If you’re a carver, woodworker, or interested in the history of edge-tools you will recognize some or all of the names in the title of this post. “ADDIS” in one form or another was imprinted on edge-tools produced in England, primarily woodcarving tools, for well over a century. Many of the carving tools made by members of the Addis family survive and are sought out and used by professional and amateur carvers. The Herring Brothers may be less well known but edge-tools with their imprint are as well regarded as any produced by the Addis family. Indeed, one of the Herring brothers moved from Sheffield to London to apprentice with Samuel Joseph Addis. Ward & Payne is known as a Sheffield edge-tool manufacturer that employed one member of the Addis family and bought the rights to use the name of another member after his death.
There are many reasons why we might choose to use historic tools today. Carving tools made in England in the nineteenth century have the reputation of being the best ever made, superior to tools available today. There is a romance and nostalgia about tools used by prior generations of carvers whose names are often found stamped on their handles – wishfully thinking some of the skill of a bygone master will rub off on us. But I own and have used carving tools from all the nineteenth-century makers as well as most manufacturers making carving tools today and find a properly shaped and sharpened modern tool works as well as its historic counterpart whatever the metallurgical differences between them may be. There are real, factual differences however that would warrant seeking out historic tools, but the main reason I started acquiring them was the pricing. Carving gouges continue to be labor-intensive to make and as a result are expensive. This is often an impediment to someone starting out in the field or to someone who might want to try woodcarving but is unsure if they will enjoy it and wish to continue with the practice. Used or second-hand tools, for which both historic and contemporary tools qualify, are (with some exceptions) typically less expensive than new tools – often by half.
But when, after many years, you have built up a sizable collection of old tools, the historian in you wants to know more. Who were these makers? What years did their working careers span? Are there other makers I don’t know about because I have never found one of their marked tools? What were the “prize medals” we see imprinted on tools from several makers awarded for? And why so many different imprint versions, especially in the case of S. J. Addis (1811-1871) who seems to have purchased a new stamp every several years to imprint his tools?
Several studies of the Addis family, which also touch on the family’s connection with Ward & Payne and the Herring brothers, have been web published and they inform the captions for the following illustrations. The links are here:
Gary P. Laroff published his overview in 2006 and I know from correspondence with him that he has gathered additional information since then including previously unrecorded imprints.
Though I had not known it before I read Laroff’s overview, I was not surprised to find the Addis family of edge-tool makers worked in Deptford, a district in south-east London that from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries was a Royal Dockyard town. It was in Deptford that Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) family had settled and where he may have worked in ship carving before catapulting to fame with encouragement from the connoisseur and diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706). Historically, carving tool makers would be best served working in proximity to the end users of their products. A close working relationship between the carvers and tool makers was useful and necessary in London from late seventeenth into the eighteenth century when intense technical demands were placed on woodcarvers, particularly in the case of the Gibbons shop. With carving tool makers and carvers living and working within blocks of one another, experimentation with new shapes and sizes of tools could happen in real-time
The histories concerning the Addis family as edge-tool makers take us back not much earlier than 1792 when Samuel Addis (1768-1832) is recorded working in Church Street, Deptford. It is uncertain if earlier generations of the Addis family worked in the trade or how long the family had been in Deptford prior to this time. Late nineteenth century advertisements proclaim the Addis family tradition of edge-tool making was “Established in 1717” but there is no published evidence for this.
It is undeniable, however, that forging, hardening, and tempering carving tools is an exacting Art and Mystery and a trade whose secrets were handed down through generations. Whenever the Addis family began their tradition of making carving tools it is cannot be a coincidence that the most successful dynasty of carving tool makers hail from Deptford, the parish that launched the career of the “Glorious Grinling Gibbons”.
The following images are a collection of imprints on carving tools made by Joseph James Addis (1792-1858) and his son Samuel Joseph Addis (1811-1871).
Up next – James Bacon Addis (1829-1889).