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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eureka Moments Revisited Part 1, a Peek Inside a Gold Miner's Cabin Starts a Quest

Nice Digs, But What's Inside ?
Image Courtesy The Daguerreian Society
From the Collection of Matthew R. Isenburg

     While researching the lives of Gold Rush miners, I routinely find contemporary descriptions of what they needed to sustain life. Many journal keepers were constantly complaining about the inflated prices paid for basic necessities like food, clothing and mining tools. While I have a working knowledge of mid-19th century American / California material culture and might even conjure up a mental image of what they were writing about, in many cases, I'm just guessing. What I really want is a "visual" primary resource to help me understand and guide my choices for recreating their world. This post is about one of the better resources I've found.

William D. Peck in His Cabin
A Material Culture Gold Mine
Image Courtesy The Oakland Museum
Oakland California
     Period photographs are amazing documents but among surviving Gold Rush images, the relative absence of interior views leaves a gap in the record. Luckily, an upstate New York folk artist and lithographer by the name of Henry Walton, helped close that gap a little. Henry came to California, swept up in the "Rush" but still found time to ply his trade as an artist.

      His 1853 painting and subsequent lithograph of William D. Peck in his miner's cabin in Rough & Ready, California, is an amazing document of those elusive details and "stuff " of daily life. I have been studying this painting for years since I first saw it in Time /Life's The Old West series edition of "The Forty-Niners". I've seen the original print on display at the Oakland Museum but it's rather small and when I saw it last, hard to view. Lucky for me, thanks to the generosity of my friend Dwain Baughman, I have a very nice reprint of my own.

Close-up View #1
Top Shelf, Left to Right - Rolling Pin /?/ Tin Grater / Retort.

Second Shelf Down -  Wood & Tin Grater (?) /?/ /Spice Box /
Champagne Bottle /?/ Small Tin Cannister /  Large Tin
Cannister /?/  Ginger Jar (?)

Third Shelf Down - Flour or Pepper Box / Wooden Pantry
Box / Sugar or Flour Box /  Small Tin Kettle /  Wine Bottle /
Adam's Grinder / Stoneware Crock (?) / Crock With Loop
Handle and Knobbed Lid (?) / ? on Top of Crock

Close-up View #2
On the Floor,   Clockwise  From the Top of the Picture

Cast Iron Teakettle /  Large Tin Kettle /  Cast Iron Dutch
Oven /  Sheet Iron Frying Pan  /?/  Wash Bowl ( Gold Pan)

Here are a few pieces I've found so far.

My Top Shelf, View #1
Original Retort for Processing
Gold Amalgam


My Third Shelf, View #1
Left to Right, Reproduction Pantry Box, Flour Box and
Tin Kettle. Original Bordeaux Bottle and
 Adams Patented Grinder
      It's easy to be engrossed by the picture, as all the things that surround Mr. Peck are carefully rendered and as important to the portrait as the man himself. The array of objects bear witness to the simple miner's life, covering cooking needs, storage, bedding and mining. Mr. Walton's detailed study has challenged me to identify every element in the picture to the best of my ability, not just for the knowledge but for the purpose of replication or the purchase of similar examples ( what a surprise !). My goal is to display a recreation of the cabin's interior some day, somewhere. In the mean time, I'm just glad to be adding to the collection of objects towards that dream.

My View #2
Reproduction Tin Kettle, Original Dutch Oven,
Original Skillet, Reproduction Gold Pan

      It would be great if readers of this post would comment on what they think the various elements in the painting are. Some of them are pretty straight-forward and some not so. Feel free to voice an opinion or correct my assumptions, as any help would be greatly appreciated. Just remember that the date is 1853 and give it your best shot.


Tea Kettle From the Steamboat Arabia Collection
A Match to the Kettle in the Painting and On My
Wish List


19th-Century Ginger Jar
courtesy ehow images
Another One On My List
    I've included some late research on two objects in the picture. One is the Cast Iron Tea Kettle and the other is an Antique Ginger Jar that resembles the object at the far right of the Second Shelf. On with the quest !

Yeah !!! I just won this cast iron kettle in an online auction.
 It's a nice early one and very close to the one in the image.
One more for the collection !

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