A Newsletter for Lovers of Early Objects


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Shooing Horn

Does anyone have any idea why such a utilitarian object as a shoehorn should be given top-drawer decorative treatment? We can assume Robart Mindum did: he decorated at least 15 of them between 1593 and 1613.

Here is one of them. It is inscribed around the edge, "Robart Mindum Made This Shooing Horne For Mistris Blake Anno Domini 1612". Inside the inscription is a crown above a Tudor Rose above a compass-drawn roundel.

The Tudor Rose symbolized the end of the Wars of the Roses, the nearly century-long war between the Dukes of York (whose emblem was a white rose) and of Lancaster (a red rose) which ended at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. It stands for the unity of England under the Tudors, embodying the white rose of York inside the red rose of Lancaster. It remained a widely used patriotic symbol of England until at least the end of the 17th century.

Mindum's "shooing horns" all follow a similar pattern, inscriptions around the edge filled with motifs drawn from a limited repertoire: Tudor Roses, crowns, and geometric patterns such as twisted ropes, roundels, figure-eight scrolls and quatrefoils. The engraving was filled with a black or red mastic.

This shoehorn was shown by Titi Halle of Cora Ginsburg LLC at the Ada/Historic Deerfield Online Antiques Show, October 9-12, 2020.,


New England by John Smith 1616

English names and beheaded Turks

The self-satisfied John Smith

The promise of cheap (slave?) labor


John Smith (1580-1631) was an English soldier, explorer, colonial governor, Admiral of New England, author and cartographer. Quite the man! He appears to have been a swashbuckler, always looking out for his own advantage. He was also an unexcelled promoter, both of himself and of the new American colonies.

Let's look at a map he published in 1616 which was, incidentally, the first publication to call New England "New England." He drew the map as he was exploring the coast looking to get rich from whale oil, and gold and copper mines if he could find any. He couldn't.

But the voyage did make him a boatload (sorry about that) of money. He went home with 11,000 beaver skins and 100 each of martins and otters for which he had traded with the native inhabitants.

Smith's map of New England has become justly famous: but wait a minute, he published it four years before the Mayflower sailed, yet all the settlements on it have English names — London, Norwich, Southampton, Oxford etc. and, of particular interest to us, Ipswich and New Plimouth.

Like all promoters, Smith knew the value of celebrity endorsements. On his map he proudly printed "NEW ENGLAND The most remarqueable parts thus named by the high and mighty Prince CHARLES, nowe King of great Britaine."

I like to think of Charles sitting in the palace library with a glass of claret, and randomly assigning English names to what may have been native villages or may have been uninhabited space. There was nothing random, however, about his naming the largest river "The River Charles" and the town on its southern bank "Charlton."

Between them, then, John Smith and Prince Charles gave the impression that the New England of 1616 was already well settled and was ripe for further development.

Some historians believe that the Mayflower passengers had acquired a copy of Smith's 1616 map, but there is no mention of them possessing it on this side of the Atlantic. There is no reason for them to have brought it, for they were headed for the mouth of the Hudson River. But if they remembered the map, we do have to wonder what they thought when they landed in the New England that existed in reality and not on an optimistic map!

Predictably, Smith was promoting more than New England. He wrote on the map, "He that desires to know more of the estate of new England let him read a new Book of the prospects of new England whether he shall have satisfaction." The book, The General Historie of New-England, was of course written by Smith himself.

In the book, Smith noted that Plimouth was "an excellent good harbor, good land; and now wans of any thing, but industrious people."

Because I live in Ipswich, I enjoy his description of the land on which the town was established in 1634, "…this place might content a right curious iudgement, but there are many sands at the entrance of the Harbour, and the worst is, it is imbayed too farre from the deepe Sea; here are many rising hils, and on their tops and descents are many corne fields and delightful groues: On the East is an Ile of two or three leagues in length, the one halfe plaine marish [marsh] ground, fit for pasture or salt Ponds, with many faire high groues of Mulbery trees and Gardens; there is also Okes, Pines, Walnuts, and other wood to make this place an excellent habitation, being a good and safe Harbour."

There's another point to ponder here: the names. It is widely assumed that it was the first settlers who named the towns, such as Ipswich and Plimouth, but Prince Charles had already named them by 1616, so the settlers must have adopted the names he had already chosen. Perhaps they did have Smith's map with them after all. Both Ipswich and Plimouth are fairly accurately located on the map.

There's more "mapaganda" we should look at. Much larger than the Royal Coat of Arms is "THE PORTRAICTURE OF CAPTAYNE IOHN SMITH / ADMIRALL OF NEW ENGLAND" aged 37, anno 1616. The Captayne looks very important and very pleased with himself.

Bottom left is another coat of arms, an odd-looking one with the Latin motto Vincere est Vivere [to conquer is to live] that depicts three turbaned Turks whom Smith is said to have beheaded during a European adventure before he came to America.

Then, just off the coastline is a more elaborate coat of arms with a more disturbing motto, Gens Incognita Mihi Serviet [an unknown race will serve me]. Develop New England with cheap (slave?) labor?

Smith's map of New England, then, was not a map for travelers, but propaganda for investors and immigrants. And there they are, on board that armada of ships on the eastern edge of the map. In her 2018 book A History of America, in 100 Maps, Susan Schulten likens it to a real estate brochure that "conveys settlement as a sure bet." Mapaganda for sure.


Sold at Nadeau's Auction Gallery, Windsor, CT, October 24, 2020. Cataloged as "Rare Diminutive Oak Box with hinged lid, front with "S" scrolls, attributed to Thomas Dennis, Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1670-1700. Provenance: The Vincent Family Collection, Fairfield, Connecticut." Estimated at $8,000 to $12,000; Sold at $36.600

The carving of foliated, adorsed S-scrolls

A less successful variant of the motif

Embriachi carving of two women.

Jon Ording showing the replica box to Catherine Chaison, curator of Ipswich Museum

A Box by Thomas Dennis

A modest little box just sold for $36,600. It was made a couple of hundred yards from our condo in about 1680, and it was made by one of Ipswich's most renowned citizens, the joiner Thomas Dennis.

What made Dennis so famous was the quality of his carving: he loved carving and promiscuously decorated all his coffers, chairs and boxes. A big plus for this box, which I am sure helped it to its high price, is its unusually small size, 13-1/2" wide, 7-5/8" deep and 5-1/8" high. As with most antiques, small is better.

For Dennis, the carving on this box is very simple: Dennis simply took out the background and left the surface to create the design. But there is a fluidity to the design that lifts it above the mundanity of the carving — that's Dennis at work. The back-to-back S-scrolls decorated with foliage make an attractive pair of hearts. This was a very popular design in Devonshire where Dennis was born and apprenticed.

While the general motifs that Dennis used are limited in number and most have their roots in south west of England, they are recognizably his and he never executed to same motif twice in the same way. So it's interesting to look at another carving of the motif that is on the box. To my eye, this is less successful. The curves are cramped, they are overdecorated with the grooves cut into them and the foliage. It's almost as if Dennis was trying too hard here, and not letting the design speak for itself as in the box.

A Bible Box? No

Seventeenth-century boxes like this are often called by a nineteenth-century name — "Bible" boxes: the name is a typical piece of Victorian religious medievalism. Boxes were obviously used to store far more than just bibles; indeed, boxes must have outnumbered bibles by many times. We can recall only one record of a box actually containing a bible: the inventory of John Coleby, of Amesbury, Massachusetts (1673-74) included: "Box with linen therein and a bible" In the period they were simply called "boxes" and today they are more accurately called "table boxes," because they were made to sit on tables or other pieces of furniture.

The probate records of Essex County (in which Ipswich is located) include references to "1 box and some small matters in it, as two small black handkerchiefs, 1 black quoife, 1 bonnet"; "Small squar boxe full of mean books"; "Little boxe with 4 shillings, 2 pence and half a crown."

In England, the 1547 inventory of King Henry VIII listed many boxes: in the closet next to his privy chamber were boxes containing "painted antiques" ("antique" in this period referred to classical Greece and Rome — perhaps "painted antiques" were Greek or Roman pottery); "table men" (chess men); "pictures of needlework"; "12 pairs of hawks' bells, small and great, and a falconer's glove"; "slippers of velvet for women"; "burning perfumes" and two or three boxes containing dolls for his children.

In 1598, a book of manners advised that when a lady rides abroad, one of her serving men "is to carrie her boxe with ruffles and other accessories."

In the crowded houses of New England, boxes offered private storage for personal items. All boxes had locks, probably to preserve privacy as much as to prevent theft, and many were carved with their owner's initials.

When Samuel Sewell of Boston returned from a trip to London in 1689, among the goods he brought with him were boxes for each of his three children, carved "with his childrens Names the first letters of them and the year of their Birth." (as an aside here, we may note that the date on a box may be the birthdate of its owner, not the date when the box was made.)

For most of the seventeenth century, coffers (lift top chests) and boxes were the basic storage items — big things went in one, small things in the other. Toward the end of the century, chests of drawers became fashionable — and they had both large and small drawers and what used to be kept in boxes went into the small drawers. Boxes became less common as chests of drawers entered more and more households.


Ipswich Museum's Whipple House contains a replica of the Dennis box in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is more elaborately carved than the one sold by Nadeau — whose price reminds us why a replica is the only option for a small house museum.

Jon Ording, a furniture maker and restorer in Ipswich made the replica of wood from the town's pre-eminent tree, a magnificent elm that stood just three doors from where Thomas Dennis lived. The tree died in 2012. Jon used wood from the tree to replicate Dennis' box, commemorating two of the town's most loved figures in one artifact.