What is it – More information on Thomas Brower Banker’s 18th century cloth rule

This season at the Mabee Farm Historic Site Pat Barrot and the volunteers and staff have created a new exhibit “Whatsit?” of intriguing and curious artifacts and what their actual purpose was. One of the highlight artifacts is the 18th century cloth rule made by Thomas Brower Banker, a blacksmith in Schenectady during the 18th century. One of our many talented staff, John Ackner wrote an article based on his research (https://schenectadyhist.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/18th-century-cloth-rule/). Although John has done some of the most extensive research into the cloth rule, he was not the first. Today, a volunteer brought in an article by Larry Hart published in the Daily Gazette in 1961.

Larry Hart interviewed respected historian and SCHS trustee John J. Birch about some of the unusual artifacts found in the collections of the SCHS and particularly the cloth rule. The article stated that before Birch’s research the rule was unidentified but still kept because the society recognized its historical importance. According to Birch the “rod was standard equipment in general stores and drygoods houses years ago.” Birch’s interpretation stressed that in such a mixed community as Schenectady (considered very Dutch by many 18th and early 19th century travel accounts) the inclusion of the Dutch “ell” as well as the standard “yard” helped patrons convert measurements back and forth.

Birch’s research does diverge from our recent discoveries concerning the identity of the “TTB” mark on the cloth rule. In Ackner’s research, Thomas Brower Banker was discovered to be the maker of the rule and therefore the explanation for his mark on the rule. Birch also states that the year on the rule “1768 Mart” “meant that the device belonged to a store that had been incorporated in that year.” while Ackner describes it as the year it was made.

Although further research is needed to establish who used the cloth rule, there is the belief that it could have been made for a store in Schenectady or even possibly for a store owned by Banker. There is a strong connection between this cloth rule and a ladle in the Mabee Farm’s collection which is marked 1767. Similar styles in the markings helped connect the two to possibly the same maker.

Although many believe that history is a solid unchanging thing, it is a fluid and ever-changing discovery of facts, resource materials, and previously unknown connections. As researchers and historians uncover each layer more of our communal history can be exposed and explored. The Thomas Brower Banker cloth rule is a perfect example of an artifact finding its voice through the continued research of historians. To learn more about Thomas Brower Banker and his work, read the above article by John Ackner. To see this insightful piece of Schenectady’s Dutch/English history, visit the Mabee Farm Historic Site’s newest exhibit “Whatsit.” For more information on John J. Birch, or to read the article on your own, visit the Grems-Doolittle Library at the Schenectady County Historical Society. The cloth rule will return home to the Schenectady County Historical Society in late fall, 2010.

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