Saturday, August 9, 2014

Jacob Perkins Inventor & Genius

Jacob Perkins was born and bred in Newburyport, MA B: July 9 1766 D: July 11 1849 in London Son of Mathew Perkins and Jane Noyes Married November 11 1790 Hannah Greenleaf d.of Ebenezer Greenleaf and Hannah Titcomb Greenleaf  See The Jacob Perkins House 


Jacob Perkins Newburyport, MA building: 2nd floor by Dick Hancsom May, 2010


One of the most ingenious of engravers and one of the earliest to attempt to engrave medallic dies, was Jacob Perkins, whose medal of Washington, bearing an urn and the inscription, "He Is in Glory, the World in Tears," is well known to collectors. He was born in Newburyport, Mass., July 9, 1766. His father was a tailor, and carried on his business in that quaint old town on the banks of the Merrimac, which at that time was a prosperous municipality and the home of many distinguished men. On its principal street stands the church where Whitfield lies buried, the well-known friend of the Wesleys and the Countess of Huntingdon, and to whose fervid sermons on his journeys through the colonies Franklin occasionally listened. Jacob's father had a numerous family, and brought them up in much of the strictness which characterized the period; but Jacob was somewhat disposed to resent the rigor of the parental rule, and it is related that on one occasion having been sent to his chamber for some trifling misdemeanor, his father repaired thither shortly after, determined to apply the rod of correction, but was astonished to find only an empty room; the boy had discovered some balls of the "listing" torn from his father's woolens, and, extemporizing a rope, had made his escape. Whether this ability of taking care of himself led to the immediate result of his leaving home, history does not relate, but soon after, at the age of fifteen, we find him at work as a goldsmith, and assuming a large share of the responsibility of the business. At the age of twenty-one he is said to have made his first attempt at gutting dies for striking coins. A letter from Mr. Matthew A. Stickney, in the Journal for September, 1868, (p 36), says that he "executed beautifully a silver pattern for the first coinage of United States dollars," an impression of which, obtained from a nephew of Mr. Perkins, is in the Stickney cabinet, who esteems it as among the choicest pieces in his possession, and who remarks that it was rejected because it bore the medallion head of Washington.


On the 11th of February, 1800, a Masonic procession was held in which the Grand Lodge, Samuel Dunn, Grand Master, and 1600 Brethren participated, many of them wearing a Medal struck for the occasion from dies cut by Jacob Perkins. The obverse has a bust of Washington to left, in uniform, and surrounded by a wreath of laurel. It bears the legend, "He Is in Glory, the World in Tears," which was suggested by the Hon. Dudley A. Tyng, who was at one time collector of the Port of Newburyport. The reverse has an inscription in four concentric lines and a skull and crossbones at the bottom.

 Washington funeral medal, c 1800 Private Collection Picture from American Silversmiths 


Advertised in the Providence Journal (Providence RI), 5 Feb 1800, by David Vinton offering the Washington funeral medals produced Perkins.
Eleven days later a civic procession marched through the streets of the same city, and another medal, having the same obverse, but a different reverse, with an urn, etc., the dies of which were also cut by Perkins, was worn. These medals were struck in a three-story wooden building which stood for many years in Market Place, Newburyport, and perhaps is still there; it was just below the Ocean Bank.
The "pattern silver dollar" referred to in the above extract can hardlybe classed as a pattern coin. An "impression from the die" would be a better designation, for it appears that Mr. Perkins cut only one die—the obverse. Only one of these impressions is known, which was offered in the sale of the Stickney collection by Mr. Henry Chapman in 1907, where it was described as follows:
"(1793) Dollar. Bust of Washington in military costume facing left, on a plain field surrounded by concentric bands of various designs; in the outer one at the top in incused letters is the word 'Washington.' Struck on a thin silver planchet, the reverse being the same design as obverse incused. Silver. Extremely fine and perfect. Size 2 6. Unique and unpublished, unknown to everyone—not even in Baker's 'Medallic Portraits of Washington, 1885.' It is wrapped in a piece of old paper and inscribed in Mr. Stickney's handwriting—$10 Pattern dollar, 1793, by Jacob Perkins of Newburyport, given me by his nephew—very rare.'"
Ad from  Tuesday, April 24, 1810 Paper: Poulson's American Daily Advertiser Philadelphia, PA



Perkins Mint on Fruit Street, 1890s. Photograph by Noyes Studios. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center   Tribute as posted in the Commissioner of Patents Annual Report 



JACOB PERKINS. This eminent inventor died during the past year. The following tribute to his memory is entitled to a place here, inasmuch Mr. P. took out seventeen American patents — the first one in 1799, for nail making machinery. "A simple and unostentatious notice of the demise of this remarkable man, is all the tribute that the public press has yet paid to his memory. The merits of our ingenious countryman deserves more. He has passed quietly away from the scene of his labors ; but he has left his mark upon the age. He was descended from one of the oldest families of that ancient portion of the State of Massachusetts, the county of Essex — a region of stubborn soil, but rich in its production of men. Matthew Perkins, his father, was a native of Ipswich, and his ancestor was one of the first settlers of that town. Matthew Perkins removed to Newburyport early in life, and here Jacob Perkins was . born, July 9th, 1766. He received such education as the common schools of that day furnished, and nothing more. What they were in 1770 may be guessed. At the age of twelve he was put apprentice to a goldsmith of Newburyport, of the name of Davis.
Elias Davis JR born June 11 1782 son of Elias Davis SR and Phoebe Woodman Elias Davis Sr was son of Job Davis and Thomasina Greenleaf Elias JR married Joanna Coffin on November 1 1831

His master died three years afterwards; and Perkins at fifteen, was left with the management of the business. This was the age of gold beads, which our grandmothers still hold in fond remembrance — and who wonders ? The young goldsmith gained great reputation for the skill and honesty with which he transformed the old Portuguese joes, then in circulation, into these showy ornaments for the female bosom.

Shoe- buckles were another article in great vogue ; and Perkins, whose inventive powers had begun to expand during his apprenticeship, turned his attention to the manufacturing of them. He discovered a new method of plating, by which he could undersell the imported buckles. This was a profitable branch of business, till the revolutions of fashion drove shoe-buckles out of the market. Nothing could be done with strings, and Perkins put his head-work upon other matters.
Machinery of all sorts was then in a very rude state, and a clever artisan was scarcely to be found. It was regarded as a great achievement to effect a rude copy of some imported machine. Under the old confederation, the State of Massachusetts established a mint for striking copper coin; but it was not so easy to find a mechanic equal to the task of making a die. Perkins was but twenty-one years of age when he was employed by the government for this purpose; and the old Massachusetts cents, stamped with the Indian and the eagle, now to be seen only in collections of curiosities, are the work of his skill. He next displayed his ingenuity in nail machinery, and at die age of twenty-four invented a machine which cut and headed nails at one operation.

 In 1795 Perkins setup a nail-manufacturing company at the falls in Amesbury that used water power to drive the machinery. Today the shaft that was connected to the water wheel can still be seen. Photo by Wayne Chase

This was first put in operation at Newburyport, and afterwards at Amesbury, on the Merrimac, where the manufacture of nails has been carried on for more than half a century. Perkins would have realized a great fortune from this invention, had. his knowledge of the world and the tricks of trade been in any way equal to his . mechanical skill. Others, however, made a great gain from his loss: and he turned his attention to various other branches of the mechanic arts, in several, of which he made essential improvements, as fire engines, hydraulic machines, &c. One of the most important of his inventions was in the engraving of bank bills. Forty years ago counterfeiting was carried on with an audacity and a success which would seem incredible at the present time. The ease with which the clumsy engravings of the bank bills of the day were imitated, was a temptation to every knave who could scratch copper; and counterfeits flooded the country, to the serious detriment of trade. Perkins invented the stereotype check-plate, which no art of counterfeiting could match ; and a security was thus given to bank paper which it had never before known. 
There was hardly any mechanical science in which Perkins did not exercise his inquiring and inventive spirit. The town of Newburyport enjoyed the benefit of his skill in every way in which he could contribute to the public welfare or amusement. During the war of 1812 his ingenuity was employed in constructing machinery for boring out old honeycombed cannon, and in perfecting the science of gunnery. He was a skillful pyrotechnist, and the Newburyport fireworks of that day were thought to be unrivaled in the United States. The boys, we remember, looked up to him as a second Faust or Cornelius Agrippa; and the writer of this article has not forgotten the delight and amazement with which he learned from Jacob Perkins the mystery of compounding serpents and rockets.


About this time a person named Redheffer made pretensions to a discovery of the perpetual motion. He was traversing the United States with a machine exhibiting his discovery. Certain weights moved the wheels, and when they had run down, certain other weights restored the first. The experiment seemed perfect, for the machine continued to move without cessation; and Redheffer was trumpeted to the world as the man who had solved the great problem. Perkins gave the machine an examination, and his knowledge of the powers of mechanism enabled him to perceive at once that the visible appliances were inadequate to the results. He saw that a hidden power existed somewhere, and his skilful calculations detected the corner of the machine from which it proceeded. " Pass a saw through that post," said he, " and your perpetual motion will stop." The imposter refused to put his machine to such a test: and for a sufficient reason. It was afterwards discovered that a cord passed through this post into the cellar, where an individual was stationed to restore the weights at every revolution. The studies, labors, and ingenuity of Perkins were employed on so great a variety of subjects, that the task of specifying and describing them must be left to one fully acquainted with the history of the mechanic arts in the United States. He discovered a method of softening and hardening steel at pleasure, by which the process of engraving on that metal was facilitated in a most essential degree. He instituted a series of experiments by which he demonstrated the compressibility of water, a problem which for centuries had baffled the ingenuity of natural philosophers. In connection with this discovery, Perkins also invented the bathometer, an instrument for measuring the depth of the sea by the pressure of the water; and the pleometer, to measure a ship's rate of sailing.


Perkins continued to reside in his birth place till 1816, when he removed from Newburyport to Boston, and subsequently to Philadelphia. His attention was now occupied by steam machinery, which was beginning to acquire importance in the United States. His researches led to the invention of a new method of generating steam, by suddenly letting a small quantity of water into a heated vessel.


After a short residence in Philadelphia, he removed to London, where his experiments with high pressure steam, and other exhibitions which he gave of his inventive powers, at once brought him into general notice. His uncommon mechanical genius was highly appreciated; and his steam-gun was for some time the wonder of the British metropolis. This gun he invented in the United States, and took out a patent for it in 1810. It attracted the notice of the British government in 1823, and Perkins made experiments with it before the Duke of Wellington and a numerous party of officers. At a distance of thirty-five yards he shattered iron targets to pieces, and sent his balls through eleven planks, one inch thick each, and placed an inch apart from one another. This gun was a very ingenious piece of workmanship, and could discharge about one thousand balls per minute.  Perkins continued in London during the remainder of his life. He never became rich. He lacked one quality to secure success in the world—financial thrift. Everybody but himself profited by his inventions. He was, in fact, too much in love with the excitement of the chase to look very strongly at the pecuniary value of the game. He died in London, July 30th, 1849. The name he leaves behind him is that of the American inventor. It is one which he deserves, and which is his true glory. He was entirely self-educated in science, and the great powers of his mind expanded by their innate force. For half a century from the hour of his birth he lived in the town of Newburyport. Here he grew up, acquired his knowledge, applied his genius to action, perfected his inventive powers, and gained all his early reputation. At the present day, when books are in the hands of every man, woman, and child, and the rudiments of scientific knowledge are presented to us in thousands of students' manuals, cyclopaedias, periodicals, public lectures, &c, we can form no adequate notion of the obstacles which lay in the way of a young man beginning his scientific pursuits at the time when Perkins was a youth. Imagine the state of popular science in 1787, and some faint notion may be obtained of the difficulties which the young artist was compelled to encounter in the preliminary steps of every undertaking. The exact sciences were but slightly regarded, even by those who made pretensions to complete learning in those days; and a great proficient in the mechanic arts could only hope to be considered in the light of a clever carpenter or blacksmith. Men did not dream of such fame as that of Watt and Arkwright. It is much to the honor of his townsmen that Perkins was from his earliest days, held in the highest esteem by them. They fully appreciated his genius, and were proud to honor him. In the latter years of his life, when far removed from the land of his birth, his thoughts and feelings always turned homeward, and he never ceased to express the hope of returning to lay his bones in his native soil. His wish has not been gratified, but his memory will remain for ever connected with the spot." 
Hannah Greenleaf Perkins
                                                      


Loftus Perkins grandson of Jacob and Hannah
 

In 1880, Loftus Perkins installed a triple expansion steam engine
Loftus son of Angier March Perkins (21 August 1799 – 22 April 1881) was a U.S. engineer who worked most of his career in the UK and was instrumental in developing the new technologies of central heating.




2 comments:

  1. Excellent post! Perkin's money press was repurposed by him in London for use in printing the world's first adhesive stamp, the Penny Black : http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_Black

    ReplyDelete