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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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CRAFTING A CITY: ARTISANS BROUGHT THE FINER THINGS TO THIS FRONTIER TOWN

CRAFTING A CITY:   ARTISANS BROUGHT THE FINER THINGS TO THIS FRONTIER TOWN
Philadelphia empire game table, circa 1825. Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Western Pa.
As America grew, Pittsburgh grew. What was in the early years the one-room log cabin with a dirt or puncheon floor, basic fireplace, straw mattress and sawbuck table, soon enlarged and became seasoned with finer things.

The local geography, fertile soil, iron ore, virgin forests, sandstone, and coal in the region set the stage for Pittsburgh's development as a bustling manufacturing community in the 18th century. With the manufacturing growth came a dawning artisan tradition.

In 1792, the publication "American Museum" noted that there were “1 Clock and Watch Maker, 2 Tanners and Curriers, 4 Cabinetmakers, 2 Hatters, 2 Weavers, 5 Blacksmiths, 5 Shoemakers, 3 Saddlers” and a host of other skilled workmen in Pittsburgh.

The city emerged as a force in the marketplace, relying on its own strength to produce rather than import goods.

Artisans arrived in growing numbers. That stimulated trade and gave rise to a craft industry. Soon after the hardships of early settlements came the desire for "nice" things.

Cabinetmakers were welcomed. Patrick Mulvaney was born in Ireland in 1792 and moved to Pittsburgh sometime in 1815 to 1826. He is listed in the 1826 Pittsburgh Directory as a cabinetmaker with a shop on Market Street.

His skill with wood is revealed in the Philadelphia style empire game table he made around 1825.

Fortunately, the high-style mahogany table could be identified because of a paper label bearing Mulvaney's name and shop location on the underside. This game table in the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania is one of only a two examples known to exist. The other signed piece resides in the Old Economy collection.

One of the problems in documenting old furniture is that few pieces were labeled. So, there is little certainty in attributing furniture to a particular craftsman. In a few cases, documentary evidence may exist or there may be obvious individual characteristics that can be attributed to a particular cabinetmaker. The rest remains a mystery.

Through studying the history and early records of Pittsburgh, curators like Ann Madarasz of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania trace the lineage of local artifacts.

"I think people see early Pittsburgh as a fort and then steel mills, and miss the real artisan tradition here. A tradition that hasn't had a lot of attention paid to it."

Beyond Western Pennsylvania glass, much is waiting to be uncovered about local clockmakers, cabinetmakers, silversmiths, and other craftsmen.

"A handsome assortment of Cherry and Walnut furniture," proclaimed the advertisement of cabinetmaker John Carr in the Oct. 16, 1805, Pittsburgh Gazette. Other cabinetmakers listed in The Gazette during that era included Thomas Lukens, John Darragh, James Morrison, Elias Neild, and Robert Giffin & William Thorn.

Pittsburgh's early cabinetmakers reflected a pride and style in their workmanship that accompanied a booming manufacturing center.



Q. I have a number of old board games from the ‘50s and ‘60s, like Skunk, Make A Face, Clue and Sorry. They're all in good condition. Are they worth much? H. P. Jefferson Boro, Pa.

A. Age is an important factor with games. The lithographed multicolored boards and boxes made during the late-19th and the early-20th century are highly desirable among collectors because of the vivid colors.

Makers like McLoughlin Brothers, Inc. produced games, toys and children's books. They began manufacturing in the 1850s and continued until 1920 when they were purchased by Milton Bradley. These early McLoughlin Brothers games are the choicest.

When valuing a game, completeness is important. Ideally, the spinner, dice, tokens, playing pieces and directions should be included. Also, the box and game board must be structurally sound and free of water damage.

Prices on board games from the ‘50s and ‘60s vary, but overall range from $5-$35 based on condition and desirability. The great thing about old games is that you can find them almost anywhere; garage sales, flea markets, auctions-you name it.

The hard part is finding them complete.

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