This article previously appeared in The Gristmill, No. 87 June 1997
Notes on New England Edge Tool Makers, I
Edge Tool Makers, Hinsdale, NH, 1840-1900
|Figure 1. Earliest known imprint for Pliny Merril's tools. |
P. MERRILL 1840-1858
Pliny Merrill was born in Shelburne, MA, in 1800. He probably learned the P. MERRILL trade from his older brother, Pardon Hayes Merrill (1788-1879), who was an "expert iron worker." Pardon moved to Hinsdale, NH in 1820, and established his firm making agricultural edge tools. In that year, he was granted a patent for making a hoe.
Records are sketchy about the early career of Pliny Merrill, but it is recorded that Pardon and Pliny Merrill built the canal in the center of Hinsdale in 1828, and Pliny built a shop in 1832. In 1840, he established his edge tool business on Canal Street using power from the Ashuelot River. He manufactured drawknives, chisels and gouges. Axes with his imprint are unknown at this time.
Merrill's earliest known stamp is shown in Fig. 1. This is on a 20-inch long drawknife with a 9-inch blade. The imprint is near the center of the blade and the eagle device is on the right hand shank. Most of his tools are stamped P. MERRILL & CO. (See Fig. 2a.) Apparently he had enough confidence in his reputation to eliminate the Hillsdale location stamp early in his career because it is quite scarce.
The P. MERRILL & CO. imprint was probably first used in 1848 when Merrill's nephew, George S. Wilder (1828-1900), started working with him. Wilder quickly became manager, and in 1858 he was made a partner.
|Figure 2A. P. MERRILL & CO. (1848-1858) stamped on 1" w. gouge with turned applewood handle. Close-up of the mark is at right. || |
(Note: The dates in parentheses adjacent to a name are birth and death dates. The dates adjacent to a company name are approximate dates it existed and when the imprint was used. Most all companies used up existing stock; thus there would be some carryover.)
MERRILL & WILDER 1858-1866
They used the imprint Merrill & Wilder (See Fig. 2b.) Apparently, Merrill sold the business to Wilder in 1866. Pliny Merrill died in late 1869. He left an estate valued at about $13,000. In today's dollars that is not too shabby. He left $2,152 to his nephew, George S. Wilder.
|Figure 2B. MERRILL &WILDER (1858- 1866) stamped on a 1 3/4" w. socket firmer chisel with hickory handle. Enlarged view of mark at right. || |
WILDER & THOMPSON 1866-1868
In 1866 Wilder took on a partner and the firm became Wilder & Thompson. This partnership only lasted until 1868, and no tools are known stamped Wilder & Thompson.
WILDER & HOPKINS 1870-1873 (?)
In 1870 Richard Henry Hopkins (1831-1877) became a partner. Hopkins may have been a brother-in-law of Wilder. This partnership ended in either 1872 or 1873 (sources differ). No tools are known stamped Wilder & Hopkins.
G.S. WILDER 1873-1883
In between partnerships, and perhaps inclusive if the partnerships were on paper only, and subsequent to 1873, the edge tools were stamped G.S. WILDER. CAST STEEL. He used larger and more distinct letters than in previously used stamps.
C.E JENNINGS 1883-1885
JENNINGS & GRIFFIN 1885-1900+ (?)
In 1883, Wilder sold the firm to C.E. Jennings, the large hardware firm of New Haven, CT, with offices in NYC. The firm was Jennings & Griffin by 1885. George Wilder became manager of the Jennings Edge Tool Works in Hinsdale. Apparently because of the wide reputation and name recognition, Jennings continued to stamp the tools MERRILL & WILDER, and advertised them as such. (See Fig. 3)
It was reported in 1885 that they employed twenty men, and turned out about twenty-five dozen tools per day. George Wilder continued to serve as manager until 1891.
It is interesting to note that George was a NH state representative from 1869-1870 and undertook many civic duties in Hinsdale. His son, Herbert W. Wilder (1864-1915), became a famous cartoonist for Harper's Weekly and other national magazines and newspapers.
George S. Wilder died in mid-1900. An inventory of his estate taken July 1, 1900 revealed he had 36 dozen small chisels @ $43.20; 15 dozen firmer chisel @ $18.00; 1 milling machine & equipment @ $25.00; for a total of $86.00.
He died intestate (no will), and was declared insolvent! At any rate, Merrill & Wilder left a legacy of high quality chisels that are highly prized by collectors and users today. Bibliography
- Bacon, George F., Keene & Vicinity: Its Points of Interest and its Representative Business Men, Embracing Keene, Hinsdale & Surrounding Towns, Mercantile Pub. Co., Newark, NJ, 1891.
- Garvin, James L. & Donna-Belle, Instruments of Change: New Hampshire Hand Tools and their Makers 1800- 1900, New Hampshire Historical Society, Canaan, NH, 1985.
- Hinsdale, NH (Bicentennial History Book). Hinsdale Historical Society, Hinsdale, NH, 1976.
- Probate Record. Pliny Merrill, 1869. Cheshire County Courthouse. Keene, NH
- Probate Record. George S. Wilder, 1900. Cheshire County Courthouse. Keene, NH.
- Advertisement. Carpentry Building Magazine, January, 1884.Fig. 1 Earliest imprint known for Pliny Merrill's tools.
Fig. 2B. MERRILL&WILDER (1858- 1866) stamped on a 1 3/4" w. socket firmer chisel with hickory handle. Enlarged view of mark at right
|Figure 3. Advertisement from Carpentry & Building Magazine, January 1884. |
|G.S. WILDER |
|Fig. 4. Variation of Merrill & Wilder imprint used c. 1858-1866. ||Fig. 5. Rare G.S. Wilder imprint with Hinsdale, NH location. Only observed once on a 3 1/2" w. slick. Probably used c. 1873 when Wilder first worked alone. |