Thursday, November 27, 2014

Antique Wallpaper

Salvage showing "Union Made" wallpaper
Did Isaac Werner have wallpaper on any walls in his house?  I don't know, but wallpaper has existed for centuries.  The Chinese are known to have glued rice paper to the walls of their homes by 200 B.C.  In 1481, we know that King Louis XI of France had wallpaper painted for him by Jean Bourdichon.  A guild of paperhangers was established in France in 1599, and a fragment of wallpaper dating from 1509 was found in Cambridge, England.

The arrival of wallpaper in America is dated to 1739 when Plunket Fleeson began printing wallpaper in Philadelphia.  Toward the end of the 18th century, scenic wallpaper became popular, on which panoramic scenes were depicted.

In the homes of early settlers on the prairie, some families pasted newspaper sheets on their walls to minimize the cold air entering through the cracks.  The old joke about this practice was that the newspaper on their walls gave them something to read!

Undisturbed wallpaper under sheet rock
During the recent remodeling of our home built around the turn of the last century, some walls were stripped down to the studs, removing lath and plaster.  In that process, one wall that had been covered over the plaster with sheet rock revealed old wallpaper I had never seen.  Perhaps the wallpaper was the choice of my grandmother, but more likely it was chosen by my mother when they moved to the farm about 1944 after my grandfather's stroke resulted in my grandparents moving to town.

On the selvage of one strip of wallpaper a series of letters and the words "Union Made" appeared.  With a little research, I learned that in 1883 the Wall Paper Machine Printers Union was founded in NYC, with a charter from the Knights of Labor in 1885.  My family home was built in the late 1890s (See "A Solid Foundation, 10-23-2014 in the blog archives), but the addition doubling its size was constructed in 1907.  In 1883 the Wall Paper Machine Printers Union was founded, chartered by the Knights of Labor in 1885.  (The Knights of Labor were part of the progressive movement, which included factory workers, miners, and farmers like Isaac.)  In 1902 the union became the National Association of Wall Paper Machine Printers and Color Mixers, with a charter from the American Federation of Labor.  The National Print Cutters' Association merged with them in 1923 to become the United Wall Paper Craftsmen and Workers of North America.  That bit of history seemed to resolve the mystery of the initials in the selvage of wallpaper we found.
Older border

Looking at samples of wallpapers found online, the old wallpaper we discovered appears to be the style of the 1940s.  Perhaps all that my mother could initially afford was a wallpaper border, for a different border was found under the border that seemed to match the full papered wall.  (If you look closely you can see at the bottom of the image where the newer pattern appears overlapping the older border.)  Both patterns featured red, a color Mother would have chosen.

Perhaps since the first printer of wallpaper in America began in Philadelphia, it is Pennsylvania State University Libraries that house the archives of the Wallpaper Craftsmen and Workers.  To read more about the information I have shared, you may visit and

Border on top of older border
Judging from Isaac's indebtedness incurred first to buy a horse and worsened to buy equipment, it seems unlikely that he had sufficient funds to wallpaper his house.  I do know that he sometimes stored his grains and other produce in barrels and bags in his kitchen, another reason that fancy wallpaper seems unlikely.  He was also hired to strip and apply new paint to a buggy, and he brought that buggy into his kitchen to do some of the work, another indication that his kitchen wasn't too fancy.  Yet, I believe he would have imagined wallpaper for the future Victorian home whose newpaper image was glued in the cover of his journal.  (See "A Solid Foundation" image titled Isaac's Dream House, 10-23-2014.)  Sadly, his health did not allow him to build that dream house.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Farming experiments

Corn grown in glass bottle to study roots
Isaac Werner regarded farming as a profession, deserving of serious study, experimentation, and record keeping.  His journal entries each day began with the weather, including temperature, moisture, and wind.  He used the almanacs of two different forecasters.  He subscribed to farming journals and submitted letters and articles to them.  He read bulletins from Kansas State College, the land grant agricultural college, and he corresponded with Professor Shelton, head of the college experimental farm. 
Testing see germination

For his own farm he acquired seed varieties from other regions, experimenting with what did best in his sandy loam soil and prairie weather.  He tried different planting depths and spacing of seeds.  He modified the equipment he bought, improving it for his soil type.

For his community, he initiated the founding of the Stafford County Agricultural Society and was a member and lecturer of the Farmers' Alliance.  He shared work and ideas with his fellow farmers and formed a small group of the more progressive farmers in his community which met to consider untried crops and methods.  He studied cooperative farming and formed a group of neighbors to plant a potato patch on his land.  He was definitely a professional farmer.

Testing moisture absorption in different soils

Like  many  farm daughters, I  loved  to trail  along  after my father, watching him work and asking him questions. I still remember one evening when he explained the seed germination test he was conducting.  As I recall, he used damp cloth or paper towels between two panes of glass, with seeds between the moistened material to see how many would sprout.

When a friend gave me a textbook first published in 1911 titled "Productive Farming," some of the illustrations reminded me of the experiments Isaac and my father had conducted.  The Preface describes "This book is intended to suit the needs of rural schools of all kinds, and graded village and city schools chiefly below high-school rank."  As I flipped through the pages, I thought about the many children today who know so little of farming and the rural landscape.  For them, corn and peas come from cans on the shelves of their local grocery store.  Only a few would have seen their mothers make bread from flour, and even those would lack real understanding of how flour is produced.  Perhaps these children would benefit from trying some of the experiments reproduced in this blog from the old 1911 textbook. 

Plan for school farm
While many people think the school garden is a new concept, the 1911 farming book included a plan for a 10-acre school farm, as well as a diagram for a less ambitious garden, with vegetables planted in the corners and along the sides of the school play ground.  The image at left shows the 10-acre plan, but picture the lower-right play ground and school rectangle with the perimeter and corners used for gardening rather than trees and you can imagine the suggested school garden.

It is significant that the century-old book emphasized the importance of preserving the play area with enough room for physical activity without allowing the gardens to inhibit the children's exercise.  Diet and exercise were important ideas to teach.

Once again I was reminded by this 1911 book how much we can learn from history, and how the ideas we regard as uniquely modern are often merely a rediscovery of the wisdom from the past.

With the holidays approaching and children home from school, perhaps there are some ideas in this blog for activities to do with children and grandchildren, or for teachers to incorporate into their (already busy) curriculum.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them for reading the directions for the experiments.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Isaac, the Autodidact

Autodidacts - people who have been partially or wholly self-taught.  Auto didacticism is self-education or self-directed learning.

Anton's Classical Dictionary 
In my Commencement Address to the MHS class of 2014, I told the graduating students, "Learning doesn't stop when you leave school, and if each of us isn't learning something new every day, we just aren't trying."  (See "School & Community Then & Now," 5-21-2014 in the blog archives.)

Isaac was an autodidact.  Although he was still attending school at the age of 17, a rather long period of schooling in the mid-1800s, he continued to study independently for the rest of his life.  His library was extensive and wide ranging.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012 in the blog archives.)  Occasionally he read fiction, but the primary focus of his book collection was educational.  As I explained in earlier blogs, I purchased several of the titles in his library, choosing older editions near the publication dates of books he would have purchased.  (See "Bibliomaniac or Collector?" 7-17-2014 in the blog archives.)  

Sample pages from Anthon's Classical Dictionary 
I thought it would be interesting to share some of the books he chose to purchase.  The ones I will include in this blog were not light reading, but they do explain why his neighbors on the prairie came to Isaac to have him draft contracts and other documents and also trusted his ideas shared in various community and county organizations of which he was a member.  He was a genuine scholar on the prairie.

The book pictured above, by Charles Anthon, is an example of the reading Isaac chose for himself.  Its title, the Classical Dictionary, containing an account of The Principal Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors and intended to elucidate all the important points connected with the geography, history, biology, mythology, and fine arts of the Greek and Romans, together with An Account of Coins, Weights, and Measures, With Tabular Values of the Same, is enough to indicate the serious content of this 3" thick, 1,451 page reference.  The author was professor of Greek & Latin languages at Columbia College in New York when the book was published in 1847.  The text is closely printed in small font--not a book for the casual reader!

Sample pages from Fiske's Classical Antiquities 
Isaac's interest in classical literature is also apparent from his purchase of Classical Antiquities by N. W. Fiske, a professor at Amherst College.  This book includes classical geography and topography, classical chronology, Greek & Roman Mythology, Greek Antiquities, and Roman Antiquities.  Included are 32 plates, such as the illustration from the pages shown at right, which include maps, landscapes, ships, helmets, and tools, among other images.  First published in 1843, the book I bought is the 4th edition, published in 1869, an edition which Isaac might have owned.

Cooper's Justinian
Further proof of Isaac's self-education about the ancients is the presence of a scholarly volume of ancient Roman law, The Institutes of Justinian, with notes, by Thomas Cooper, professor of chemistry at Carlisle College, published in 1852.  The book I purchased is an original printing from 1852, bound in leather.  The text includes the original Latin alongside the English translation.

Not only history but also languages were of interest to Isaac, and his journal records books he bought to teach himself modern languages.

Missouri's Columbia College professor, Ahoo Tabatabai, born in Iran, explained that in Farsi their are two words for "student."  The translation for the word used to identify students K-12 is "knowledge learner;" however, once an individual enters college, the word for student becomes "knowledge seeker."  What a wonderful distinction between our youth, when we must acquire information to enable us to understand our world, and our later maturity, when we must begin using that information to reason and expand our knowledge. It is clear that Isaac Werner was a knowledge seeker long after his formal education ended--a serious autodidact!

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.) 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Isaac's Crockery

Crockery Butter Churn with Lid
When the Administrator of Isaac Werner's Estate retained three neighborhood men to inventory and appraise Isaac's personal property, they recorded the following:  3 pieces of Crockery, 25 cents, and Crockery Ware No. 6, 90 cents.

My Grandmother Beck had a ten-gallon crock that was passed to my mother.  Every summer Mother would fill it practically to the brim with sliced cucumbers to make 3-day Lime Pickles, placing a lid on it to contain the contents.  The finished jars of 3-day lime pickles stood in rows on the shelves in the basement that my mother filled every summer with canned vegetables and plum jelly.  She tinted the pickles with food coloring a bright green, and my father loved them.  My favorite pickles were the dill spears she also canned.

I don't recall the crockery butter churn pictured at left, and I believe my mother may have bought it in a yard sale after I was grown and no longer at home.  I don't recall ever churning  butter, but it is probable that Grandmother Beck used a butter churn for her large family of seven children, so perhaps this churn was at the farm when I was a child, collecting dust and cobwebs in storage somewhere.

Isaac Werner never had a cow, but he did record in his journal that he sometimes traded the potatoes he raised for butter churned by neighbors who lived in Livingston.  How he used the crockery that the appraisers of his estate inventoried is unknown, but crockery was a part of most settlers' households.

Small sampling of broken crockery discovered at farm
Pottery manufacture began early in the settling of America, potters' clays of different types available in many regions.  Red-burning clays were easily found near the surface and required simple kilns and equipment.  Buff-burning clays with a finer texture came later, and by the 1800s factory wares were available.  Studying the names of early towns provide indications of pottery making, with names like Potter's Creek and Jugtown.

In 1895 when the appraisers inventoried Isaac's property, they referred to "crockery;" however, that term was not being widely used in the 19th century, according to the source I consulted, when pottery was the preferred term.  Today the predominant houseware of the 19th century is generally called American Stoneware or stoneware pottery.

When I was digging weeds and digging and planting Bermuda grass this summer, I found many pieces of crockery that had been discarded by my family, a few of which are shown in the photograph above.  Salt-glazing is typical on American Stoneware, but Albany Slip made from a clay peculiar to the Upper Hudson Region of New York produces a dark brown glaze.  My great grandmother, Susan Cummings Beck was born in New York State, and although I have no clues from which to identify the manufacturer of the pieces of crockery I saved, I do have examples of dark brown glaze on some of the pottery shards.

Both the 10-gallon pickle crock and the butter churn pictured in this blog have the Western Stoneware maple logo.  The Monmouth Pottery Company in Monmouth, IL operated from 1894 to 1905, and by 1902 they were using the maple leaf design with the company and town names on their wares.  In 1906 Monmouth Pottery sold to the Western Stoneware Company of Monmouth, IL, merging with seven different stoneware and pottery companies that used the logo of Western Stoneware and the maple leaf, differentiating among the seven plants by using the plant number on the stoneware produced in each individual plant.  Obviously the crock pictured in this blog was produced in Plant 5.  Eventually there were plants in ten different locations:  one each in NY, NJ, and MD, three in VA, and four in PA.

To read more you may want to consult and   There are also many photographs on the internet of pottery currently offered for sale to collectors.