and 30s] mills began to be set up in different parts of the town [for dressed cloth] … Many of the women however continued to manufacture their own cloth.”  (Fairbanks pp. 139-140)

With such a large volume of spinning, it is no wonder that so many antique wheels bear marks of heavy wear.  Jocasta was well used

and has been one of the very best wheels for spinning fine flax in my flock.

If anyone has more information on James Ramsey and his wheels, please let me know.

Thank you to Craig Evans (JR wheel), Gina Gerhard (Ramsey great wheel), and Krysten Morganti (Cummer wheel and Hugh Ramsey wheel) for allowing me to use their photographs.  Also, thanks to Gina for her research on James Ramsey.

The Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center, and the Old Stone House Museum & Historical Village all helped in my attempt to locate a confirmed James Ramsey wheel. I am very appreciative that they took the time to respond to my questions.

Edited to add on November 17, 2022: After I posted this, Vermont weaver, Justin Squizzero (The Burroughs Garret), sent me photos (below) of one of his wheels, which is unmarked and from a Vermont collector. While it has some minor differences from Jocasta and Craig’s “JR” wheel, it has some remarkable similarities. The legs, in particular, have the same turnings at the “ankles” and it has similar grooves down the sides of the table top. Those particular features set these three wheels apart from Shaker wheels, which have smooth legs and tables. Notably, the S. Cheney wheels also share the ankle turnings and table grooves (see previous post “Sweet Cicely and Chancey”). So, while these particular wheels at first glance almost appear to be Shaker wheels, they all share the same deviations from Shaker wheel design. That suggests some connection between these three wheels. Were they made by the same person at different times, by related wheel makers, or was there some geographical market influence over the non-quite-Shaker style? Fascinating. Thanks Justin.

Justin’s wheel
The drive wheel on Justin’s unmarked wheel
The maidens are similar, but different, on Justin’s wheel
The grooves down on the top and sides of the table are like Jocasta’s, but unlike Shaker wheels

References: 

Feldman-Wood, Florence, “Hugh Ramsey, Spinning Wheel Maker,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Issue $48, April 2005, pp. 4-5.

Taylor, Michael, “Londonderry, NH, Flax Wheels,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Issue #48, April 2005, pp. 2-4.

St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center, Caledonian Record newspaper, February 1, 2012. 

Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, All Sorts of Good Sufficient Cloth: Linen-Making in New England 1640-1860, Merrimac Valley Textile Museum, North Andover, Mass., 1980. 

Cummer, Joan, A Book of Spinning Wheels, Peter E. Randall, Portsmouth, N.H. 1984.

Fairbanks, Edward, The Town of St. Johnsbury Vermont, The Cowles Press, St. Johnsbury, VT 1914.

Frizzell, Martha McDanolds, A History of Walpole, New Hampshire, Vol. II, Vermont Printing Co. 1963.

Pennington, David & Taylor, Michael, Spinning Wheels & Accessories, Schiffer Publishing, Altglen, PA, 2004.

Ancestry.com for research on Ramsey genealogy

Jocasta’s legs

Scarlet

There are different types of challenges in determining who made specific antique wheels.  Some wheels, such as Woody Hill in the previous post, have a maker’s mark, but we cannot track down the maker.  Others, such as Scarlet, appear to be from a known maker, but have no maker’s mark. 

Only a handful of wheels have surfaced in the antique wheel world that look like Scarlet. Of those, most have the maker’s mark, “P Wood,” stamped on the table’s end grain.  

Phineas Wood’s makers mark, found on great wheel in Massachusetts

Try as I might to find remnants of a mark, it looks as if Scarlet’s end grain bears only paint.  

Yet this striking wheel, highly decorated and finely turned, shares so many characteristics with the marked wheels, it is reasonable to presume that she was made by the same wheel maker, Phineas Wood (1767-1847), of Dover, Vermont.    

Thanks to several researchers, we know something about Wood’s life.  Quite a few of his great wheels, both marked and unmarked, are still around.  In an article in Issue 90 of the Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Susan Hector traced her journey researching her P Wood great wheel.  (“Identifying a Phineas Wood Great Wheel,” pp. 4-5).  She confirmed that the “P Wood” mark belonged to Dover’s wheel maker, Phineas Wood. 

Dover–in southeast Vermont, north of Wilmington and west of Newfane–is best known these days as home to ski area, Mount Snow.  An early history noted that “the surface of the town is exceeding uneven, and a view from some of its highest hills present to the eye scenes both picturesque and grand,” with streams “which afford several small mill privileges,” and soil that “is hard of cultivation, yet some good crops are produced thereon, and the hillsides afford excellent grazing.” (Vermont Historical Gazetteer, “Dover” pp. 337-356). 

“M.O. Howe’s house interior with spinning wheel and trunks” Newfane, Vermont 1913, Peter C. Thayer photograph(the wheel appears to be a Phineas Wood wheel)

Phineas came to Vermont from Massachusetts, where he was born in Mendon in 1767, the son of Solomon Wood (who died in Uxbridge in 1820).  Phineas’ younger brother, Obadiah Wood, born in 1773, also made spinning wheels and chairs. “After the establishing of factories along the streams and the use of power in making furniture, [Obadiah] went to work for various shops in the wood working business. It is claimed that he was the first bobbin maker in this country. His business grew to extensive proportions, and he had orders from the South American countries and other distant points. He established a large and prosperous industry in making bobbins.” (Historic Homes and Institutions of Worcester County, p. 67). Obadiah “was largely a self-educated man, well read, and holding well-considered but firm opinions on matters of public policy. He was a skillful mechanic and sagacious business man” and a member of the Society of Friends.  Id. 

Phineas, like Obadiah, appears to have been a skillful mechanic, with an inclination toward business. Phineas was married in Mendon in 1791, to Chloe Hazeltine. Chloe’s father moved to Wardsboro, Vermont (near Dover) around 1795 and Phineas shows up in Vermont on the 1800 census. So he likely moved to Dover, or nearby, between 1791 and 1800. In about 1820, when he was in his 50s, Phineas set up a carding machine in the “Goose City” part of Dover, raised geese, and established a goose-down factory where ten “female employees plucked geese and made their feathers into down-filled mattresses and pillow.” (Historical Gazetteer, “Manufacturers;” SWS, Issue #90, p. 5, citing Deerfield Valley News article) 

“Interior of house with spinning wheel” Newfane, Vermont, 1909, Porter C. Thayer photograph

Phineas Wood’s great wheels are known for their fine workmanship and attention to detail, although the details often differ from wheel to wheel.  Some, such as Susan’s, have flat-topped double upright spindle supports.  Many of his great wheels, however, have unusual round-topped double upright supports, such as the one pictured below and another described in Grace Hatton’s blog here: http://antique-spinning-wheels.blogspot.com/2011/06/p-wood-great-wheel.html.

P. Wood wheel sold in Omaha, Nebraska

While there are quite a few examples of Wood’s great wheels, very few of his flax wheels have come to light. The following four photos are of a marked P Wood flax wheel for sale a few years ago, which were posted on Ravelry.

Perhaps the best example, though, is one that turned up in the Midwest–a marked wheel in even more pristine condition than Scarlet. It is through this wheel’s owner, Julie, that I learned on Ravelry about Phineas Wood and his wheels.

Julie’s wheel
The mark on Julie’s wheel

As these wheels show, Phineas Wood approached his flax wheels with creativity and an emphasis on beauty. They must have been time-consuming to make. Presumably their price reflected all that work, which makes me wonder how many were made, who bought them, and if they were prized for their looks as much as their spinning.

While we cannot be absolutely sure that Scarlet was made by Phineas Wood, her turnings, spokes, upright supports, bearings, and distaff all point in that direction.  Like the marked Wood wheels, she has 16 beautifully turned spokes. 

Each spoke has a delicate tiny cut-out at the end where it fits onto the drive wheel rim. 

Each slightly different in size, depending on how the spoke hits the rim edge. 

The rim was constructed in four parts, each with a V-shaped join. 

Scarlet’s red paint is a bit of a mystery.  Some Wood wheels have red paint or remnants of red paint, but Scarlet’s paint looks relatively new. 

Perhaps someone painted over original paint years after the wheel was made. 

Interestingly, the edge of the drive wheel, where the band runs, is a dark reddish color, but does not really appear to have been painted.

There is some wear to the paint around the MOA collar,

and the dark stains running down the wheel uprights are usually a sign that grease was used for lubricating the axle.

Although the stain is more of a discoloration of the wood than a build up of layers of grease seen on many wheels.

The metal axle bearings are in good shape, although the axle alignment is askew, with these leather washers added by someone before me

and this bit of leather on the bearing added by me, to bring the wheel into alignment. 

A feature I have not noticed on other wheels is metal bearings in the leg holes for the treadle bar pins. 

A brilliant touch. 

The treadle and bars look immaculate, with the decorative striping,

even down to flourishes at the treadle corners, showing no wear. 

The treadle bar is concave to the left of the treadle. 

In some wheels, the treadle bar is actually worn to a curve there as the result of a spinner treadling with both feet.  But in this case, the decorative stripes on the curve are not worn, so it appears that the concave portion was part of the treadle bar design.  

Scarlet’s tension knob and feet are a different style than those on other Wood wheels—rounder and shorter. Her overall turnings,

however, are consistent with the other wheels,

ornate, with decorative lines on every possible curve. 

Perhaps the finest features, to me, are the upright supports—one on each side. 

They arc down to the table, in a curve that just hugs the plump round upright turns.

Spinning wheel as sculpture. 

Scarlet’s cage distaff also seems to match those on the marked wheels. 

At first, I thought it was a later addition,

because it was in such good condition and the center disc is made of wood that has an oddly modern feel to it. 

But, the striping looks original and matches the rest of the wheel. 

The horizontal distaff support arm has two holes in it, likely for a bobbin holder. 

I am not sure, but I do not think that any of the marked wheels have this feature. The far side maiden is held in place with a peg, but the spinner side is un-pegged, which leaves it free to turn for removal of the flyer.

The ornate turnings on the distaff support and maidens, again, reflect Wood’s style. 

As does the spinner-side flyer bearing. 

A laminated two-piece leather bearing,

with rivets, it is cut and secured in the back exactly like Wood’s marked wheels. 

Here is a photograph of Julie’s marked wheel for comparison of the spinner-side flyer bearing.

Julie’s wheel

In contrast with the rest of the wheel, the flyer shows more wear,

so may not be original to this wheel. 

The bobbin is missing the flyer end portion. 

What is most interesting about the flyer, though, are the metal protrusions just to the left of the orifice hole on each side. 

There are thread wear marks running from the orifice hole along these metal pieces. 

Could the metal act as guides, allowing the spinner to run the thread along them directly onto the far hooks of the flyer—a more direct path than running along the whole row of hooks?  Or would the yarn have bumped up too much against the missing bobbin end?

The yarn follows the wear path along the metal perfectly. It is only speculation on my part, but without the spinners who used these wheels to teach us, we have to learn from wear marks. 

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this. 

We are fortunate to know so much about Phineas Wood and his wheels.  But there is still so much we do not know. Are there any wheels attributed to Obadiah? Did the brothers make similar wheels? Did they ever work together? Did Phineas make wheels in Massachusetts, with or without Obadiah? When did Phineas actually move to Vermont? Why did he move there? Did Obadiah mark his wheels? So many questions.   

I am very grateful to Julie and Miranda for their research on Phineas Wood and his wheels. Special thanks to Miranda for finding the Porter Thayer photos. And thank you to Julie for allowing me to use photos of her wheel and her research into Phineas and his brother Obadiah. For those interested, there is more information on Phineas Wood on Ravelry in the Antique Spinning Wheel group.

References:

Hector, Susan M., “Identifying a Phineas Wood Great Wheel,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Issue 90, Oct 2014, pp. 4-5.

Crane, Ellery Bicknell, Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts, with a History of Worcester Society of Antiquity (Volume 2) online.

Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Vol. V, The Towns of Windham County, Collated by Abby Maria Hemenway, published by Mrs. Carrie E. H. Page, Brandon, VT 1891.

Ancestry.com for family trees and records on Phineas and his Hazeltine in-laws.

Woody Hill and Rose

A few years ago, I wrote about two distinctive flax wheels, Julia and Jerusha.  They are part of an instantly recognizable family, with vase-turned legs, painted rims (usually), star/sunburst/flower stamps, secondary upright supports, and distinctive chip carving.  Speculation was that these wheels were made in Connecticut or Rhode Island.  Some are unmarked, some marked with the initials JC, IC, or SC.

Jerusha and Julia

I am besotted with these wheels and always on the lookout for them.  So, my eyes lit up when one came up for auction last September in Rhode Island.  The auction was a benefit for the Babcock-Smith House Museum in Westerly.  (https://www.babcocksmithhouse.org/).  I thought perhaps the museum would have some background on the wheel, but put off contacting them because I was busy and did not have high hopes of getting a response. 

Auction wheel

I finally shot off an email about a week before the auction.  What I thought would be a fruitless email turned out to yield a rich harvest.  We still do not know who made these wheels, but what a pleasure the hunt has been.

with a “JC” mark

The museum referred me to one of their trustees, Ellen Madison, who, despite knowing little about spinning wheels and having a packed schedule preparing for the auction, unhesitatingly gave her time and attention to my questions.  Ellen found not just one, but two, wheels from the museum’s attic coming up for auction. 

Second auction wheel from attic, for which someone had made a new distaff post

The one in the auction photo had a “JC” stamp and the other “IC.” 

with an “IC” mark

When I explained to Ellen that I “rescued” old wheels, she mentioned her family’s great wheel for which she wanted to find a new home.  When she sent me photos of her wheel, I was intrigued. 

Ellen’s great wheel

It was four-legged and tensionless–unusual features for New England great wheels.   My interest in the wheel skyrocketed, however, when Ellen wrote that her brother had found initials on the wheel–not just any initials, but a “JC” stamp. 

Could this great wheel be by the same maker as the flax wheels?  At this point, I decided that I needed to go down to the auction myself and bring home Ellen’s great wheel to add to my collection. 

The North Stonington great wheel

Knowing I would be in Rhode Island, I checked out wheels for sale and did a double take when I saw a great wheel in North Stonington, Connecticut—a town bordering Westerly–that looked identical to Ellen’s.   It also had a “JC” maker’s mark.  Things were getting exciting.  On the day of the auction, a friend, Sue, joined me and Ellen kindly showed us the wheels in the Babcock-Smith house. 

Babcock-Smith House great wheel, unmarked

There were two wheels on display–an unmarked great wheel looking just like the two “JC” wheels, and an unmarked flax wheel with a family resemblance to the ones from the attic, but with simpler maidens and spokes. 

Babcock-Smith House flax wheel
with stars but no maker’s mark

We then perused the auction lots and, to top off the house’s wheel treasure trove, I found a reel with a “JC”—a huge surprise since reels are not often marked. 

I bid on the two flax wheels for my friend, Tina, who, like me, is fascinated with these wheels.  Sadly, I was outbid, but did win the reel.  So, I set out for home the next morning with Ellen’s great wheel, now named “Woody Hill,” and the reel, which I named “Rose.” In the meantime, Sue picked up the North Stonington wheel for Tina.  Some months later, Ellen contacted me about a gorgeous wheel that she had spotted at a friend’s house, marked “SC.” 

Another wheel from Westerly

Her friend’s father was a third-generation scrap metal and junk dealer in Westerly, who had an eye for antiques.  He had picked up the wheel years earlier, likely in Westerly.  When Ellen’s friend decided to sell the wheel, it happily found a home with Tina. 

with an “SC” mark

This cluster in Westerly and North Stonington–three great wheels, four flax wheels, and one winder—could not be coincidental, could it?  Eight within a ten-mile radius.  It seemed as if we were homing in on the area where the wheels had been made.  Surely we could track down the maker or family of makers.  Ha. 

Woody Hill’s beautiful hub and bearing

I, and others, spent the next months pursuing every imaginable avenue.  There were plenty of likely candidates, namewise, around Westerly and North Stonington—Clarkes, Chapmans, Congdons, Churches, Culvers, Chesebroughs, and more.  Some had ties with the Babcock family, some were weavers, some carpenters, but I could not find any definitive links to spinning wheels.  I read and read about early Rhode Island, searching for clues. 

from the backside

I dove into different aspects of Rhode Island history, learning about its furniture, weavers, coastal trade, plantation system and slavery, town histories, and early industrialization of spinning and weaving.  With Ellen’s help, I tracked down people who might provide leads. I contacted museums, historical societies, authors, professors.  All fascinating, but I have not been able to find our wheel makers.

well-pitted axle

I thought the wheels themselves might provide clues.  The flax wheels do not look like other New England wheels.  They are more festive, colorful, and elaborate.  In fact, the decorative stamps and secondary upright supports running to the legs are features associated with Pennsylvania wheel makers.  Similarly, the great wheels do not resemble other New England wheels.  With the exception of a small cluster of wheels from the Narragansett, Rhode Island area, four-legged wheels are rare here.  

They are usually found in Canada, and very occasionally in the south.  Even more unusual is the lack of a tension system, something uncommon even in the south. 

No mechanism for adjusting the drive band’s tension

But we know that the great wheels have been in the same families for generations and likely were made in the area. 

The spindle support is wedged in place under the table

Were the wheel makers involved in Rhode Island’s vibrant coastal trade and influenced by wheels in other areas?  And, when were the wheels made? 

There has been some thought that the flax wheels may have been produced during the nation’s centennial in the 1870s.  The decorative nature of the wheels supports that theory.  But most of the flax wheels show heavy use, which likely would not have been the case for centennial celebration wheels, especially in Rhode Island, where industrialized spinning overtook home spinning fairly early in the 1800s. 

Also, the great wheels in particular, look much older than the 1870s.  My thinking, based on the wear, the wheels’ histories, and the area history, is that the wheels likely date from the late 18th century to early 19th century—but it’s just speculation at this point.

We are fortunate to have some history for Ellen’s wheel, Woody Hill.  Ellen lives on land that had an 1857 house belonging to Abby Burdick, one of Ellen’s ancestors.  In 1819, Gideon Burdick, Abby’s grandfather, was granted a pension for his service in the War of the Revolution, and listed “2 old spinning wheels” as part of his household goods when applying for the pension. 

Could those wheels have been passed on to Abby (who lived until 1906) and could one be Woody Hill?  In any case, by the early 1900s, Woody Hill was hanging from the rafters of a corncrib on the same land, then belonging to Ellen’s grandfather. 

The corncrib in the background–Woody Hill’s home for decades

In Ellen’s memory, and the memory of her aunt, born in 1908, the wheel was never taken down from its perch in the rafters.  It even survived the legendary 1938 Hurricane, when the corncrib was blown aloft–picked up off its granite posts and landing several feet away.  In the 1970s, Ellen rescued the wheel from its corncrib perch when she built her home. Her brother made a bat head for it out of an oar

and her father did an expert job at replacing one of the spokes.  

The replacement spoke–beautifully made

It graced her antique-filled house for decades and now I am honored that her family has entrusted me with this wonderful wheel. If only I could figure out who made it.

So many questions remain unanswered.  We do not even know if the great wheels were made by the same “JC” as the flax wheels. 

Rose’s mark

While it appears that the JC mark is the same, at first look, I would not have guessed that the great wheels were made by the same hand as the flax wheels.  In contrast with the flax wheels’ elegant turned legs and spokes, the great wheel legs are simply chamfered.  

There are no decorative stamps and the spokes are plain. 

The wheel and spindle supports are turned but are huge and heavy, seemingly built for strength rather than beauty. 

Their wood is fairly coarse grained,

possibly chestnut, with beautiful oak on the drive wheel rim.

In looking closer at Woody Hill and Rose, however, similarities with the flax wheels start to emerge. Rose, the reel, seems almost like a transition piece.

Her table and legs are much like those on the great wheels—almost rustic in feel. 

But the upper part was crafted with great precision,

attention to detail,

and an eye for beauty.

There are dark decorative bands,

similar to those on the flax wheels, and traces of dark paint (much like the paint on Jerusha) applied selectively,

The lower half of the arm bars were painted with a dark paint
while the upper side was left unpainted

which must have made a lovely contrast with the wood.

painted thread bar

The reel has a delicate, finely-made handle for turning the arms.

As with the great wheels, the uprights extend way below the table, with large wedges holding them in place.

All have grooves running down the sides of the tables.

Woody Hill’s table grooves
Rose’s grooves
Julia’s grooves

The reel and flax wheels have slightly chamfered underside edges, while Woody Hill’s are pronounced.

Chamfering on Woody Hill

All have some form of chip carving on the ends, with variations.

Whoever the maker was, Woody Hill was made to last.

Huge wedge for the wheel support

Aside from some wood-boring beetle damage, its massive posts and sturdy legs survived decades in the corn crib quite nicely.

A few spokes were loose,

with extra nails on the rim and hub showing previous tightening repairs.

All it took to get it spinning was stuffing some wool around the clattery spokes and finding a bat head that fit.

In no time, Woody Hill was spinning again, with a smooth, easy cadence. Although the posts are massive, the wheel itself is not that large, with a 43 inch rim diameter and relatively small table, 5 3/4 inches wide and 41 1/2 inches long. Its size, weight, and four-legged stance give it a sturdiness that provides a good anchor for spinning.

This is no tippy, band-throwing, temperamental wheel, but a solid legacy of endurance and hard work from those who made and used it.

I am taking a break on researching these wheels for now.  Perhaps the next step is a visit to the Rhode Island Historical Society.  I would like to read the Westerly store accounts of Rowse Babcock, which are housed there.  In the 1790s, he was a commission agent for textile outwork, exchanging store goods for spinning and weaving.  Perhaps he also sold spinning wheels.

Thank you so much to Ellen Madison for her interest, enthusiasm, generosity, photographs, and help on this journey.  

Tuulikki

While many Finnish wheels found in North America, including those in the two previous posts, likely were made in the 1900s, occasionally some older ones come along. 

This curvaceous green beauty, which I found in Pennsylvania, was probably made in the mid- to late-1800s. 

There does not seem to be any dispute that this style wheel, with its distinctive treadle design and abundant curves, is Finnish, but its specific origin remains unclear. 

One advertisement, with a wheel marked 1855, indicated that the wheel was from the southeast coast of Finland, but I have not been able to confirm that. 

Minneapolis Craigslist wheel, painted 1855 on table

Although several of these wheels have been posted on the Finnish Rukkitaivas Facebook group, so far, as far as I know, no one has identified a maker or region where they were made. 

As with many other Finnish wheels, these wheels have double arched uprights and treadles set into the treadle bar, rather than pivoting from the legs. 

On mine, there are metal pins attaching the uprights to the arch, on the spinner-side only. 

The drive wheels have from 16 to 20 delicate-looking spokes, giving them an almost spider-web look. 

What makes these wheels stand out most, however, is the overall curvaceousness. 

From the bulbous mother-of-all and legs

to the swooping treadle triangle embellished with curls,

there is not a straight line to be seen. 

Even the tension knob looks pregnant. 

The treadle itself is an unusual exaggerated shape,

with chamfered edges underneath. 

The sculptured treadle pad is set into a base with mortise and tenon joints.

That base, which has the treadle pins, is then set into the spinner-side treadle bar, which extends between the legs.

The recess for the tension-end treadle pin is supposed to have a small wooden piece and wooden pin, covering the treadle pin, which on my wheel is missing. 

Curved bars run between all of the legs, with the feet set into the corners. 

While most of the dozen or so photos I have seen of this style wheel closely resemble Tuulikki, there are some variations. The 20-spoke wheels seem to be a little larger than those with 16 spokes and have metal wires running from the table to the wheel uprights, similar to those on Impi, in the previous post. 

Most are painted, including the underside.  Some have painted dates or initials, and some are slightly more embellished.  I suspect they were all made by the same wheel maker, or perhaps a family of wheel makers, but, on the other hand, this could have been a regional style used by several wheel makers. 

As with most wheels from the mid-1800s, Tuulikki has seen a lot of use.  The wear on the treadle is interesting.  The treadle bar is very worn down, with two concave areas (more pronounced on the right side). 

Where the treadle meets the bar, there is little wear, with wear showing again on the treadle before the swoop.  It could be that the treadle is a replacement, but I have seen other wheels with a similar wear pattern.  Interestingly, this Finnish treadle design creates a pivot of two pieces of wood that tends to pinch the foot when spinning barefoot. Which leads me to wonder if it was unusual to spin barefoot in Finland. On this wheel, the wear pattern could be explained by a spinner wearing shoes or boots with small heels neatly resting on the treadle bar, with an instep high enough to span the pinch-zone–an area with no wear–and then wear again where the ball of the foot rested on the treadle.  

In any case, there is no question that this wheel was heavily used.  There was one large shim on an upright when I bought it. 

Closer inspection showed that every upright was heavily shimmed in the past–all broken off through time.

I have placed two clarinet reed shims of my own. 

There is paper shimming under the collar and multiple pegs in the maidens,

all designed to keep the wheel tight and in working order. 

The flyer is beautiful, but was in rough shape when I got it, missing an arm and a good part of the bobbin.

It has some fluting on the orifice and wear marks on the mandrel. After an expert repair, it is back to work.

The axle bearings are thin metal, a bit crumbled,

with unpainted wooden keeper screws for the axle, providing the paint/no paint contrast that I love on so many Scandinavian wheels. 

The top of the footman matches the keeper screws–a beautiful feature.  

So much thought went into this wheel that I found it strange that the leg by the footman had its ample curve sheared off to make room for the footman. Again, this may be a sign that the treadle is a replacement, and slightly bigger than the original (it does look larger than the treadle on the Minneapolis wheel shown earlier). 

The axle was loose in the hub when I bought it, but, with expert direction, I was able to do a shim repair myself. Not something I want to mess with very often.  

The distaff shaft extends way below with table.

Tuulikki came without the top part of the distaff, so I bought a truncheon style one that is a good match. 

I was surprised to find that the top of the distaff unscrews

and the outer portion can be removed from the core. 

I do not know if that helps for dressing the distaff or if there is some other reason for this feature. If any one knows, please let me know.

This wheel was created with a real eye toward beauty. But she is a great spinner, too, and has been maintained, with various fixes, as a working machine. I am privileged to be part of the chain of people who have worked on and spun with this special wheel.

Kikkan

The most well-known and recognizable Finnish spinning wheels are the painted Kiikkalainens.  They are utterly unique to a specific place in southwestern Finland, Kiikka, located on the river Kokemäenjoki. 

From the mid-1800s until the mid 1900s, Kiikka was famous for its spinning wheels.  Most Kiikkalainens that we recognize today are painted red and black, decorated with ribbon-candy-like undulating golden lines down the sides and top of the red table

and around the wheel rim.

In contrast, the flyer assembly, collar, hub,

and upright arches

are painted with reddish-brown tiger-like stripes over a cream-colored background, giving a bit of a faux grain effect. 

There must be a fascinating explanation for the origin of the color and design scheme, but, with my non-existent Finnish language skills, I have not been able to discover it yet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, “Impi,” Sauli Rajala started a Facebook group dedicated to Kiikka wheels, called “Rukkitaivas, Spinning Wheel Heaven, Kiikka.”  His group has contributed enormously to our knowledge in this country of Finnish wheels. 

Because these wheels were most often marked with paper labels, most of which have fallen off or been worn away, it has been difficult to trace the makers.  The most common name found on labels seemed to be “Aaro Kaukonen,” who was making wheels well into the mid 1900s. 

Even the wheel rim groove is feather-painted

Aaro Kaukonen’s grandson, Velli-Matti Kaukonen recently wrote a book “Kiikan Kehruurukkitehdas ja Jokisivun Saha,” about Aaro Kaukonen’s “Spinning Machine Factory.”  From two articles posted on Sauli’s site, it is my understanding that Aaro Kaukonen was taught to make wheels by his father-in-law, Kalle Ulven.  Kalle was from the most famous wheel making family in the area. 

Their wheel dynasty started with two brothers, Antti (Ant) Kynnysmaa and his brother, Joseph.  The brothers started making wheels in the 1820s and became more and more well known. 

In 1845, Antii received a certificate as a master wheelmaker and the brothers changed their last name to Ulven (also spelled Ulvein and Ullven) (this is very similar to the story of the Rantila family in the previous post, “Impi”). 

An innovator, when Joseph bought his wheels to market, he designed a trailer for travel, with a small cabin for sleeping.  At the beginning, Joseph’s wheels were unpainted, but he later painted them green (if I am understanding the translation correctly). 

I have not found any information on when the black and red version emerged, however.  Joseph died in 1882, but his sons Semmi, Kalle, and Herman continued as wheel makers. 

A wheel made by Joseph in the early 1880s (upper left), and Kalle Ulven working on wheels (upper right)

Kalle’s daughter (I believe it was this Kalle, but may have been a generation later on), Marta, married Aaro Kaukonen and, through her family’s teaching, Kaukonen became a wheelmaker.  We also see labels for Emil Ulven and Wilho Ulven (Ullven), who may have been the next generation. 

We know that Auro Kaukonen made his wheels in a small “factory” but whether he worked directly with the Ulvens, I do not know.  This 1939 article about the Ulvens and Kaukonen is entitled “The Only Spinning Wheel Factory in the World.”

I am slowly working my way through translating it and suspect that it has the answer to many of my questions.  If anyone reading this blog post speaks Finnish, perhaps they could help with some translation.  

While there was obviously a large output of “factory” wheels, the red and black wheels were not all the same.  There is a huge variety in construction details and paint patterns. 

Even individual wheel makers were not turning out cookie-cutter wheels. 

For example, several wheels labeled “Herman Ulven” have showed up, and each is different.  On the other hand, the flyer assemblies on the red and black Kiikkalainens seem to be quite uniform. 

Perhaps there was some uniformity in flyers so that they could be interchangeable, but individuality in design and decoration. 

My wheel has no label, so I can only guess its age.  It looks older than the shiny wheels from the mid- 1900s and has seen a lot of use, especially showing wear on the treadle. 

I bought it at an auction about an hour from my home on mid-coast Maine.  There is a good-sized Finnish population in the mid-coast, descending from immigrants who settled here from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. 

Thread, probably linen, wrapped around the maiden to tighten the joint

I like to think that my wheel was brought over by one of those immigrants in the early 1900s.  But that is only speculation.  

It is a wonderful spinner–much like the Quebec wheels made during the same time period—with a large drive wheel designed for speed and efficiency.  The drive wheel is made with six joined pieces, much like Impi’s wheel in the previous post. 

Like many Finnish wheels, the treadle pins are set into the treadle bar rather than going directly into the legs. 

And the spinner-side feet emerge below the treadle bar. 

The double uprights are topped with arches and the axle is held in place with wooden screws. 

There are a few paint drips on my wheel, but those are its only flaw. 

It is lightweight, an excellent fast spinner, and brightens every room it is in.  I have only started to learn about these wheels and will update this post as I learn more. 

The photographs and family history of the Ulvens came from this article: 23.8.1824 “KIIKASSA, KYNNYSMAAN TORPASSA ALKOI RUKKIVARVARIEN AIKAKAUSI,” by Jaana Härmä, about the history of spinning wheel making in Kiikka, which was posted in the Rukkitaivas group on Facebook.

Impi

This beautiful wheel is Finnish.  In fact, even though there is no maker’s mark, I know with certainty who made it.  That is a rarity in the wheel world.  I found it for sale on Cape Cod.  Despite the fact that it had been in the seller’s home all his life, he knew nothing about its history. 

Because the wheel looked Scandinavian, I asked him about his family background.  Sure enough, they are Scandinavian, mostly Norwegian, he thought.  When I got the wheel home, I realized that it was in pristine condition—probably never used for spinning. 

In addition, it looked relatively new compared to my other wheels, most of which were made in the 1800s.  It seemed likely that the wheel was made in the 1900s, which made we wonder if it was Finnish, because Finland, like Quebec, had significant spinning wheel production in the early to mid-1900s. 

Fortunately, there is a Finnish wheel collector on Facebook, Sauli Rajala, with a page called “Rukkitaivas ‘Spinning Wheel Heaven’ Kiikka,” in which he photographs wheels that he collects in and around the Kiikka region of Finland.  As of March 2022, he has rescued more than 1600 wheels.  They are so abundant in his area, which was once a thriving center of wheel making, that they are often given away.  One day I saw a wheel on his page that looked just like mine. 

He knew the area in which he had found it, but no other details.  A few months later, another similar wheel showed up, but no one seemed to know anything definitive about where the wheels were made.  Of course, I may have missed huge chunks of information since I speak no Finnish and Facebook translations range from hilarious to vaguely obscene.  I’ve come to understand some of the wonky translations, such as “Rukki,” the Finnish word for spinning wheel, which translates as “rye” and “lantern” is the translation for flyers. 

Translated posts usually go something like these:  “The roller has to spin an obstacle with a krake and a lantern in the leather earrings,” and “the between the thighs must not be at all tight so that bike is not an obstacle.”  Translations are littered with “bitches,” “wheelbarrows,” and “the Polish side.” Let’s just say that the translation feature is usually more laugh-inducing than illuminating.  So, although I was fairly confident this wheel was Finnish, that was the extent of my knowledge. 

Until recently, when someone posted in the Rukkitaivis Facebook group a wheel similar–but slightly different–than mine, with the information that her aunt said it had come from central Finland.  I posted a photo of my wheel asking if she thought it would have come from the same region.  In response, I was amazed to hear from Marja Tolonen, who said that my wheel had been made by her grandfather, Hannes Rantila, who shipped a batch of wheels to America for sale in 1922. 

Marja’s father, Edvard, grandfather, Hannes, and great-grandfather, Sakari Rantila, all made spinning wheels in Manniskylä, Keuruu.  Sakari started making wheels in 1845.  He could read and write and kept a record of all the wheels and other turnings he sold. 

Sakari’s son, who was Marja’s grandfather, Hannes, continued Sakari’s work.  Hannes had five sons, all of whom made wheels.  Two of them, Nikolai and Gideon, stayed home and worked as carpenters through their lives, including working on renovations of the old church in Keuruu.  I assume it is this church, famous in the area, originally built in the 1750s.

This link has photographs of the incredible painted woodwork inside: Travels in Finland and abroad. Nikolai lived to age 94 and continued in his old age to make small wooden objects.  Marja shared this article with the Rukkitaivas group, from a 1958 Pellervo magazine in Finland. 

The picture in the article shows the Rantilas’ house, where her father was born and the wheels were made.  The man showing the wheel was Nikolai. 

The woman spinning was Gideon’s wife, Auna. Unfortunately, the text is blurry, but Sauli and Marta provided the key information from it. This is a wheel made by Hannes in 1931, which appears to be identical to mine, except for the stain color.

The Rantilas were not the only wheel makers in Keuruu.  Another branch of the family also made wheels.  Nikolai’s grandfather, whom I believe was named Adam (Aatami), had a brother, Samuel Kingelin, who along with his son, Samuel Saukkomäki, also made wheels. The wheels were quite similar, with just slight differences in their decoration.

With all of the hours I spend researching spinning wheels, following fruitless leads and hitting dead ends, it felt slightly surreal to have this rich trove of wheel history fall into my lap as the result of a single facebook query.  And it adds a whole layer of richness to spinning on wheel when you know something of its maker and history.    

While I cannot be absolutely certain that my wheel was part of the 1922 batch that Hannes sent to America, chances are good that it was.  My wheel looks as if it was never touched for spinning, but always used as decoration.  That makes sense, since hardly anyone still spun on wheels in the early 1900s in this country.  It seems more likely that someone would have bought one of Hannes’ shipped wheels once it was here, rather than taking the effort and expense to personally ship the wheel over from Finland.  But, however it arrived, it has been lovingly taken care of since then. 

I would love to know the reason Hannes Rantila marketed these wheels in America in 1922.   Were they a decorative Scandinavian touch for homes at the end of the Arts and Crafts movement?   A taste of a Carl Larsson interior, perhaps?  Because, if ever a wheel elevates traditional craftsmanship to art, this one does. 

It has a graceful, low-to-the-ground stance, with scooped cutouts under both sides of the table.

The far side cutout has the remains of what looks like a paper label.  The stain finish is uneven, so I wonder if the wheels were shipped here unfinished, to be stained or painted as the customer desired.  Turnings, angles, and curves are juxtaposed into a happy web of parts. 

The large treadle has curves and swirls cut into the edges

and is attached with a swooping bar,

both features found in earlier Finnish wheels. 

The turnings on the maidens and spokes are harmonious and eye-catching. 

The spokes are pegged through the drive wheel rim, which has a wide single groove for the drive band. 

The drive wheel is constructed of six joined pieces with radial edges. 

The uprights have deep cuts for the axle,

capped with decorative pegged inserts on both sides. 

Thick guy wires run from table to uprights—again a characteristic of some older Finnish wheels. 

The upright ends are threaded.

One of the most interesting features of this spinning wheel is that it is designed to accommodate two different sized flyer assemblies.  

Some Scandinavian wheels accomplish this by having two-sided leather bearings, which can hold different sized flyers on either side of the maidens.  Others have a spinner-side maiden that slides back and forth on the mother-of-all, so that shorter and longer flyer assemblies can be switched out.  This design is a little different. 

There are two holes on top of each other in the spinner-side leather bearing and two looped bearings on the far side. 

The leathers are sheared flush with the maidens in the back and the double-holed one has two small wooden pegs securing it through the side of the maiden.  

There is an extra hole in the mother-of-all so that the spinner-side maiden can be moved closer to the other maiden. 

That maiden has a small, easily removable peg in the bottom. 

This design allows the spinner to readily change from a large bobbin and flyer assembly to a smaller one.  My wheel came with only one flyer.  It is humongous. 

I cannot imagine spinning flax on it, so I am assuming that the large flyer was intended for wool spinning and a smaller one for flax spinning.  It is also possible that the larger flyer assembly was used for plying.  Whatever the intent, it is a nice, ingenious set-up. 

The crowning touch, of course, is the distaff.  It tops the wheel like a perfect Christmas tree. 

The wheel is just so over-the-top pretty, when I brought it home I was little apprehensive about how it would spin.  I knew nothing about the maker then, so feared it might have been made more for decoration than for spinning.  It only took a few treadles, however, to realize that this wheel was a true Finnish production wheel, designed to spin with ease and speed. 

It is pure pleasure to look at and to use.  Thank you Hannes. 

And great thanks–kiitos–to Marja and Sauli.  I apologize if I muddled any of the details in translation. 

Update, March 23, 2022:

I learned a little more from Marja about the Rantilas.  She told me that Hannes Rantila won a First Prize for his wheels at the 1922 Exhibition in Tampere, Finland.  I found a piece describing the Tampere Exhibition: “Plans had also been made to organise the 12th general agricultural fair in Tampere in 1922. Eventually that fair merged with the third national fair, albeit in a truncated form. The architectural design for the fair was commissioned from architect Alvar Aalto. The fair exhibited mainly products from the wood industry and the home industry as well as the machining industry. The audience could also see competitions related to craftsmanship and exhibitions ranging from carving a shaft of an axe to patching a pair of mittens. The stands of Tampere businesses received much attention.”  (for citation, see below).  After Hannes’ win at Tampere, he received an order from a businessman (arranged through a brother in Kuopio) for 10 spinning wheels to be sent to America.  After sending the first shipment, more were ordered and Hannes eventually sent a total of 25 wheels.  I believe Hannes also sent some wheels to Germany.

Also interesting is the family name.  From what I understand, in the early- and mid-19th century, surnames were fluid, even for an individual, and Finnish families did not have fixed family surnames.  So, each individual in a family might have a different surname—some patronymic, some based on a trade, or place.  When Sakari, Marja’s great-grandfather, started making wheels in 1845, believing a craftsman should have a fixed surname, he chose “Rantila” based on a shortened version of the name of the beach estate where he lived.  It is an unusual surname and his wheel-making son and grandsons all kept it. As a result, these wheels can accurately be referred to as Rantila wheels.

The quote above is from: Hietala, Marjatta; Kaarninen, Mervi, “The foundation of an information city : education and culture in the development of Tampere,” (Tampere University Press, 2005).

Theodosia Bunce (Dosia)

This wheel invites questions.  I would love to be able to sit down with its maker and ask why he constructed it the way he did.  Why this way, why that–what are the reasons behind his design?  Fortunately, in this case, we know something about the maker. 

He appears to have been thoughtful and innovative–a build-a-better-mousetrap kind of man.  So, his wheels perhaps can tell us something about 19th century ergonomics in designing great wheels for greater ease and efficiency in spinning.    

The most striking feature, at first glance, is not the wheel design, but the dark red paint on the table.  It does not run the whole length, but ends in a graceful curve near the spindle end, topped by and highlighting the maker’s name,“E. Spencer.” 

It is a nice touch by this intriguing man.  On some of Spencer’s wheels, his name in the stamp runs straight across. On others, such as this one, the name roughly follows the curve of the paint. Elizur Spencer was born in 1779 in New Hartford, Connecticut.  Around 1803-04, he moved to Sandisfield, a western Massachusetts town on the Connecticut border, with his wife Mary (called Polly).  According to this wonderful article by a local Sandisfield historian: Elizur Spencer of Sandisfield., Mass., and His Remarkable Apple Parer, Spencer was: “the most skilled artisan-woodworker who ever lived in Sandisfield and probably for many miles around.”  (p. 2). 

The article goes on to say: “By all accounts Elizur, a humble man and a helpful and generous neighbor, was a wonder. Town historian George Shepard in 1885 remembered him as a prolific, first-rate craftsman who made important things to improve everyday life. Shepard wrote that Spencer made ‘spinning wheels, quill wheels, reels, swifts and paring machines.’  He added that Spencer ‘used a small stream to the south to power his turning shop.’” (p. 3) 

Spencer’s house, a dam and small reservoir, and remnants of his shop still stand.  After his wife’s death in 1822, in addition to his wheel and tool making, Spencer farmed and raised his three teenage daughters.  The “paring machine” referred to in the article was an apple parer, which could be used right- or left-handed, an innovation that must have been fairly unusual for his time.   

Spencer’s great wheels likewise have unusual design features.  Aside from the red paint, the thing that immediately stands out is the mismatched legs.  The spindle-end leg is beautifully turned, sleek and rounded, with a well-balanced design. 

In contrast, the wheel-end legs are chamfered, a leg style often associated with early or relatively primitive wheels because they could be made without a lathe.  

Why would Spencer chamfer the wheel-end legs rather than turn them?  Perhaps the answer lies in this photo. 

The spinner-side leg is much shorter than the back-side leg—only 16 1/2 inches compared to 19 1/2 inches—making it difficult to match turnings on those legs in a way that would look good.  It is pure speculation, but perhaps chamfering was an easier and more visually appealing way to deal with the three-inch difference in leg length.  As for why the wheel-end legs have differing lengths, it is a feature seen on some great wheels. 

It is generally assumed that the spinner side leg is shorter and tucked a bit under the table to better keep it out of the way of the spinner.  Spencer’s wheels appear to reinforce that theory because the whole wheel appears designed to allow the spinner to easily and smoothly move back and forward while spinning. The legs are set in the angled undersides of the table. 

The table narrows as it approaches the wheel end–a good feature for long skirts, giving them a little more room and less of sharp end to catch against.  Interestingly, both sides of the table narrow, but the spinner’s side narrows more. 

Did Spencer narrow the spinner’s side to accommodate the spinner and then narrow the other side—but less so—to provide a balanced look to the table?  I do not know, but am really intrigued by his decisions balancing utility and beauty. 

Another apparent spinner accommodation is Spencer’s tilted drive wheel post.  And, it is almost absurdly tilted.  Again, the theory is that a tilted post or a tilted axle moves the upper part of the drive wheel away from the spinner, giving more room for the spinner’s arm and shoulder to move with ease.  It seems as if it would cause problems with the drive band, but it works. 

Everything about this wheel seems to be spinner-conscious, designed to provide for free movement of legs and arms.  But it makes for an oddly lovely lopsidedness when viewed from the end. 

Does the long dancer-like leg on the non-spinner side provide compensation for the weight of the drive wheel tilt? 

And, what about the wheel post—chamfered along its length with a turned top?  Was that an aesthetic choice, combining the chamfering from the wheel-end legs, with the lovely turning on the leg and posts on the spindle end?  Underneath the table, the edges are beveled. 

Everywhere, even under the table, the quality of workmanship is impressive.  The wheel is, as the apple-parer article described, “exquisite.” 

Many wheel makers put chip carving on table ends. 

But, on one end, Spencer put this personal flourish on his wheels. 

It is actually this particular detail that captured my heart.  I admire that unique touch—a signature of a little extra beauty. 

Spencer made flax wheels, too, but I have only seen photographs of one of them.   I would love to know whether his flax wheels had any innovative touches. 

He also made accelerated heads, complete with his label (he had a similar label on his apple peelers).  Mine looks as if it could be made by him, but without the label, I can’t be sure. 

It is missing the accelerator wheel and whorl, so I use it as a direct drive. 

The wheel has the double upright barrel tension that was typical for Connecticut and upstate New York great wheels. 

The tension tightening handle has smooth curves that feel good in the hand. 

The top of the spinner-side post has dents that look as if they may have been made by the spindle end, but I do not know the reason why the spindle would have been hit against the post–perhaps to help remove it from the bearings?

The axle is threaded on the end,

with a smooth-edged old nut that looks handmade. 

The backside of the axle is flattened and hammered into the upright post.

The hub is hefty, with the spokes perfectly fitted into a wide groove.

Brass bearings are fitted into both sides of the hub.

The only flaw I have seen on this wheel is that the bottom of the upright post shows where the wheel rim scraped against it.  I cannot tell if the groove is from wear or whether it may have been carved out to give the rim some extra room.

At some point, someone added a few layers of leather and canvas, apparently to hold the hub out far enough so that the wheel clears the upright. 

The drive wheel rim is tight, without loose or wobbly spokes. 

The wheel-end legs are flush with the table top

but the spindle-end leg protrudes above it.  I wondered if it had eventually worked its way upward, but it is painted on its side, indicating that it probably was that way originally. 

Some Spencer great wheels have the same protruding leg-top as mine, and others are flush.  It seems odd to have it protrude.  Could it have been intended as a rolag holder?  That is how I use it.  Because, I use this wheel a lot. 

It is an amazing wheel for spinning, elevating the spinner’s dance to something very graceful and almost effortless.   If I could meet with Spencer, after grilling him about his design choices, I would thank him for making such an exquisite machine.   

For more information on Elizur Spencer, follow the link to this article:

Bernard, Ronald, “Elizur Spencer of Sandisfield, Mass., and His Remarkable Apple Parer,” published in the Apple Parer Journal, January 8, 2017.

Thanks to Miranda for finding this article and making it available on Ravelry.

Henrietta

I know little about this wheel. A vertical double flyer wheel, stamped on two sides with a “D.S” maker’s mark, seems distinctive enough to have generated some body of research.

But this style seems to be a bit of a mystery.

The most familiar North American double flyer wheels are the two-table variety made in Connecticut in the early 19th century (see the post “Louisa Lenore”).

According to Pennington & Taylor, who refer to this lesser-known style as “t-top” double flyers, they likely were made during the the same popular surge of Connecticut double flyer wheels that produced the two-table version. (Spinning Wheels and Accessories, p. 86-87)

I do not know what evidence indicates that the t-tops were also made in Connecticut, but it would be interesting to know if they were a double-flyer variation that evolved in a different geographic area of the state or in a nearby state.

Why double-flyer wheels became so popular in Connecticut at that time is not really clear, but I find it interesting that both of the Connecticut double flyer wheels I have owned appear to have been little used.

It makes me wonder if the wheels became a “must have” item but, once acquired, spinners realized that they preferred their single flyers.

After all, while double flyer spinning increases production, it takes a skilled spinner and fine flax to produce as consistent high quality linen thread as on a single flyer wheel (see the update to “Louisa Lenore” for more information on double-flyer spinning production).

I am not aware of any evidence suggesting that these double flyer wheels were used for a specific purpose in Connecticut, such as on this Conder token from 1796 in Plymouth, England, which shows a double flyer wheel being used in “sail canvas manufactory.”

However they were used, they did come in several different styles. “T-top” is a wonderfully descriptive name, because this style wheel has a t-shaped support for the two flyers. It gives them an almost weightless, elegant look.

In contrast with the double table wheels, most of which are marked with the maker’s first initial and last name, the t-top wheels, when marked, tend to have initials only.

Examples have been found with “AT,” “TM,” “EB,” and “DS.” Why would the t-top wheel makers consistently use only initials? And who were they? Another mystery are the flyer bearings.

Apparently, they were often horn rather than leather. When I bought my wheel, both flyers were missing and there were no bearings at all. Where each bearing belonged, all that remained was a recessed flat space with two holes.

The other end of the flyer rests in a groove cut into the rear cross piece.

One side is marked with an “X,” which likely matched with a corresponding mark on one of the flyers. This is sometimes seen in double flyer wheels, although why it would matter which flyer goes on which side is not clear to me. Was each flyer slightly different for some reason?

There are small wooden pegs underneath that reach up into that groove. The peg tops are just visible at the bottom of the groove and appear to have some sort of hole or groove near the top.

The vertical tension screw has a keeper peg.

The spokes are cut to fit over a ridge in the drive wheel rim

and pegged through the outside.

The wood on the table is a little rough,

especially in comparison with the thoughtful decorative details on the rest of the wheel.

She is a very pretty wheel and, without flyers, she remained merely decorative for a year or so.

Then, one day I found a small flyer assembly that was a perfect fit. Similar to the wheel, the flyer looked barely used.

But there is an extra set of holes for the flyer hooks, which seems odd.

Why would the hooks be replaced if the flyer was little used? I decided to have another flyer made, along with some horn bearings, so that she could be spinning again.

It appeared some of the horn bearings had edges sheathed in metal, but I just attached with copper wire because it seemed to work best with the holes that were there.

And, she does spin. But, so far, I have not particularly enjoyed spinning on her. For one thing, she has a stubborn leg.

It falls out. Constantly. None of the usual fixes have worked so far. She also has a surprisingly fragile feel.

Most of my wheels obviously were designed for hard use and to stand up to wear and tear.

In contrast, this wheel feels as if she wants to fly apart.

As for the spinning, I have become spoiled by “Truus,” my Dutch double flyer wheel. Truus has a horizontal set up, with each flyer on a separate tension system. I much prefer that to these vertical wheels, which have only one tension screw for both flyers.

I have not yet been able to get Henrietta to have the same uptake rate on both bobbins, which makes for frustrating double flyer spinning.

I am hoping that with more time and attention, we will get along better. In the meantime, she’s lovely to look at.

For more information see:

Taylor, Micheal, “A ‘T-Top’ Double Flyer Wheel,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Issue #64, April 2009.

Pennington, David A. and Michael B. Taylor. Spinning Wheels and Accessories. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2004, pp. 86-87.   

Olive Peck

This wheel—made more than two hundred years ago—is a testament to the superb skills of Connecticut wheel makers in the late 18th and early 19th century.  It was made by Silas Barnum (1775-1828), one of a group of wheel makers from southwest Connecticut, who are most well-known today for their double flyer wheels. 

From this group, the most well-known are Solomon Plant, the Sanfords, the Sturdevants, and Silas Barnum.  The earliest, born in the 1740s, included Solomon Plant and Samuel Sanford, two men who likely were making wheels before the Revolution.  A second generation, born in the 1760s and 70s, arose with John Sturdevant, Jr., Isaac Sanford (Samuel’s son), and Silas Barnum, who, in turn, were followed by another generation, born in the 1790’s, including Beardsley Sanford (Samuel’s great-nephew), Elias Bristol Sanford (Isaac’s son), Josiah Sanford (Samuel’s son by his second wife), and John Sanford Sturdevant (John Sturdevant Jr.’s son). 

J. Platt appears to have been part of this group, too, but, as far as I know, no one has determined just who he was.  These men, and a few others, made wheels of a distinctive style, recognizable immediately as having come from a particular time and place in our history.   

For more on these wheel makers, see the previous posts: “Mindful Pond” (Solomon Plant); “Louisa Lenore” (Sanfords); and “Katherine the Witch,” “Mercy,” and “Judith and Prudence” (J. Platt). 

To help keep these wheel makers sorted out, in a previous post about Silas Barnum, “Big Bear,” I included a timeline, map, and family history that helps to understand how these particular wheel makers were connected.  All of them were from families that settled on the Connecticut shore in the 17th century and gradually migrated inland. 

Their family names are found repeatedly, along with Platts, Pecks, Smiths, Beardsleys, and others, in the history of this area.  Silas’s mother was a Sturdevant, his older sister, Sarah, married wheel maker, John Sturdevant, Jr.  Their son (Silas’s nephew), John Sanford Sturdevant (likely named after his Sanford grandmother) was also a wheel maker.  Silas married Martha Platt, although whether she was related to wheelmaker J. Platt remains a mystery. 

While there is ample evidence of family relationships between Barnum and other Connecticut wheel makers, we know little about their working relationships.  Did Barnum work with his brother-in-law, Sturdevant, Platt, or any others?  How well did these men know each other?  Was their wheel making competitive or cooperative, or a likely mix of the two?  We just do not know. 

We know that Barnum, the Sanfords, the Sturdevants, and likely Platt, worked in neighboring towns and their wheels share some remarkable similarities, so there was cross-pollination, but it would be fascinating to know more about the interplay of design influences, creativity, innovation, and marketing. 

Platt in the front (with new treadle), Barnum in the back

For example, in trying to determine how J. Platt fit into this group, I was struck by the remarkable similarities between Platt and Barnum’s great wheels (see “Big Bear”), which seemed to indicate some relationship between the two men.  But, when I found Barnum’s flax wheel, I was surprised by how different it was to Platt’s in the details.  

Was the difference one reflecting the time they were made or just the personal style of the makers? 

Barnum’s wheel is more finely and elaborately turned and has the small chip carvings dotted on decorative black bands so typical of these Connecticut wheels (but missing from Platt’s).

The spokes, also, are different.

Barnum’s spokes are more elaborate. He used the wonderfully-named “shotgun shell and olive” style, often found on Connecticut and Pennsylvania wheels of this era. 

Despite these differences, though, both wheels share the same overall look and excellent craftsmanship typical of this group of wheel makers.

Barnum’s fine work on this wheel is illustrated by the spokes. 

They rest up against the rim lip, with pegs cut perfectly flush with the drive rim. 

Who knew a spoke peg could be a thing of beauty?

Despite the wheel’s impressive age, not a spoke has a wiggle or gap, and the drive wheel is perfectly solid, straight and aligned.  The drive rim’s four parts have different patterns of shining ray flecks that glow in the sun. 

There are fine turnings on the maidens and distaff (the top part is missing). 

In contrast, the table is a bit more crude,

appearing to have been cut from an imperfect chunk of lumber, with one bottom edge at an angle and a concave area on the top.  

Perhaps Barnum chose it for the grain, which, as with the drive rim, has highly contrasting fleck.   

The table underside is smooth, without scribe marks. 

The wheel end legs stick up through the table. 

Each leg as a nail in the bottom, which is fairly unusual, in my experience. 

I often find one in the far-side leg, but seldom in all legs. 

The wheel shows considerable use,

but is in excellent working condition.

The treadle is almost worn through at the front

and right side edge and bar. 

The original flyer assembly is missing.  It came with a funky one that likely was made in the 1970s or so.  I replaced it with one that fits perfectly and has its own elegant style, well-suited to the wheel. 

The spinner-side maiden is pegged into the mother-of-all

but the far-side one only has small peg underneath,

which keeps it in the mother-of-all but allows it to turn for easy flyer removal of the flyer. 

The tension knob shows no signs of wear from being used for winding off. 

There is one unturned secondary upright support that runs to the table. 

This is a common feature seen on these Connecticut wheels.  There are chip carvings on both ends of the table

and deep double grooves down each side. 

It came with a rawhide footman attached to the treadle bar with a metal hook with a nut underneath. 

As I mentioned earlier, Barnum’s life spanned the period at the end of the first generation and beginning of the next generation of these Connecticut wheel makers. 

To some extent, this must have been a transition period.  His spokes and turnings are similar to Solomon Plant’s, but a little more refined. 

The olive and shotgun shell spoke was found on the early Sanford wheels and those of John Sturdevant Jr. and Solomon Plant.  But, the later Sanford wheels evolved to have simpler spokes and finials, which according to Pennington & Taylor’s book “Spinning Wheels and Accessories,” this evolution reflected the change in style to plainer turnings for furniture in the 1810s to 1830s (p. 81). 

 Barnum did, interestingly, venture into a style of double flyer wheel that the later generation of Sanfords embraced, with the wheel above the flyers rather than below.

Kelley’s wheel

In discussing this style wheel, Pennington & Taylor highlight one made by Elias Bristol (E.B.) Sanford, who was born 16 years after Barnum (p. 82-83).  E. B. Sanford apparently patented the wheel in 1816.  It had unusual metal flyers, but the tension system looks very similar to a wheel signed by Barnum, which was discovered languishing in a North Carolina junk shop by Kelley Dew a few years ago. 

Kelley generously shared photos of her wheel,

showing similarities to E.B. Sanford’s, even down to the unusual decorative black marks on the wheel post. 

There are differences in the wheels,

but enough similarities to indicate that one maker influenced the other. 

Elias Bristol would have been about twenty-five years old when his patent was granted, while Barnum would have been forty-one. 

Did the older Barnum first make his wheel and then Elias Bristol improved and patented it? 

Or did Barnum take from Elias Bristol’s design, possibly without the patented parts?  Who knows? 

The “N” on the stamp is worn down, possibly indicating this was a late wheel of Barnum’s

Fascinating to think about, though.    

The letters are crisp on Olive Peck’s Barnum stamp

I am still hoping to learn more about Silas Barnum. 

I knew that I had Barnums in my Connecticut family background and recently learned that my great, great, great, great grandmother, Hannah Barnum Baxter, was Silas Barnum’s older cousin. 

She married and moved to upstate New York before Silas was born, so likely never knew him.  But spinning on a wheel made by someone sharing a small part of my ancestry gives me a special thrill of connection.  

My great, great grandmother’s sampler. Silas Barnum was cousin to her grandmother, Hannah Barnum Baxter.

Thank you to Kelley Dew for allowing me to share her photographs of her stunning Barnum double flyer wheel.

For more information

Bacheller, Sue and Feldman-Wood, Florence, “S. Barnum and J. Sturdevant Double Flyer Wheels,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Issue #31, January 2001 (and “Update” Issue #32, April 2001).

Pennington, David A. and Michael B. Taylor. Spinning Wheels and Accessories. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2004, pp. 81-83.   

Judith and Prudence

Despite a lot of research, I have not been able to identify the elusive J. Platt. 

It seems pretty certain that he was a Connecticut wheel maker working in the late 18th and early 19th century.  His wheels share characteristics with those made by a group of wheel makers in Fairfield and Litchfield counties, including the Sanfords, the Sturdevants, and Silas Barnum.  Those wheel makers, and various branches of Platts, were connected with a web of marriages through several generations.

Surely, J. Platt fits in with them somehow, but just how remains a mystery. For those interested in more details of my Platt research, I am including a reference below to my article in the Spinning Wheel Sleuth.  In short, there are several candidates, but each possibility lacks that final bit of evidence to put the hunt over the top from theory to probability.

Judith, Mercy, and Katherine the Witch

I have already written two posts in this blog about J. Platt wheels.  “Katherine the Witch,” my first wheel, continues to be my workhorse for flax spinning.  “Mercy,” a lovely great wheel, bears a striking resemblance to Silas Barnum’s work.  I never really expected to find any more Platt wheels, so was gobsmacked when a marked bobbin winder turned up in Maryland. 

Bobbin winders are rarely marked, so I could not believe my luck.  And, as it turns out, there was a lot of luck involved.  When I contacted the seller, he said that he would have to see if he still had it because he thought he had thrown it out.  My heart dropped.  Apparently, he cruises estate sales and auctions for things to resell on-line. 

He had been given two bobbin winders at an estate sale and, having no idea what they were, threw them into a storage unit.  When he needed more room, he decided to throw them out.  Fortunately, his wife convinced him to save the one with the name on it and to try to sell it.  I shudder to think how close this winder came to oblivion. 

Instead, it was rescued, named Judith, and joined my family of Platt wheels. Although it could be over two hundred years old, it now works regularly, doing what it was intended to do.

Bobbin winders, such as this one, were used by weavers to wind bobbins (or spools).  Once wound, the bobbins were mounted on a skarne (also called a spool rack or creel), which allowed for efficient warp winding, with multiple threads wound on the warping rods or mill at the same time.  This marvelous photo of a Quebec woman shows her bobbin winder being filled from a skein on a swift and the bobbins mounted on a skarne from which she draws eight warp threads at once to wind on to her huge warping mill. 

Unfortunately, when this photo was made into a postcard, it was inaccurately labeled “Habitant Carding Wool.”   

In contrast with the Quebec winder in the photo, J. Platt’s has a flat rim

and a box for the spindle. Box-style winders are often found in New England.  I was fascinated to see a similar winder on a 1792 Conder token from Norwich, England, a town famous for its handweavers who produced the beautiful silk and wool Norwich shawls. 

Platt’s bobbin winder could have been made around the same time.  

The box is convenient for holding empty (or full) bobbins. 

Some boxes have supports for the spindle ends, but many, like Platt’s, are just plain wood with gouges made for the spindle tips through use. 

This bobbin winder did not have a spindle when I got it, but I found one to fit. 

I have not used it yet for winding bobbins for weaving, but regularly use it to wind singles off my wheels onto extra bobbins for plying. 

These winders were also used to fill bobbins for weaving shuttles. Perhaps there were spindles of different diameters or lengths to accommodate the smaller bobbins used in shuttles, which might explain why there is a wide variety of depth and placement of holes in the box ends.  

The winder looks a lot like a miniature Platt great wheel, with similar turnings. 

Unlike Platt’s wheels, however, it has scalloped carvings on the table ends. 

The inside of the box and the table are covered with indentations, perhaps from tapping the spindle end to loosen the bobbin for removal. 

The axle is wooden, with a broken end when I got it. 

My husband made a beautiful repair. 

The inside of the hub is just smooth wood, with no sign of a metal or leather bearing. 

The legs have incised rings, rather than the dark burned-on rings of Platt’s flax wheel and winders. 

Winder leg
Reel legs

There is an interesting corner piece nailed in next to the box.  I do not know if there is a functional reason for it, but it looks nice.

While I had never expected to find a Platt bobbin winder, I had been keeping my eye out for a Platt reel.  When one appeared in Vermont, I jumped on it and, with the help of several people, got it to Maine. 

The reel, named Prudence, has six arms and a slanted table—an unusual feature found on some Connecticut reels.  (see Pennington & Taylor, p. 161, Fig 14-6).  I am not sure of the reason for the slant, perhaps for ease of storage or some particular positioning for winding off from a wheel.  It certainly makes for a very stable reel. 

The legs and winder arms have faint traces of dark rings and the legs are, in general, similar to those on Platt’s flax wheel. 

But neither the table nor the legs are the same sizes as those on the wheel. 

The top, which has a broken edge, is flat, without any knob for carrying. 

It holds a two-yard skein and the arms, like the top, are plain, without a handle for turning. 

A simple clock hand on one side of the gear box measures rotations. While the reel arms turn clockwise, the clock hand turns counter-clockwise.

The other side of the gear box is unadorned.

The gears run smoothly and the click mechanism still works beautifully, making its “thwack” every forty rotations. 


The wooden clicker being pulled by the metal pin on the gear before the click

After the click–the metal pin that triggers the click

The hub is pegged on the axle and nicely turned. 

The arm crosspieces have lips on the ends, except for one, “the stranger,” which has one smooth end to allow for removal of the skein.

After I got the wheel home and cleaned up, I sent photos of it to another Platt enthusiast, Cindy Lincoln, in Massachusetts. She has been restoring a Platt winder and used this one as a model.  In return, she sent me some photos from Ron Walter in Pennsylvania of a John Sturdevant reel in his collection. 

Ron Walter’s Sturdevant reel

The Platt and Sturdevant winders are remarkably similar, with the tilted bench, and lack of carrying knob and winding handle. It gives another possible clue into the identity of J. Platt.  I now will be digging deep into Platt and Sturdevant connections. 

Underside of the Platt reel

Although we still do not know J. Platt’s identity, as far as I know, he is the only Connecticut wheel maker from whom we have marked examples of all of the five major spinning tools. 

We know of several marked great wheels and reels, at least two marked single-flyer flax wheels, one marked double-flyer wheel, and my one bobbin winder.  Quite a legacy.  I am hoping one day to find a Platt double-flyer wheel for a Platt full house.

Thanks to Cindy Lincoln and Ron Walter for the Sturdevant reel photographs, to Tina M. for finding, picking up, and railroading the bobbin winder, to Jessie R. for finding and picking up the reel, to Nora R., Andrea M. and Amy T. for the reel railroad, and to Jan C. for the spindle. 

For more information see:

Page, Brenda, “The Search for J. Platt,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth, Issue #113, July 2021, pp. 1-6.

Pennington, David A. and Michael B. Taylor. Spinning Wheels and Accessories. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2004, p, 161.