Home » Materials » Dyes and Paints » The (An?) Oxford Joiner’s Jack

The (An?) Oxford Joiner’s Jack

Some time back I wrote about the dodgy habit dating of jacks based on painted decoration and used the Oxford Jointer’s Jack from Baker as an example of what looked to be a seventeenth century jack that had been given an 18th century date, due to a later painted design. I had a chance to see the jack while on a recent trip to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and having seen it in the flesh, am even more convinced that it is a mid-17th century jack.

Oxford Jointers' Jack, Ashmolean Museum

While the painted decoration is dated 1712, stylistically this large jack appears to date from the mid-part of the 17th century. The silver bands at the mouth and foot are painted imitations probably contemporary  with the paint. Sorry about the reflections in the glass, I wasn’t able to get around them.

Oxford Jointers' Jack, Ashmolean Museum

There are four layers in the handle, the embossed double lines around the spout are a characteristic of jacks of the period 1635-1650.

Oxford Jointers' Jack, Ashmolean Museum

Interestingly, this view shows three lines of stitching in the handle, rather than the more usual two.

There’s another problem. Either Baker’s painting is based on a fanciful interpretation of a possibly written account, or we were looking at two different jacks. The arms on this one are the same but much rougher and on an oval shield, the date 1712 is in the same position and appears to have been done by the same hand, all the other text is missing and the foliage in the painting has been reduced to rough blobs of white. Yet the leatherwork has all the characteristics that Baker highlights as reasons that it can’t possibly date to 1712. The guild must have had more than one, keeping the flash one for the important table and plainer ones for mere members.

I couldn’t see the other side but there is a watermarked photo of it here. If the link takes you to the home page, search for “Blackjack jug, 1712”.

Since writing the first part of this post, I’ve realised the jack Oliver Baker
was describing is the one with Iohn Baker (the use of the letter I as J dates
it to the period before 1650) and the one in my photos is the George Taylor one.
You can see part of the inscription in the Bridgeman Art photo in the link.

I hereby withdraw all assertions, accusations and snide comments, explicit or
implied, that Mr Baker had been too much at the laudanum.

14 November 2013

Fast forward a few years, I’m transcribing Baker’s early drafts into an electronic format for eventual publication (including the missing chapter on how jacks were made)… in chapter 3, p 134 of the typewritten manuscript, Barker observes:

The date of the arms and painting is therefore not earlier than the reign of Queen Anne, but the jack itself has the air of being rather older, and there are incised lines on the spout portion arranged in a pattern not unusual in jacks of the 17th century. It has also tho letters I G twice impressed in the leather, which are doubtless the maker’s initials. John Baker must have re-painted and perhaps presented the jack while holding the office of Master.

but it never made it into the final volume.

20 May 2017


I’ve found a couple of references to the jointers and freemasons being a single guild in the seventeenth century, and the jointers forming their own guild in the early 18th century, the date 1712 may refer to the founding of the guild and the jacks may have come from the original body. (See http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22813#n338)

The Oxford Jointer's Jack, Baker's Plate 1

Baker’s Plate 1. I think I can see a top and middle line of stitching on the picture, similar to the ones in my photo above, probably meaning the jacks were all made by the same person/factory and only the quality of the painting differs. I may also be delusional.

Oxoniensia VII 114 (1942) E. T. Leeds, Leathern Jack of the Joiners’ Guild of Oxford plate X shows a scaled photograph of the Ashmolean jack from both front and left side. The text reads:

At the time of the disbandment of the old guilds in Oxford in the 19th century, their property was unfortunately scattered far and wide instead of being preserved in the city to be a witness to Oxford’s past. Some of the records and the box of the Cordwainers’ Guild came to the University at the death of Mrs. Herbert Morrell of Blackhall, while various pieces of plate have in recent years passed into the possession of the Goldsmiths ‘ Company and in one case of the Ashmolean Museum.

Last year the fine leathern black jack of the Joiners’ Guild (illustrated on PL. x) was presented to the Ashmolean Museum by Miss A. E. Badcock of Leamington Spa, whose family have a long association with the city. It has scroll-work stamped round the spout, the letters LG (twice) in front and a large 4 on the base, and is embellished with arms and labels in colours, red, yellow, green, white and black. On the front are the arms of the Joiners’ Guild, argent, a chevron between three compasses with mantling; on the left the arms of the City of Oxford, below which is the date 1712, the 2 painted over an original 3. On the left an escutcheon bears the name GEORGE TAYLOR MASTER in two lines. The date must have been corrected to record the year of his entry on the mastership. Another jack of the same guild is known. It is similarly decorated and also dated 1712, bears the name of John Baker as Master, presumably Taylor’s predecessor in office.

My current crackpot theory is the Oxford Jointers had four or more jacks, at least two of them were made in the period 1635-1650 and probably by the same maker. The similarly impressed initials on both tend to support this. Baker has a little to say on that subject, “When impressed in the leather with a stamp they may be regarded as those of the maker, as it could only be done successfully when the leather was wet and supported by the wooden block inside…  ” (p184).

During the time of John Baker’s mastery (which I haven’t been able to ascertain but the use of “I” instead of “J” does lend to a 17th C date), one jack was given the painted arms and escutcheon as befits the dignity of the jack used at the master’s table. Years later, possibly around the middle of the 18th century, the new master, George Taylor had another of the jacks painted to celebrate his mastery. Taylor’s wasn’t necessarily done as a copy of John Baker’s, as the arms of the guild and the city are common elements. The escutcheon does look to be copied, but that could be a coincidence. The execution of the painting on Taylor’s, is clumsy and looks to have been done by the stereotypical “bloke who could do it for cheap”. The 17132 date appears to be in the same paint and by the same hand as the rest of the design, the mistake possibly resulting from the date being painted in well after the fact.

Interestingly, the 1712 date on the John Baker jack appears to have been done by the same person at this later date. Another interesting element is the painted bands around the top on both and foot on the Taylor jack. These imitate the silver collars and in some cases foot rings which Oliver Baker comments on being mostly an 18th century innovation.

So, where did the John Baker jack end up after being in “…the collection of Mr. W. J. Fieldhouse at Wootton Wawen near Stratford-on-Avon.”? [Baker, p76]

8 thoughts on “The (An?) Oxford Joiner’s Jack

  1. Pingback: Medevial joiners | Allaspectwarfa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.