Item WP10 - John. M. Taber* (New Bedford) Fixed Sash Plane

John Marshall Taber certainly ranked as the dean of New Bedford plane makers in the 19th Century. He worked for a long time (roughly 1820 to 1872), trained many new plane makers, and provided many of the tools used to build and maintain the world's largest fleet of whale ships, as well as the mansions that housed the owners of those whale ships. This plane, however, has interest that extends beyond the considerable artisty of its maker. It is signed on the toe with Taber's “C” mark, which is not particularly early, but used in the latter half of his working period. Of greater interest are the two owner's marks that appear on the toe of the plane.




The first of these (over-struck by the second) is W. G. Robinson. Robinson was a very common surname in 19th century New Bedford, and various Robinsons were involved with whaling, sperm oil refining, carpentry, etc. One William Robinson, a carpenter shows up in the 1855 state census, and is a candidate for having owned this plane. The other former owner, “C. H. Gifford” was almost certainly the well known New Bedford artist, Charles Henry Gifford. Gifford's father and brother were both ship carpenters, and Charles Henry trained briefly for that before learning shoe making—a trade he did not like. After the Civil War (during which he fought and was taken prisoner) young Gifford came back to New Bedford, and established himself well enough as an artist that he actually made a small living out of it. Gifford's interest in wood working did not end with his trial a ship carpentry. He was known for his penchant for making very fine frames for the pictures that he painted and sold, and perhaps could have used a sash plane like this in frame construction. Sometime after the 1870s he (and his father) built a “tower” as an addition to his house in Fairhaven, Mass. (across the harbor from New Bedford) in which he had his studio perched high giving him great views of the harbor and Buzzards Bay. He well could have constructed the sash in those windows. In the early 1920s Mrs. Elwyn G. Campbell presented talks to local New Bedford and Fairhaven clubs entitled, “Artists of this Vicinity”. She had this to say about Charles Henry Gifford,:

Charles H. Gifford......was born in Fairhaven in 1839. As a little girl I remember his tall, lean figure, white flowing beard and kindly face, and his cordial reception of my father and me, when, on Sunday afternoons we occasionally found our way to his home in Oxford [a village in Fairhaven] and climbed the white tower in his studio that overlooked the bay. I remember being chiefly interested in the reproductions of old-time furniture that he enjoyed making. But as I grew older I began to appreciate his pictures. With little instruction, but real talent, he did fine work in both oils and water colors. He was a shoe maker by his father's wish, a soldier in the Civil War from a sense of duty, but from the age of 26 when he sold his first picture he devoted his life to art. His pictures are mostly views of New Bedford and Fairhaven from the water and of the picturesque islands that we see from the shore, and marine views made off this coast and that of Maine and about the British Isles.”

Gifford painted many pictures in his artistic life times, many of them of small size, and which he called, “my little gems”. These paintings frequently appear today in high end auctions and sell for thousands of dollars.--still in the frames that he made.

The evidence is convincing to me that Charles Henry Gifford owned, and used this plane. By the time of his return from the Civil War and his taking up painting John M. Taber was pretty well out of business (Taber died in 1872), and it makes sense the Gifford probably obtained the plane from G. W. Robinson, not directly from Taber. It is a plane with an interesting history. Easily Good+

            Price - $150.00

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