One of the interesting twists in my research into the furniture making of Jonathan Fisher is learning who his descendants are. Though the archives are jammed full of documents, letters, and journals from Fisher, it’s been on my list to contact his posterity. It was about half way through this winter I was discussing the research with Brad Emerson (former president of the board) when he relayed to me that one of Jonathan Fisher’s descendants was Thomas Lie-Nielsen, owner of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. I was dumbstruck. Wait. What? You mean Fisher is Thomas Lie-Nielsen’s great, great, etc.. grandfather? I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg. Turns out, he wasn’t.
|Tom and Chris discussing the JF Tools|
To make a complicated story simplified, I was working on plans for two separate visits. The first was a visit to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, ME to see the extant tool chest of Jonathan Fisher. The second was a trip with Chris Schwarz to the Tool Barn in Hull’s Cove as well as the Jonathan Fisher House. I invited Tom along as well and he not only agreed to come along to the Fisher House but was interested in coming along to the Farnsworth to see the tools. In the end, Chris made it up to Tom’s on Thursday morning. Then I met up with Tom, Chris, Deneb, Kirsten, Robin, and Julia Kalthoff (of Wetterlings Axe Works) at the Farnsworth to look at the tools. Once we were all assembled, registar Angela Waldron and and assistant curator Jan Bianco led us back into the room.
Truth be told, it was better than I had allowed myself to hope. I did not know if there were five or fifty tools surviving. All I knew is that there were “some old tools in storage over there”. Though I had a 1990s photo of the chest, I had no idea how many objects were inside it.
When we walked into the room I was pleasantly surprised to see 53 tools laying out for viewing. Not only are they definitely of the period (first half of the 19th century) but a number of them are stamped “J. Fisher”. This is a goldmine for my research. It took me a few minutes to be able to think straight while I stared at the table overhearing the observations of Tom and Chris and company firing back and forth. I was just trying to soak it all in at first.
|Screw box and taps|
|"Bitts" for a brace|
|Wooden square joinery|
|Stamped "JF 1799"|
|Plane iron made by Matt Ray of Blue Hill, ME|
Overall, the tools are in good condition. There are numerous planes, a mallet, wooden squares, a screw box and taps, bits for a brace, a compass saw, a spokeshave, a large wooden screw, and various other things. We spent about an hour combing over the collection gleaning what we could from this introductory visit.
|Plane iron purchased in Boston|
|Mysterious stippling on the sides of all the long planes|
After working our way through the Farnsworth’s excellent Shaker exhibit, we all went to get something to eat. Over fried food and beer, we conversed about everything from the Fisher story to the founding of Tom’s company. Chris even told tales of a helicopter chase involving a runaway bear cub. You never know what a day may bring forth.
|The tool chest|
|Detail on the chest|
It was an exciting visit and I cannot wait to get back there for a much more thorough examination of the tools. I will be taking countless measurements and photos, and begin working out the mysteries in the collection. Plans are already in the works.
The next morning, the whole gang met me up at the Fisher house for a tour but more on that later…