James Bacon Addis, Prize Medal Carving Tools

James Bacon Addis (1829-1889) was the younger brother, by 18 years, of Samuel Joseph Addis. He was a third generation carving tool maker – his father, Joseph James Addis (1792-1858), was master to his older brother and his grandfather, Samuel Bayton Addis (1768-1832), had worked in the trade since the 1780s. He might have been able to make a claim of being a fourth-generation maker as his brother S. J. Addis would have been in his early 30s when James began his apprenticeship – practically a generation removed – and James would have had the benefit of studying with two generations of highly skilled edge-tool makers. Indeed, it is not clear who James  apprenticed with. James, his brother, and his father may all have worked together for a period of time. When S. J. Addis moved to Lower Fore Street, James could have served his apprenticeship in either his brother’s place of business or his father’s shop in Church Street or could have divided his time between them.

As Geoffrey Tweedale describes it, S. J. and J. B. Addis lived complicated lives and the relationship between them was often difficult and byzantine. Did the 22-year-old James win his Prize Medal at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 through deceit? That may be impossible to ever know though James continued to win prize medals at international exhibitions including the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. Despite the medals won and his apparent gifts for self-promotion his finances were problematic. In 1864 he looked to the Sheffield firm of Ward & Payne for employment, ultimately spending the rest of his working career in that city. After a litigious time working for Ward & Payne he was on his own again by at least 1876, advertising against imitation ADDIS tools and complaining to a Sheffield newspaper at the time of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (where carving tools made by the Ward & Payne firm that included the imprint of S. J. Addis were also exhibited) that “…no goods bearing my brother’s mark can possibly equal my own…” His two sons, James Bacon Barron Addis (1852-1909) and George Kennedy Addis (1869-1915), joined him in the trade (coincidentally there is almost the same age difference between them as there was between J. B. and S. J. Addis) and continued the manufacture of J. B. Addis & Sons carving tools after J. B. Addis’s death in 1889. After the death of James Bacon Barron Addis in 1909, his widow Elizabeth became the governing director of the firm until her death in 1933.

While dating some J. B. Addis and J. B. Addis & Sons carving tools can be fairly precise, it is difficult to present a concise chronology for the tools made after the mid 1870s. The dates given in the captions for the tools  is open to revision should new information come to light. There are a number of variant J. B. Addis imprints recorded on carving tools that are not illustrated in this post.

A carving gouge with a J. B. ADDIS JUNr imprint. Like his brother S. J. Addis, J. B. Addis used the junr designation when he began marking his tools. This gouge would have been made at the end of his apprenticeship but before he began adding a PRIZE MEDAL imprint for the award he earned in at the Great Exhibition in 1851. 1849-1851. Storb Collection.

The J. B. ADDIS JUNr imprint on the reverse of the carving gouge in the previous slide. This is the only recorded tool I’m aware of with this mark. I have seen one tool with the imprint J. B. ADDIS without JUNr. Storb Collection.

After being awarded a prize medal at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, J. B. Addis andded the imprint PRIZE MEDAL to his tools. On this tool he continued to use JUNr following his name. 1851-1858. Web auction image.

J. B. ADDIS over PRIZE MEDAL imprint. Without the JUNr imprint, this tool was probably made after J. B. Addis’s father ended manufacturing edge-tools but before J. B. was awarded a second prize medal. 1858-1862. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS over PRIZE MEDAL imprint on the reverse of the gouge in the previous slide. 1858-1862. Storb Collection.

What must be the most ornamental imprint ever used on a carving gouge. This is the only recorded tool with this imprint. The owner published this amazing survivor on his blog in 2012. It can be seen here. After 1852.

In 1862 J. B. Addis was awarded a second prize medal at the International Exhibition in London. This is a V-tool that appears to have been reshaped into a long bent tool after originally being forged as a straight tool. This created a slight arch in the name imprint. 1862-1870. Web auction image.

PRIZE MEDALS imprint on the bottom of the V-tool in the previous slide. Web auction image. 1862-1870

J. B. Addis continued to collect awards, adding the dates of the prize medals to his imprints. Medals won in 1851, 1862, 1870, and 1871 are recorded in this imprint.  J. B. Addis and his family moved to Sheffield in 1864/5 and the tools in this and the following slides were manufactured in that city, not London. 1872-1876. Storb Collection.

The reverse side of the gouge in the previous slide. By the early 1870s at least one son had joined J. B. Addis in business. 1872-1876. Storb Collection.

A carving chisel made by J. B. ADDIS & SONS with a clearer imprint than the tool in the previous slide. 1872-1876. Web auction image.

A carving gouge made by J. B. ADDIS & SONS. This imprint adds the date of the medal awarded at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. 1877-1878. Web auction image.

This imprint records medals awarded to J. B. Addis and J. B. Addis & Sons at 7 exhibitions spanning the years 1851-1878. 1878- mid 1880s. Web auction image.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD imprint. The city of origin imprint was likely added to tools in the late 1870s. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

Reverse of the tool in the previous slide. Listing the years in which prize medals were awarded had become unwieldy. A new imprint, 9 PRIZE MEDALS over 51 & 62, replaced the long string of years imprint. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS used different size stamps to imprint various sizes of carving gouges. Three sizes and two layouts are used on these gouges. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

Two sizes of the 9 PRIZE MEDALS over 51 & 62 imprint. 1881-1890. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD imprint. 1890-1900. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD imprint. Detail of the tool in the previous slide. 1890-1900. Storb Collection.

10 PRIZE MEDALS over 51 & 62. Reverse of the tool in the previous slide. This is the first tool illustrated that was probably made after the death of J. B. Addis. 1890-1900 Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND and a sweep number. Sweep numbers are presumed to have never been imprinted on tools made by the J. B. ADDIS & SONS firm before the death of J. B. Addis. The country of origin may have been added to the tools in the mid to late 1890s. 1895-1910. Storb Collection.

J. B. ADDIS & SONS over SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND and a sweep number. Detail of the carving gouge in the previous slide. 1895-1910. Storb Collection.

Reverse of the carving gouge in the previous slide. 10 PRIZE MEDALS. The 51 & 62 dates have been eliminated in this imprint. 1895-1910. Storb Collection.

Hammacher, Schemmer & Co. is a New York City store that specialized in hardware and tools when it was founded in the mid nineteenth century. The company name used on the label in this box of carving tools was adopted in 1883.  The boxed set of 12 tools likely date before WWII. J. B. ADDIS & SONS LTD. continued to operate into the 1950s. H.S. & CO. can be found stamped on many early twentieth century tools, hardware items, and workbenches. Web auction image.

The boxed set of carving tools includes Arkansas sharpening slips and a woodcarver’s stamp for frosting backgrounds with the imprint BUCK BROTHERS, an American edge-tool manufacturer. A quite proper Edwardian woodcarving set. Web auction image.

11 thoughts on “James Bacon Addis, Prize Medal Carving Tools

  1. Chris-

    Excellent post, as always. Your descriptions and your own precision with tools remind me of Franklin’s reminiscence about his father attempting to gauge his inclination for a particular trade by taking him around Boston in his youth to observe joiners, turners and others at work. Franklin later wrote that “it has ever since been a Pleasure for me to see good Workmen handle their Tools….” Lemay and All, editors, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (N.Y. & London: W. W. Norton, 1986) 9.



    • Jay,
      Thanks for the kind words and relating Franklin’s reminiscence. It would (and does) work both ways, those in the trade would be on the look out for potential apprentices who showed ability and interest. Handing a youth a pencil, needle and thread, turning tool, or carving gouge is a good way to gauge someones innate skill when on the look-out for a new apprentice.


  2. Chris-

    Nice post. Its always interesting to see what others find on the Addis family. I have used, collected, studied Addis tools over 30 years. J.B. Addis made the best tools of his family and deserves the Prize Medals. S.J. Addis was not a good tool maker. His tools greatly improved after he hired Thomas Herring in 1850. He was good at promoting, sales and finding people to make his tools.


    • John,

      Interesting thoughts. I have no information that S. J. Addis was a made poor tools or not. My early S. J. Addis Junr gouges work as well any any other tools I have – in my work, I can’t say I’m able to perceive a difference. That said, a properly tuned modern tool can work well for me also, though there are hurdles to overcome with modern, pre-sharpened tools to make them truly useful.


  3. I started adding Addis tools to my kit about twenty years ago after a retired trade carver recommended them to me. I love their feel in my hand, the variety of sweeps and their cut. Today I was asked a question regarding the history of the tools and was lost for an answer. Thanks to your article I am now better educated.

    • Glad to hear. There is next to nothing in hard print about the Addis carving tool makers, but there are several on-line histories that I mention in posts. There is recent information available on Ancestry.com that also helps with the story.


  4. I have been collecting and using Addis tools for years and only now has the question occurred to me – where did this family get their wonderful steel when mass production was not available until after Bessemer?

  5. A very informative and interesting read thank you.
    One question I have a chisel stamped J.R.R.ADDIS&SONS
    have you come across one or have any ideas?

  6. I have a B.J. Addis & Sons chisel.On the what, I call the reverse side a Trade mark. B.J Addis and Sons Under this is Cast steel. On the front 6 England. How can I send you a photo. I am wondering how old this chisel may be? The blade is 23 MM wide. What would the 6 represent? Regards Tom

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