Sibley Scythe Co., North Newport, N. H.

Hall, Elton W

This simple looking slip of paper (Figure 1) hearing an order blank on one side and images of ten different scythe blades on tbe reverse led to a surprisingly lengthy meander through the Directory of American Toolmakers as one name led to another. The Sibley Scythe Co. turns out to be the last in a long line of scythe making firms that spanned three quarters of the nineteenth century to about 1909. Ezra Sibley was making scythes in Millbury Massachusetts, in the 1820s. His son, Kxra Taft Sibley, was only thirteen when Ezra died in 1880, so there must have been some bridge between his father’s death and the time he could carry on the family business himself. Eventually lie did, establishing himself in Newport, New Hampshire, by 1848.

Meanwhile, Sylvaniis Larned was probably the Larned making scythes in partnership with Samuel and/or Eiisebius I IaIe in Waterville, Maine, from 1836 to 1839. He appears in Newport by 1842, and Ezra Sibley joined him in 1848, forming the partnership of Larned & Sibley. It was a short-lived partnership, for Larned died that year and was succeeded by William Dunton in a partnership that lasted until 1851, when Ezra Taft Sibley then worked on his own until his son, Frank Arthur Sibley, joined him in 1873 to form the Sibley Scythe Co. Ezra retired in 1891, and Frank continued the company, probably until his death in 1909.

Using the DAT, one could continue exploring the scythe-making network for there were two relatives of Ezra Sibley in Millbury, Amos and Perley Sibley, who made scythes, and the Hales had other partners in Waterville. Before the Industrial Revolution, family connections were important for learning trades, and often families practiced a particular trade as a group. But to find customers and establish themselves in business, it was often necessary to leave their hometowns and seek other places where their services were in demand.

It is interesting to note the various styles of scythes available and the seemingly slight differences between them (Figure 2). The identification of some suggests quality of metal-Butcher’s Best Razor Steel-and others affect a romantic name: “King of the Meadow.” Curiously this latter is only in the middle of the price range. Scythes performed more tasks than harvesting, and different harvests and different harvesters required different blades.

EAIA Executive Director Elton W. Hall is a longtime contributor to The Chronicle and writes regularly on print ephemera.

Copyright Early American Industries Association Sep 2004

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