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Subject: Dating metal tacks

Dating metal tacks

From: David Goist <gocon>
Date: Sunday, September 19, 1999
Michael O'Malley <michael_o'malley [at] mcc__gouv__qc__ca> writes

>Does anyone have information on the historical manufacturing
>processes used in Europe and North America for making metal brads
>and edge-tacks since the 17th century?

I have been working on an entry entitled "Historical Review of Nails
and Tacks" for the Painting Conservation Catalog, Vol. II, being
assembled by the Paintings Specialty Group of the American Institute
for Conservation.  My entry is too large, I think, for submission
here, but I would be willing to send a draft with bibliography to
interested individuals for review and comment.

The topic is large.  One encyclopedia states more than 1,100 types
and sizes of nails are manufactured.  I assume Mr. O'Malley is aware
of the American Association for State and Local History Technical
Leaflet 48 (1968) entitled Nail chronology as an aid to dating old
buildings by Lee Nelson. The Leaflet is still available as a
photocopy from AASLH and remains the best article on the topic.

While one may be able to visually identify the technique of
manufacture, it is, in my opinion, to date the when a small nail or
tack was made or used. There has been a broad overlapping of
manufacturing techniques.  Hand-forged nails have been made and used
for centuries.  For example, one colleague has commented that in
economically depressed areas such as early 20th century Italy
hand-forged nails were more readily available than machine-made
nails. Traditional techniques and materials were used (as well as
antique parts reused) to make Renaissance revival and fake

The beginning date for the manufacture of tacks ("a small short
sharp-pointed nail having a broad flat head") in America is not
clear, perhaps 1786-1806.  Carpet tacks had thicker shanks and wider
heads than upholstery tacks.  At the turn-of-the-century there were
90 tack companies in the U.S. Today there are two.  The Holland
Manufacturing Co. of Baltimore, MD, still uses "turn-of-the-century
Perkins Tack Machines" so their product has been consistent for 100
years.  The bluing technique for sterilization (for upholsterers who
put tacks in their mouths) came into being in the early 1920s.
Therefore, a blued tack would probably not be found as an original
component on furniture or a painting tacking edge created in the
19th century.

There may be some slight differences between English and American
tacks. Greater differences may exist in the rest of Europe and the
world in general.

Some European and Asian tacks are made from square-rolled wire and
are not at all like American cut tacks according to Richard S.
Holland of Holland Manufacturing Co.

Any comments on the topic of tacks and small nails would be welcome.

David Goist
Conservator of Paintings

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:21
               Distributed: Thursday, September 23, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-13-21-002
Received on Sunday, 19 September, 1999

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