Francis Nicholson Up-Date

By Ingraham, Ted | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., September 2005 | Go to article overview

Francis Nicholson Up-Date


Ingraham, Ted, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


In March 2001, I wrote an article for The Chronicle presenting the results of a two-year study of the planes made by Francis and John Nicholson and Cesar Chelor. ' Since that time, while not actively recording Nicholson and Chelor planes, a number of significant planes not recorded during that study have been brought to my attention. The most notable is an early looking, quarter-round, or thumbnail, beech molding plane with the simple embossed stamp, "F: NICHOIJSON" from the Norman Forgit Collection. The mark on the toe of this plane (Figure 1) is only the second to be identified with this version of Francis Nicholson's stamp, which has a colon following the first initial rather than a dot or star. The 2OO1 survey suggested that the plane bearing this mark, a birch plow, could have been Nicholson's earliest production. However, due to the fact that several details of the construction of the plow differed significantly from those commonly seen in his other planes, there was some question as to whether this was the mark of Francis from Wrentham. Following is an in-depth look at these two planes bearing the "F: NICHOLSON" mark and an early group of Nicholson's known production.

In September 1995, Ben Blumenberg wrote an article for The Chronicle on an early wedge-arm plow, then in the Bob Wheeler collection, that had a unique Nicholson mark.8 While the mark on the toe was faint, it was clearly that of an individual with the first initial F and a last name of Nicholson or, as the article suggests, possibly Nicholsson with a double s. What wasn't as clear was conclusive evidence linking this plane with others made by Francis Nicholson of Wrentham. Figure 2 is a side view of the plow in the Blumenberg article and Figure S is an early wedge-arm plow by Francis Nicholson of Wrentham from the Wing collection. At first glance, they seem similar, yet many subtle differences suggest they may be the work of different individuals. While the wood used for the Blumenberg/Wheeler plow was birch, the same material that was used by Francis, the body of the plane is only 9 »/IB inches long, shorter than the length-93A to 10 inches-seen in all Nicholson's wedge-arm plows recorded to date. The second questionable feature was the profile of the fence. Figure 4 is a sketch comparing the commonly seen profile on Nicholson (left) plows with the Blumenberg/Wheeler plane (right).

Francis used a simple, quarter-round molding along the outside edge of the fence and repeated the treatment along the lower edge. The fence of the BIumenberg/Wheeler plow is molded with a common ovolo along the outer edge and has a simple squaredoff lower edge. The profile of the wedge, one of the details most frequently used to compare planes, was at best questionable. Nicholson's early plow wedges tended to be somewhat beefier than those he used in his molders and always of birch, the same material used for the body, arms, and fence. While the form of the wedge of the Blumenberg/Wheeler plane is also quite thick, the cut of the front edge is somewhat different, and the fact that it is made from ash or hickory suggests that it may be a replacement. At this point, I think it was safe to assume there was too little evidence to state, unequivocally, that in spite of its mark, the Blumenberg/Wheeler plane is the work of Francis Nicholson.

Several years ago, I was shown a plane with an identical mark to the Blumenberg/Wheeler plow. The plane was a ½-inch beech, quarter-round plane, a common eighteenth-century profile, used to shape the stiles and rails of raised panel work. The stylistic details of this plane (Figure 1 ), which is in the Norm Forgit collection, arc considerably different from those of the plow and visually much closer to those of Francis of Wrcntham. I compared the Forgit plane to known Nicholson-produced planes that are thought to be his earliest. It is now generally agreed by collectors who have studied Nicholson planes that there are two characteristics that identify Francis's early production: they have a small wedge finial and they are marked with his name alone, in spite of the fact that there is ample room on the plane to include his Wrentham mark. …

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