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August 2018

A Watch Paper Engraved by Abner Reed of East Windsor, Connecticut

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Watch Paper, ca. 1809-1820. Engraved by Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut. Museum Purchase, 2000.053.

Adept at creating interesting images, engravers provided their clients with these images in multiples—engraved prints were an efficient way to communicate in the early 1800s.  Engravers cut and etched images onto copper plates. These plates could be used to print several hundred impressions before they started to wear out, allowing engravers to furnish their clients with everything from product labels to bill heads to trade cards.  All of these items helped their clients undertake business and advertise their work.

This small, round piece of paper decorated with engraving is a watch paper.  Little disks like this one served a few purposes.  Fit into the inside back cover of a watch case, the paper helped shield delicate works from dust or protected an inner case from rubbing against an outer case.  It also advertised a clockmaker or jeweler’s work.  As well, some clockmakers and watch owners used the backs of the papers as a handy spot to record the dates of watch repairs, cleanings and adjustments. 

On this watch paper, Eli Porter (1789-1864) listed his occupation and his address, Williamstown, in western Massachusetts, within a shield.  Masonic symbols—two columns topped with globes, a black and white mosaic floor, three steps and an all-seeing eye—surround the shield. In choosing to use these symbols to help advertise his work, Porter declared his status as a Mason. Though his name is not recorded in membership records at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, there was a Masonic lodge in Williamstown during the early part of Eli Porter’s career. Friendship Lodge operated in Williamstown from 1785 through 1828.

Born in East Hartford, Connecticut, Eli moved to Williamstown around 1806 to study clockmaking with his uncle, Daniel Porter (1775-1809). Like Eli, Daniel was native to East Hartford. Daniel learned his craft from clockmaker and silversmith Daniel Burnap ( 1759-1838) who lived nearby in East Windsor.  Daniel also met his wife, Polly Badger (1776-1859), in the same town.  Through his family members’ connection to East Windsor, Eli Porter may have known of or met Abner Reed, who engraved this watch paper.  Reed signed it: “A. Reed Sc. E. W.”  The “Sc.” indicates Reed engraved the paper;  “E. W.” is an abbreviation of East Windsor.  Not known to be a Freemason, Reed nevertheless did work for the Masonic community.  He engraved at least one certificate for a Connecticut lodge, as well as a Masonic apron.  With this charming watch paper, Reed further showed his familiarity with Masonic symbols. 

Reference:

David A. Sperling, “Eli Porter, Clockmaker of Williamstown, MA: His Town, His Life, His Clock,” NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin, November/December 2017, 547-555.


Knights of Labor

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Bread platter, 1876. Bakewell, Pears, & Co., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Museum Purchase, 96.053. Photograph by David Bohl.

In 1869, Uriah S. Stephens (1821-1869), founded the Knights of Labor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The organization, first named the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, replaced the unsuccessful Garment Cutters Union of Philadelphia. Historians recognize it as one of the largest labor organizations in America in the 1880s. In the beginning, the group chose members very selectively. At the time, the Order was sometimes called the “secret society of tailors.”

The Order was both a fraternal order and a labor union created to protect its members. The Order supported an eight-hour day, abolition of child labor, equal pay for equal work, and political reforms including the graduated income tax. The group was one of the first unions to advocate for all emerging industrial working class, such as women, some immigrant groups, and African Americans.

The Knights of Labor enjoyed immense popularity in the 1880s and reached 700,000 members by 1886. After some unsuccessful unionizing campaigns, deadly labor union rallies, and government efforts to impede labor organizing, members lost faith in the effectiveness of the Order as a labor union. Membership decreased by the late 1890s. The American Federation of Labor largely replaced the group by the early 1900s.

 This pressed glass bread platter in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection commemorates the Knights of Labor during the height of their popularity. The platter, probably manufactured by the Bakewell, Pears, & Co. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1876, features symbols of industry and agriculture―a farmer with a sickle and sheaf of wheat, train and engine, horse, and ocean steam vessel. At center is a man with a hammer shaking hands with a knight, and the phrase “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

Bread platters like this one were an extremely popular form of tableware in the Victorian era. Glass manufacturers produced platters that commemorated or memorialized political figures, organizations, or events. 

Do you have any objects related to the Knights of Labor? Tell us about them in the comments section below.