Published: September 3, 2006
“John Long & John Boyer: Nineteenth Century Craftsmen in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,” an exhibit at the Lancaster Cultural History Museum of the Heritage Center of Lancaster County through December 31, presents recent discoveries that have shed new light on the significance of two Lancaster County craftsmen working in the Pennsylvania German tradition. A booklet of the same name accompanies the exhibition.
The elegant Betty lamps made by John Long of Sporting Hill in Rapho Township exemplify the fine workmanship and wonderful design elements found among Pennsylvania German craftsmen. The recent discovery of two of his early lamps, other signed forms, a signed lamp by a contemporary maker and lamps by later makers are included in the exhibit and publication for the first time.
Second, the discovery of the identity of woodworker John Palm Boyer of Brickerville, new forms, signed and dated pieces, and documented pieces that have descended in the Boyer family have added much to our knowledge of his distinctive paint decorated woodenware, made in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century. His repetition of design, position of decorative colors and style of decoration exemplify the wonderful Pennsylvania German tradition of combining color with form and function.
John Long’s elegant Betty lamps — made of iron, brass and copper with brass lids and stylized bird finials — are considered by many to be among the finest examples of Pennsylvania German smithwork. The refined forging of the body, the shape of the brass hinged lids, often with punched decoration, and the wonderful brass stylized birds identify this distinctive group of lighting devices. Many are engraved with the maker’s name, the location Sporting Hill, the recipient’s name and the date. They exemplify the creativity and the love of form, function and design by the Pennsylvania Germans.
Fat lamps, also called grease lamps or Betty lamps, have traditionally been called schmutzഀ amschel among the Pennsylvania Germans. Fat or lard as a fuel was readily available on the farm as a product of rendering animals. Mary Markley Boyer, who lived in Norristown, Penn., wrote, “November 14th we got our Lard for burning.” Her lard for burning was fuel for the fat lamp. Betty lamps were used as a source of light into the late Twentieth Century in some Pennsylvania German households.
John Long (1787–1856) was born in Manheim, Lancaster County, the son of John George and Gertrude (Nageli) Long. He was trained as a locksmith, a specialized occupation within the blacksmith trade, and may have been apprenticed to Mathias Long (1752–1824), a blacksmith who operated a shop in Manheim. He married Peggy Lindemuth, the daughter of Peter Lindemuth of the town of Mount Joy, about 1811. They lived on the property of the widow of a Manheim blacksmith, Jacob Druckenmiller (1756–1806) until 1822, and had nine children, born between 1812 and 1828.
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Long first appears on the tax list for Manheim borough as a locksmith in 1831. In addition to making locks, he was putting iron feet on pans, making handles for coffee roasters and putting bails on pots and kettles. In 1939 the locksmith left his wife and children in Manheim and moved to the nearby village of Sporting Hill. He lived with a blacksmith, Emanuel Long, and his family. The Longs were Mennonite and it was in this environment that Long created his exquisitely decorated and finely made wrought iron Betty lamps for his neighbors that are sought after by folk art collectors today.
His lamps date from 1841 to 1855 and were probably part of the Austeier in preparation for marriage; most recipients were in their late teens or early twenties. They are engraved with the names of recipients, including Brenaman, Brubecker, Erisman, Eshbaugh, Hershey, Hirsh, Musser, Niess and Ruhl, common names in the surrounding Mennonite community.
Long’s occupation is recorded as “Locksmith” in the annual tax lists for Rapho Township, except in 1840 when a recorder listed him as a “Log Smith.” He worked in Sporting Hill for the last 17 years of his life. His death is recorded in The Daily Evening Express: “DIED Long. October 14 at Sporting Hill, this county, John Long, sen. Aged 69 years.” He is buried in Saint Paul United Church of Christ Cemetery, Manheim, Penn. His son George became a locksmith in Manheim.
All of the John Long lamps examined by the author have brass lids and plates. A few have punched decoration on their brass plates. The lids frequently have stylized brass bird finials that are sometimes embellished with decorative wrigglework and include punch-decorated eyes.
The iron bodies of the lamps are either circular or oval in form. They have an applied round sleeve to support the arm. The short spouts have upwardly angled bottoms and the brass lids have stops to prevent them from moving beyond the closed position. The covers are hinge-pinned. A copper rivet was often used to attach the wick support to the base and is usually visible on the outside bottom of the lamp.
Long’s early brass lids and plates are of one-piece construction and are dated 1841. Each has two delightful confrontal stylized birds — both birds of iron, or of iron and brass. One has two birds made of iron and is engraved “F Erisman/Made by J Long/1841,” Another has a brass bird and an iron bird and is engraved “Jacob/Erisman/Sept 28, 1841.” The punch-decorated eyes of the brass and iron birds appear to be made by the same punches or dyes used on the brass plates of his later lamps. Jacob (1818–1887) and Fanny Erisman (1822–1913) were the children of Jacob Erisman and Mary Metz.
His more fully developed lamps, from several years later, have punch-decorated brass plates. The lids are engraved with the names of the owner and the maker, the date and often the location, Sporting Hill. Extraordinary stylized brass bird finials having wrigglework decoration crown the lids of these exceptional ironwork creations. The chains and wick picks are made of brass and the wick holders are attached to the bottom with a copper rivet.
Two iron forks bearing the name “Fanney Erisman” have survived. Both are engraved in script, as are his lamps, and both have the large and small punched decoration that is found on signed John Long lamps. One is 11½ inches and the other 17 inches in length. A few other utensils with related punched decoration are in collections.
A sewing clamp attributed to John Long is engraved “Harriet Long” in script on one side. Its thumbscrew is decorated with the two sizes of punched decoration that are often found on John Long’s lamps. Harriet Long (1828–1914) was the daughter of the blacksmith Emanuel Long with whom John Long lived in Sporting Hill. She probably received the sewing clamp prior to her marriage to Benjamin Brubaker (1821–1891) in 1845. Another sewing clamp survives with similar decoration on the iron thumbscrew.
John Dyer, a locksmith in Manheim, made an iron lamp with a brass hinge and bird for Anna Gouchnauer in 1865. It is engraved “Anna Gouchnauer/John Dyer/1865” on its brass hinge and the construction, style and dimensions are nearly identical to lamps signed by John Long. However, Long died in 1856. Dyer would have been familiar with Long’s lamps and he continued the tradition Long established.
A group of lamps having oversized, less stylized brass birds and whose iron arm base is flat and covered by a brass plate instead of the usual round-arm base may be of a later date (possibly as late as the Twentieth Century). The engraving on the brass lid, when present, is less refined and not the same hand that is found on John Long lamps. The brass plates are not decorated and the brass lids have oversized tabular brass stops. Copper rivets, used to attach the wick holder to the center of the base, are lacking.
The author greatly appreciates the research assistance and sharing of information by Clarke Hess.
John Palm Boyer
A distinctive form of paint decorated woodenware made and painted in the fourth quarter of the Nineteenth Century in northern Lancaster County has traditionally been called “Boyer” seed chests. This group of woodenware is characterized by a repetition of the design, the position of decorative colors and the style of decoration.
John Palmer Boyer (1833–1901) was the son of John Hemmich Boyer and Catherine Palm. His birth and baptism are recorded in the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church records of Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, Penn.
John Palm (pronounced “PAH-lum” by descendants) Boyer and his wife Elizabeth Saylor (1832–1913) had five children. John, Elizabeth and one daughter are buried in the Brickerville United Lutheran Church cemetery.
Boyer probably made his seed chests and sewing boxes in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century. He is listed as a post maker in the Pennsylvania Federal Census of 1860 and as a day laborer in the 1870 census. In the 1880 census he is listed as a carpenter. The Barnes’ Directory of Lancaster County 1875-76 lists John Boyer as a carpenter living in Brickerville. In an 1884 Lancaster County directory, John P. Boyer is listed as a carpenter living in Clay, a town that adjoins Brickerville. An 1886 directory lists John P. Boyer again as a carpenter in Brickerville. He is absent from the 1890 directory and died in 1901.
His pieces are most frequently painted with a sponge and finger decorated brown paint on a mustard-colored base. Boyer seed chests almost exclusively have diagonal decorative painted bands on the lids, sides and scalloped base. Vertical decorative lines are usually found on the middle of the drawer surfaces. A seed chest in the collection of a great-grandson of John P. Boyer is illustrated. It has diagonal paint decorations on the front, sides and lid.
The form and construction of Boyer seed chests are similar. Most are 22½ inches in height, 19 inches in width, 6½ inches in depth. They are of nailed construction and dovetails were absent on all pieces surveyed by the author. Boyer’s drawer sequence is unusual: five over five over five over seven. The drawer arrangement, in odd numbers, differs from the symmetry of form so commonly associated with Pennsylvania German cabinetmaking.
Porcelain drawer pulls were used in nearly all examples. Brass pulls were used on a few examples. The lids are usually slanted and are attached by brass butt hinges. “John Boyer 1877” is penciled on the inside of the lid of one chest. Another seed chest has “For Barbara” painted on its back in black paint. Barbara Hershey lived in nearby Manheim and family tradition says that a chest was made for each of seven children in her family. Most Boyer seed chests have applied scalloped aprons.
Several seed chests having flat tops have survived. Some have an applied scalloped wood decoration around the front and sides of the top. These chests have 27 drawers with a sequence of five over five over five over five over seven. Decorative buttons occasionally adorn the frame between the drawers. The drawers in the top row are sometimes larger than those in rows below. A backboard may be present. Tulip, popular and pine are the woods most commonly used.
Cigar boxes were frequently used for drawers in many of Boyer’s seed chests. Pencil inscriptions of “red beat” [sic], cantaloupe [sic], and watermelon have been found on the sides of drawers. “Anna B. Stauffer, Brickerville, Pa.” is penciled on the underside of a drawer of one seed chest. The drawers and frame are of nailed construction.
Boyer seed chests with desk-lid forms appear to be stylistically related to, but not identical to, at least one seed chest decorated in the Lehnware tradition. Joseph Lehn and John P. Boyer lived within a few miles of each other and likely were familiar with each other’s work. The dimensions and construction of the Lehn seed chest differs from Boyer seed chests in that it is taller (25½ inches), and has both dovetailed and nailed construction. Its seven, five, five and seven drawer arrangement differs from the traditional five, five, five and seven drawer sequence commonly used by Boyer.
Sewing Box or Chest
A sewing box or chest in the collection of a great-grandson of John P. Boyer has the ginger and feather graining paint decoration found on his seed chests. The sewing box is 7 inches high, 12 inches wide and 6½ inches deep. It has turned turnip-shaped feet and a chamfered lid. A removable tray has four compartments. It is of nailed construction. The sewing box is larger than those made in the Lehn tradition.
The characteristic paint decorated woodenware pieces made by John Palm Boyer in Brickerville in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century are wonderful examples of the Pennsylvania German tradition of combining color with form and function.
The exhibit “John Long & John Boyer: Nineteenth Century Craftsmen in Lancaster County Pennsylvania,” is at the Lancaster Cultural History Museum of the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, 5 West King Street. Hours are Sunday, noon to 5 pm, Tuesday–Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; www.lancasterheritage.com.
Concurrent exhibits include “The Printed Word,” which highlights the printing press and its role in south central Pennsylvania’s history, and “The Amish of Lancaster County,” the history and culture of the Lancaster County Amish Community.
A booklet with 36 illustrations and color cover, John Long & John Boyer: Nineteenth-Century Craftsmen in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania by Donald M.Herr, is available at $15 each, plus $1.25 shipping and handling. To order: mail, fax or call the Heritage Center of Lancaster County, 5 West King Street, Lancaster, PA 17603. Phone 717-299-6440, Fax 717-299-6916.
The booklet is sponsored by the Heritage Center of Lancaster County and reprinted from Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 29 (April 2006): 20-27; quarterly of Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster PA 17602-1499.
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