The engraver of Jeremiah Dobbs' 1794 New York Cooper's Society Membership Certificate engraves his name "Rollinson Delt. et Sct." This signature compares with William Rollinson's signature on documented American works in 1791, 1792 and 1796. Examples of these works are published in facsimile by his 1931 biographers and exist in institutional collections.1 The Jeremiah Dobbs New York Cooper's Society Membership Certificate of July 7, 1794 is a newly discovered, early American pictorial engraving by William Rollinson, highly regarded in his lifetime as an American silversmith, artist and copper plate engraver.2 This engraving is a complex and highly symbolic work of art created in post-Revolutionary War America. It is unique.
This July 7, 1794 New York Cooper's Society Membership Certificate No. 76 becomes the Society's earliest known document, and one of only two known certificates, the other an 1827 membership certificate by a different artist with a different design.3 Few early American artisan societies records survive. Winterthur Museum holds a 1791 pictorial, engraved membership certificate from America's oldest society of artisans and mechanics, The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of New York. The Winterthur Certificate No. 196 of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen dated May 11, 1791 was created by Abraham Godwin, following a first printing in 1786.4 The New-York Historical Society is cited as having two other certificates.5
The quality of the color and painting on this New York Cooper's Society Certificate of 1794 is remarkable for its complexity and brightness. Shnydore, its likely painter is identified in the NYHS Dictionary of Artists in America 1564 – 1860 as working in New York City 1790- 1794, and posting a 1788 notice offering his painting in all its branches. "Shnydor" is partly legible below the neat line of the certificate at the lower left, the "o" and "r" partly missing due to paper loss. Perhaps there was an "e", or this is a variant spelling. The NYHS Dictionary cites a reference for Shnydore's name appearing (misspelled) in Thomas Jefferson's 1790 Memorandum Books, vol. I for painting wall panels with faux marble, a small landscape and a garlanded column. Shnydore apparently was a sought after artist.
The 1790 U.S. Census counts Abraham Dobbs and 4 others, 1 male under 16, in Greenburgh Town (now Dobbs Ferry), Westchester County, New York and it counts Jeremiah Dobbs, 2 others, 1 male under 16 in New York City. By boat, the trip between Greenburgh Town and New York City's waterfront was short and Jeremiah Dobbs by 1790 may have traveled with family back and forth between these two locales. This Jeremiah Dobbs may be the cooper whose membership certificate this is and a descendant – great grandson perhaps- of Jeremiah Dobbs the fisherman and ferryman namesake of Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County, New York.6
The historic record thus places William Rollinson, engraver, painter I. Shnydore, Jeremiah Dobbs, cooper and the New York Cooper's Society in New York City between 1790 and 1798.7 The eagle watermark in this certificate's paper dates it to the same period. This paper was locally made by Long Island papermaker Andrew Onderdonk. Gravell Watermark Archive identifies the earliest use of Onderdonk paper as a 1792 letter to Thomas Jefferson.8 The American eagle watermark in the Onderdonk paper centered on the page is yet another early American, graphic element of this rare 18th c. American New York Cooper's Society Certificate.
The Jeremiah Dobbs New York Cooper's Society Membership Certificate by William Rollinson is rich with symbolism of post-Revolutionary War America. "Love as Brethren" centered at the bottom of the scene within a round hoop framed by green fronds and blue ribbon is the motto that sums up the familial bond that membership in the New York Cooper's Society was to engender. Above the red wax seal and motto is a beehive surrounded by worker bees, its open door facing the viewer, symbolizing the welcoming community of workers and the value of industry. A three-masted schooner, with a fluttering American flag mounted on its stern, and its sails taken down, moored at or near the pier, represents American maritime industry and commerce. The view drawn beyond the pier may be the far shore of the East River.9 The busy coopers in this scene work in wood, steel and with fire illustrating the wood barrel making process, youths and adults, alone and in small teams to create the wood barrels that were an essential element of New York's burgeoning American sea trade.10 The artisan in 18th century post-Revolutionary War New York had to be industrious as he or she worked at trades that required mastering knowledge and skills, a variety of tools, self-education, long and physically demanding workdays and challenging living conditions. Leisure time for a cooper or other artisan was scant.
Membership in an 18th c. American artisan society offered its members precious companionship, professional society and the prospect of financial aid from brethren in times of hardship. The New York Cooper's Membership Certificate imagery symbolizes these benefits of membership. Centered at the top of the print is a chubby American putto, astride a wooden barrel supported on each side by winged putti, each nonchalantly holding both trumpet and blue drapery. Our sanguine fellow on the barrel holds a goblet in one hand and a bunch of grapes in the other, toasting and promising mirth to his brethren coopers. The promised mirth and celebration likely includes the 4th of July, a major annual celebration by New York City's artisans in particular. The scene in the New York Cooper's Certificate is a summer day as the trees are in full leaf. The artist shows ripe grapes festooning the blue drapery. The large bird looking down on the scene of artisans may be a stylized American eagle or an imaginary bird.
Mechanics and artisan society members shared and advocated a political philosophy that celebrated the inherent freedom of the individual. This philosophy rejected the view prevalent prior to the American Revolution, both here and abroad that the individual was subject to bondage, servitude or a sovereign from whom his liberty derived and from whom release must be granted. Rollinson uses symbolism to illustrate the new, post-Revolution American philosophy with two female figures standing together in the lower left corner of the scene.11 Freedom is an elegantly robed woman with a cap or helmet and peacock headdress who holds the scroll "Freedom is our Native Right" a cornerstone of American freedom. Lady Liberty, in a red dress, holding her liberty pole and wearing a red cloth liberty cap stands facing Freedom, and rests her hand on the shoulder of a working youth, his back to the viewer, perhaps a cooper, who wears the artisan's leather apron and holds a shovel. Liberty flows directly to him from its source. The young artisan embodies the new role of the independent American artisan to fulfill the promise of Liberty and Freedom in America.12 Behind Liberty, the red, white and blue American flag on the schooner completes the political iconography of the scene.
The final theme illustrated in Rollinson's New York Cooper's Society Certificate No. 76 of 1794 is the duty of benevolence. Rollinson illustrates this theme with four figures drawn outdoors, arranged in the lower right of the scene. The figures look both at each other and at us. To illustrate the New York Cooper Society's commitment to aid its members, Rollinson has drawn a prosperously dressed, healthy man in black hat, white stockings, waist coast and long blue outer coat holding a scroll that reads "Article IX Relief from the Cooper's Society" a likely reference to written Bylaws of the Cooper's Society, and an Article IX that declared the Cooper Society's promise to provide aid to those members in need. Artisan membership dues were typically used to provide aid for food, clothing, shelter or even for education. In this tender scene, we see a mother, barefoot and seated, unadorned, perhaps wearing her black mourning dress as a widow, one young child in her lap, a daughter at her mother's side wearing a red dress with blue waist ribbon and a younger daughter in the same style of red dress with blue ribbon. The man promising aid has his left hand resting upon the young girl's head in a gesture of empathy. The girl grasps his sleeve while her mother extends her arm and hold's her daughter's other hand. Benevolence flows among them. This scene of charity and its elements is not original, appearing in some form in the 1791 Mechanics Society Certificate. But Rollinson's artfully drawn figures belong to a unified artistic composition even while their symbolic value was unmistakable to contemporary viewers.
As we read the imagery of the New York Cooper's Certificate from left to right, Liberty and Freedom bear witness to our lives as Americans at work, artisans joined in teams at work commit to love as brethren and to embrace the principle of mutual benevolence. Benevolence is shown to be a direct, personal act, not one located inside the four walls of a church: the church in this scene is closed. The artist juxtaposes nature's bounty with man-made wealth. Fruits of the vine, the bound sheaf of harvested wheat, the active beehive on its column next to a fruiting tree and a cornucopia spilling with fruit contrast with the American merchant ship awaiting its cargo. Man-made wealth is shown to rest on the principles and industry of America's artisans and mechanics, on mothers and children, on the individuals joined in community who scant years prior fought to establish America as a nation of free individuals. This 1794 work of art bears witness to the challenges that soon threatened the American artisan's ability to partake of the freedom and liberty promised by the American Revolution and to those challenges today that equally threaten the individual exercise of liberty and freedom and promise of American democracy.
1./ William Rollinson, Engraver/A Monograph
prepared by Robert W. Reid, M.D. and Charles Rollinson.
[New York: Priv.Print., 1931] American Antiquarian Society
2./ William Rollinson was born in Dudley, England in 1762. In November, 1788, Rollinson emigrated to New York City. While on board ship in 1788, Rollinson kept a diary of his difficult winter passage. In his diary he writes of carving ornaments, engraved monograms and scrolls on jewelry for passengers and officers observing "one job got me another job of the same kind, but I care not how many as by when I arrive in America it will bring my hand in and I shall be capable of turning cypher cutter in general to the United States." On February 15, 1789 Rollinson disembarks from the ship. He writes in his diary that his first step onto American soil is on the same "sand in sticky grease" he saw brought up by a lead weight used to take the final sounding before the ship moored.
Rollinson's first engraving job in America is credited to be for U.S. General Knox, who immediately hired Rollinson to chase a set of silver gilt buttons with the arms of the United States to be worn on April 30, 1789 by General George Washington on his inauguration as the first President of the United States. The story recounted is that Rollinson refused Knox's offer of cash payment for this first job and that Knox then hired Rollinson to engrave silver armbands and medals for certain Creek Indians visiting New York City (then the seat of the new American government.) Other official commissions for Rollinson to work as a silversmith followed. Rollinson was thus able to bring over from England to America his wife and four children. See NYHS Dictionary of Artists in America.
For a silversmith to take up copper plate engraving was not an unusual technical transition because his design skills and expertise using chasing and engraving tools on silver could be applied to copper plate engraving. Paul Revere in Boston was renowned for both his silversmith work and his early engravings on copper, including the Masonic membership certificate for his Boston Lodge. Rollinson engraved his own decorative business notice in an early New York City directory "ROLLINSON Engraver & Printer 37 Pike St. New York" advertising two trades.
The first copper plate engraving attributed to Rollinson is a 1791 and 1792 illustration for Brown's Bible signed "Rollinson Sculpt". In 1792 he illustrated Maynard's Josephus. In 1795 he engraved a "Plan of Washington". By 1796 he had completed a portrait of George Washington after Savage's bust signed "Rollinson Sculpt". In 1801 he published his "View of New York from Long Island" and Rollinson's signature included his first initial "W". In 1804 Rollinson published his "Portrait of Alexander Hamilton" signed "Engraved by Wm. Rollinson 27 Pine St." that found it audience the following year when Hamilton died. By 1811 Rollinson invented a ruling machine to print bank notes that would discourage forging, a widespread problem at that time. Thus he was active at engraving and printing. He also printed book plates. Rollinson's biographers note that he became a Mason with the Phoenix Lodge in 1794, a New York Volunteer Fireman and an early member of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York. In 1797 Rollinson engraved a decorative Mason's certificate for another lodge signing his work "Bro.Rollinson Sculpt" indicating his brotherhood as a Mason.
3./ Prof. Rock, a well published scholar on the American artisan of 1750 -1850, kindly replied to my research inquiry regarding whether he had located other artisan membership certificates and said he had not. The 1827 Cooper's Society Certificate cited by Howard B. Rock in The New York City Artisan 1789-1825 A Documentary History is published in Rock's work courtesy of The New-York Historical Society.
May 3, 2012, Winterthur Primer – Engraving the Character of Artisans Abraham Godwin's Certificate for the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen, Matthew A. Thurlow
5./ Society of New York Master Sail Makers of the City of New York, 1793 and a small certificate of the True Assistant Society, for hatmakers cited by Alfred F. Young, p.56, courtesy of the NYHS. Engraver not identified in citation. Not available for examination.
6./ The U.S. Census for 1790, Greenburgh Town, Westchester County identifies Abraham Dobbs plus 4 others, 1 (under 16) and 3 females. This Dobbs appears to be a relative of the Jeremiah Dobbs who was the ferryman and fisherman who gave the Village of Dobbs Ferry its name at least by 1781 when George Washington passed through. The 1790 federal census for New York City, West Ward lists Jeremiah Dobbs, 2(males) 1 (under 16). The family descriptions are almost identical. Thus Jeremiah Dobbs, cooper and family may have moved in 1790 from Greenburgh Town to New York City's West Ward in 1790.
7./ I have located four 18th c. New York City Directory entries for the New York City Cooper's Society and several for "Jeremiah Dobbs, cooper" in directories in the catalog of The New York Society Library, whose founders presciently if not preternaturally in 1791 placed an advertisement in New York City newspapers requesting members to deposit pamphlets, newspapers and broadsides to build this exceptional 18th and early 19th century archive. The format of the New York City Directory for the year 1792, has "An account of the different Societies ...with the names of their officers." The Cooper's Society does not appear on the 1792 or 1793 list. The Cooper's Society is first listed for 1796 and again for 1797. In 1798, the Cooper's Society name appears in George Clinton's privately printed Fourth of July Oration as one of the four New York City artisan societies he addressed as sponsors and organizers of this Fourth of July celebration. In 1799, the city directory does not list the New York Cooper's Society. In 1809 it is mentioned in another 4th of July oration. The Cooper's Society continued at least until 1827 based on the membership certificate of that date noted.
"Dobbs, Jeremiah, cooper, corner of Greenwich and Little-queen Streets" appears for 1792 in the 1793 New York City directory. For 1796-1797 Jeremiah Dobbs is still listed as a cooper in New York City first at 104 Gould and the following year on Division working both as a cooper and as a grocer. Jeremiah Dobbs, cooper, member No. 76, was an early member of the New York Cooper's Society. It only took from 1794 until 1798 for the Cooper's Society membership to increase enough for it to be an organizer of that year's Fourth of July celebration. Rock, see below, discusses New York City's artisan population growth at this time making New York City the largest center of artisans in America. By 1790, New York City had 4,000 craftsmen out of 33,131 residents. By 1800 there were 60,515 residents and New York's artisan and mechanics community was the largest in America. See Rock n.3.
8./ Gravell Watermark Archive, Eagle.113.1. See letter to Thomas Jefferson dated October 15, 1792. www.gravell.org/record.php?&action=GET&RECID=4487
This Thomas Jefferson letter is held by the Library of Congress.
9./ Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1854 by D.T. Valentine, facsimile "Plan of the City of New York in the State of New York in North America. published 1797." Valentine's facsimile 1797 map shows the streets, wharves and wards of New York City when Jeremiah Dobbs' lived on Division Street, not far from Hallet's Wharf, where Cooper's Society Chairman John Utt is listed in the 1793 and 1796 city directory. While our Cooper's Society Certificate may show an actual pier, this 1797 map only permits me to identify Hallet's Wharf. It is tempting to locate the scene of the Cooper's Society Membership Certificate at Hallet's Wharf on the East River where Chairman Utt and family worked.
10./" The Cooper", from Hazen's The Panorama of Professions and Trades , 1845, written for youth in contemplation of taking up a trade. A woodcut shows three coopers working inside a shop each making different elements of a wood barrel from log, to stave and a truss hoop being driven down. The New York Cooper's Society Certificate of 1794 shows the coopers at work outdoors making barrels with the same techniques.
"1. The cooper manufactures casks, tubs, pails, and various other articles for domestic use, as well as vessels for containing also kinds of liquids and merchandise of a dry nature. He also applies hoops to boxes which are to be transported, with their valuable contents, to a distance from the cities..."
"4. Cedar and oak are the woods chiefly employed as materials in this business; and the persons who carry it on, as well as journeymen, confine their attention to the production of wares from one or the other of these woods: ...cedar coopers and oak coopers....(sic)"
"5.... in some place flour barrels are the casks most needed; in others, those for sugar, tobacco, pearl-ash, or some kind of spirits." A description follows of how a wood tub is made, naming the tools: frow, straight drawing knife, a long plane. Staves are shown set in a truss hoop. The Dismal Swamp, lying in Virginia and North Carolina is credited with an abundance of cedar. Oak, on the other hand is handled differently. "In bringing the staves to the proper form, the workman is guided altogether by the eye; and if they must be bent, they require to be heated. The fire for this purpose is made of shavings and chips in a small furnace of sheet iron, called a crusset. ..." The New York coopers had local access to oak, which was abundant.
"11. English coopers derive a great deal of their employment from the West India trade. ...In the United States, much work of this kind is done for the same market; but then the staves and heads are only fitted and marked here, to be afterwards put together in the West Indies."
11./ Rollinson's portrayal of Liberty with cap and pole predates by two years Edward Savage's iconic 1796 engraving "Liberty in the form of the Goddess of Youth, Giving Support to the Bald Eagle." [Please see Original Antique Maps, The Back Room for image.] The red conical cap is historically a symbol of a free person, although the red cap and pole have had several different meanings in history dating from the Romans. Debate in mid-19th century America over how to represent Liberty atop the new Capitol building, included Jefferson Davis' objection to Crawford's portrayal of Liberty with a liberty cap and pole. Crawford's final statue of Liberty atop the Capitol Dome wears a crested war helmet and a sword. This imagery was substituted for Liberty with the liberty cap and pole, bowing to Davis's objection (notwithstanding the U.S. Civil War raging over the practice of slavery in America) that the liberty cap and pole incorrectly implied an external authority conferred liberty upon each American rather than that each American's liberty is innate.
12./ A theme fully developed in The New York City Artisan 1789-1825, A Documentary History, Howard B. Rock, Ed., State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1989.
May 3, 2012, Winterthur Primer – Engraving the Character of Artisans Abraham Godwin's Certificate for the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen, Matthew A. Thurlow
The New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860, George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven 1979
The Panorama of Professions and Trades or Every Man's Book.
Embellished with Eighty-Two Engravings.
Edward Hazen, Uriah Hunt & Son, Philadelphia, 1845
Prints in and of America to 1850, John D. Morse, ed.
Winterthur Conference Report 1970, Jonathan L. Fairbanks, Chairman
The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, printed for The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1971
Annual Report, State of New York, Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1912, report on labor organizations.
The New York City Artisan 1789-1825, A Documentary History,
Howard B. Rock, Ed., State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1989
Artisans of the New Republic, The Tradesmen of New York City in the Age of Jefferson, Howard B. Rock, New York University Press, New York, 1984
American Artisans, Crafting Social Identity, 1750-1850, Howard B. Rock, Paul A. Gilje, and Robert Asher, ed., The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1995
William Rollinson, Engraver/A Monograph
Robert W. Reid, M.D. and Charles Rollinson. [New York: Priv.Print., 1931] American Antiquarian Society collection
Billheads & Broadsides, Job Printing in the 19th Century Seaport
Essays by Stephen O. Saxe, et al., South Street Seaport Museum, New York, New York, 1985
An Index to The Illustrations in the Manuals of the Corporation of the City of New York 1841-1870, Society of Iconophiles, New York, New York, 1906
Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution.
Alfred F. Young, NYU Press, New York, 2006