Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eureka Moments #4, With a Vested Interest or How They Hid Their Wealth.

Original Gold Pokes
Image Source Unknown
     History records that in the very beginning of the rush for riches, the abundance of gold and the initial ease of mining, helped contribute to an atmosphere of honesty and civility among those earliest argonauts. As more and more gold seekers arrived in California, that initial atmosphere soon evaporated as did those finer qualitys of humanity. If you were successful and found yourself handling and transporting large amounts of gold, it was in your best interest to use some method to hide and secure the gold on your person. This need for security explains the popularity of money belts and vests, called Gold Porters during the period.

Original Elongated Poke
With Belt Attachment
Image Source Unknown
      Raw gold dust was typically kept in a tied leather bag called a poke and elongated versions were sometimes attached to a belt that helped secure them under your clothing. It was quite common for miners to convert their raw gold into gold coins as soon as they became available. Before the U.S. mint was established in San Francisco in 1854 and even a little after, many small, privately owned mints sprung up creating their own gold coins in common denominations. These coins and larger nuggets could be secretly secured in a money belt or Gold Porter, worn under your clothing.

Money Belt Used By John Watkins
Image Source Unknown
     For some reason (who needs a reason ?) I was fascinated by the idea of these hidden accessories, with their specific purpose. I though it might be fun to make a replica of an original Gold Porter in order to show how gold was secured at the time. As I studied several original examples, it became apparent that there was a sameness to many of them. They almost always seem to have white china buttons on the pocket flaps and more often than not, have these little diamond shaped, red moroccan leather covered button holes. They also usually have several support straps, as you can imagine the weight of a fully loaded vest.

Robert W. Pitkins'  Gold Porter
Courtesy of Columbia State Historic Park
     I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study an original Gold Porter in the collection at Columbia State Historic Park. Curator Thonni Morikawa kindly allowed me to photograph, measure and draw the classic example they have. This Gold Porter was owned by Robert W. Pitkins and according to the record, was possibly in use from 1850-'64.  I decided that this was the one I wished to replicate.The next step was to start rounding up the materials necessary for the project.

Detail of Pitkins' Porter

     I purchased several tanned buckskins on Ebay that were all a natural yellowish-grey color. Luckily, I bought enough of them to match several for the project.  The original Porters I studied, usually had their raw edges bound with some kind of narrow cloth tape or ribbon. I found a nice linen tape from Wooded Hamlet Designs that I could dye to match the original. The original tape on Pitkins' Porter was woven in a two color stripe but I could only dye mine to match the side that showed on top. The closest I could come on the  support straps was a natural cotton twill tape that I amended with a blue line of stitching, close to the edge. The two pieces of belting that connect the two halves of the original porter, were going to be the hardest to match. I found some cotton belting with a similar weave but had to shrink it to the right width. After it was dyed indigo blue, I had to pick out some of the woven threads and replace them with a contrasting white thread. This simulated the woven stripes of the original. Now that was a pain in the rear!  I traded with my friend Nick Kane for some red moroccan leather and the final hurdle was to craft the pronged steel buckles (3), as nothing even similar is available. 

     To assemble the leather parts, my ever patient wife Lindy agreed to sew the pocket panels with her machine. Yes, many of the originals are machine sewn. My wife is a precision sewer and she did her magic as she always does. I hand sewed the tape binding as was the original and finished the details to complete the project. All in all a pretty darn good replica and yes Thonni, I did write my name and the date of creation, under a pocket flap. I never want to get on the bad side of a curator.
My Replica Gold Porter
With a Copy of an 1850's Advertisement
"The Miner's Heavy Buck Indispensible Gold Porters"

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, thanks! I purchased a very similar leather skin pouch (gold porter) but in a little different configuration on ebay recently. I didn't know what it was until I stumbled on this website and the discription of the museum piece, gold porter, on this site was so very helpful. The information here told me exactly what I had. Everting is nearly indenticle on mine accept for the colors of cloth straps and the pockets are configured differently. Thank You!