Please note

Because of the lack of published trowel and masonry tool histories, the information here is based on other sources that may be less reliable and certainly are incomplete. These include eBay and tools that I purchase myself that are the starting points for my research. I will write what I know as I learn it. If what you read here interests you, please check back often and look for revisions and corrections. Scanned catalogs are either mine or by Rose Antique Tools and used with permission, and are on Google Docs as pdf files. A few are links to other websites. Your photos and information are welcome. Please click on any picture to enlarge it. Comments are welcome, but any with links will be deleted as possible spam.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

William Rose and the Early History of W. Rose & Brothers

William Rose sword, War of 1812
The history of the company we know as W. Rose began with Peter Rose (1720–1766), who married Mary Gardner (1727–1796). The family lived in Blockley Township on the western edge of Philadelphia County, both incorporated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854. Peter and Mary owned at least 2 tracts of land, which were in the name of Mary Rose in 1777. Peter was a joiner (carpenter or woodworker) and farmer, and the family had a mill on Mill Creek. The creek is also not on today's maps because it was forced underground as a storm and sanitary sewer beginning in 1869, and the land leveled for building. The Rose's land on Mill Creek began at today's Clark Park on Chester Ave., and ran north between today's S. 43rd St. and S. 46th St., with a corner crossing Market St.

William Rose, born 13 Jan. 1754 in Blockley Township, was only 12 when his father died. William trained as a cutler and may have taken over his father's mill at some time. The W. Rose history on the Kraft Tools website gives 1798 as the date William started the business. In addition to William's first military contract in 1781, his skill as a cutler, his sons' skills, the size of his shop at his death, and the family's owning their water rights all point to the business beginning much earlier. Since trades were passed from father to son, it's possible there were other cutlers in his family. Preliminary research shows several cutlers from the 1600s in Hallamshire named Rose, a William Rose who was a cutler in Dublin in the 1580s, and another Peter Rose who was a noted early medical instrument maker in New York City.

In 1781 William received an advance from Deputy Commissary General Samuel Hodgdon of 980 pounds of iron and 12 pounds of steel to produce bayonets. He made just 200 bayonets, but produced bar iron from his own furnace for Hodgdon through the end of the war in 1783. From this beginning, William and his sons, especially Joseph, made cavalry sabers for local militias, sabers and officer's swords for the Philadelphia Arsenal, cutlasses for sailors, ramrods, and bayonets. They were best known for making blades, but could also make the entire sword. An example is a US government contract dated 9 Dec.1807 for 2,000 cavalry sabers at $5.125 each. By the War of 1812 they could make a brass-mounted artillery sergeant's sword for $4.125.

American Revolution bayonet by William Rose
Some of the Rose's most noted work was the blades for 72 presentation swords ordered by Congress for naval heroes during the War of 1812. Examples of these and others made by William and his sons are in the collections of major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Winterthur.

By 1807, the business was called William Rose & Sons. The 4 sons who became cutlers were:

1807 W. Rose & Sons sword
William Rose (23 Feb. 1783 - 29 Jan. 1854) remained in the business, as did 4 of his sons.

Benjamin Franklin Rose (10 Oct. 1785 - 26 Sep. 1828), after getting his start with his father and brothers, moved to Philadelphia by 1819 and became a surgeon's instrument maker.

John Rose (6 May 1788 - 10 Jan. 1828) is listed as a cutler in Blockley in 1819.

Joseph Rose (20 Dec. 1788 - 27 Sep. 1819) remained a cutler in the business until his unexplained death. His brothers Benjamin and John were administrators of his estate, which is how we know their occupations.

The Book of English Trades, 1827
When William died 19 Mar. 1810 in Somerset, PA, his will described him as a cutler. The inventory of his estate includes his tools, equipment, raw material, and work in progress. From this, we know that the Rose works was producing brick and plastering trowels, sickles, several types of swords, gun barrels, and bayonets in 1810. There were enough men working to justify having 4 wooden tilt hammers, 4 wrought iron tilt hammers, 9 small grindstones and 2 large grindstones. These facts all suggest a business that was well established earlier than 1798. At some time after 1810 the business was named William Rose & Brothers.

Reading the 4-page inventory of Joseph's estate from 9 years later, one gets a sense of the tragic loss of a talented and versatile young artisan. Our consolation is that it also provides us with a valuable window into his life and the business in 1819. The papers refer to a mill and a "new mill". Fortunately there is a map from 30 years later that shows "J. Rose Mills" with 2 buildings and just north of it, "Roseville". The mill was powered with a race from Mayland's Dam, a pond about 2 blocks long, in the center of the Rose property shown in on the 1777 map. We know from other sources that Mill Creek was swift and had carved a deep and narrow valley to the Schuylkill, ideal for water power. Mayland's Pond would have been deep, with the mill situated in a ravine, indicated on the 1849 map.

By 1849 the city street grid had jumped the Schuylkill River and was platted to today's 41st St., with portions of 43rd St. going from Market St. south to J. Rose Mills. This allows us to plot the location of Rose's Mill. It corresponds exactly with the location of the worst of Philadelphia's infamous Mill Creek sewer collapses, the block bounded by Walnut and Sansom, S. 43rd to S. 44th Streets. The north side of Walnut collapsed in the 1930s, and the south side of Sansom in either or both 1955 and 1971. All houses in this block were demolished. The mill's tailrace matches with 43rd St. south of Walnut, where the street has caved into the sewer several times since 1930.


The next generation at William Rose & Brothers were all sons of the younger William. William Rose Jr. (24 Mar. 1810 - 28 Sep. 1883) was in charge of shipping and sales. Joseph Rose (29 Sep. 1823 - 5 Jun. 1881) specialized in plastering trowels. Rudolph Frailey Rose (17 Mar. 1825 - 1 Jan. 1886 or 9 Mar. 1886) was in charge of tempering, and in the 1863 Pennsylvania census his occupation was cutler. John Wesley Rose (26 May 1828 - 28 May 1886) was responsible for grinding.
McElroy's Philadelphia Directory 1839
The first Philadelphia city directory entry for William Rose is 1839, with the address as "Washington (W P)", meaning Washington Street or Road, West Philadelphia. This could refer to the closest main road to the mill, today's Market St., or the 1849 map could have been out of date. By 1844, we are certain that the business had moved east to a more advantageous commercial location, near the first bridge over the Schuylkill River. The earliest known advertisement for the firm was 1844, see below. The 1853 city directory specified Washington St. near Bridgewater St., which are today's Market St. and S. 30th St. This central location offered surrounding industry, a coal dealer, nearby river transportation, and the railroad.
O'Brien's Philadelphia Wholesale Business Directory, 1844
By 1862, Market St. proved much more valuable for the railroad than for a cutler's works. The business moved again to the corner of S. 36th St. and Filbert St., previously Green St., where they remained until 1889. That area has been redeveloped and no old buildings remain.

Philadelphia and Its Manufactures, by E.T. Freedley, 1867
In 1886 the only surviving partner was J. Wesley Rose, and Sarah J. Rose (1843-1921) took over management from 1887 through 1894. Sarah J. Rose was married to William's son John Frailey Rose (1841-1920), who was a physician in Oxford, Chester County, PA. At the time of the 1890 city directory, the business had moved to Sharon Hill, and 1889 corresponds with a 1918 article in Hardware World. In 1894 the Rose heirs sold the business to Octavius Barrell Goodwin. This will be covered in another article.

W. Rose West Phila. round knife
Products made during the Rose family's ownership included swords, brick trowels, brick jointers, brick hammers, scutches, plastering and finishing trowels, foundry molder's tools, saddler's round knives, and probably others. The business did little advertising during this period, but were listed with other trowel makers in hardware compendiums. The 1844 and 1867 advertisements is the only ones I have located from before 1894.     

Older W. Rose tools have the abbreviation "WEST PHILA." stamped after the name. This term was in use before the area was incorporated into Philadelphia. After the 1854 Philadelphia city-county consolidation, the entire area west of the Schuylkill was called West Philadelphia, a name which continues to today. By 1916, Rose had dropped location from their stamp. On some tools the location is in smaller letters, and others it is the same size as the name. This article is continued at History of W. Rose, Part Two.

W. Rose West Phila. presentation trowel, rosewood handle
Two versions of the early stamp on brick trowels
Rose sword references and photographs:
The American Sword 1775-1945, by Harold L. Peterson
ArmsCollectors.com, Four Big Black Swords
Damon Mills, American War of 1812 Philadelphia Made Officer's Sword by Joseph Rose
Delaware Historical Society, Regulation 1813-21 Foot Officer's saber stamped I. Rose
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Congressional Presentation Sword and Scabbard of Peleg K. Dunham 
Winterthur Museum, The Tale of the Sword: A Celebration of Patriotism and Valor

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