Paper Knife, c. 1780-1826
At Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia one of the most important buildings on the plantation was the Monticello joinery located on Mulberry Row. A joiner was a highly skilled craftsman trained in woodworking. Over the course of Jefferson constructing and reconstructing his home at Monticello the Mulberry Row joiners produced some of the finest architectural woodwork and furniture in Virginia. To operate the joinery Jefferson engaged emigrant joiners from Ireland, James Dinsmore (c.1771-1830) and John Neilson (?-1827). While at Monticello they trained their assistants, typically slaves, of whom John Hemings (1776-1833) is the most notable. Jefferson considered Disnmore and Neilson “house joiners of the very first order both in their kno[w]lege in architecture, and their practical abilities.” Pine and poplar were the primary woods selected for architectural woodwork, though the parquet floor in the parlor, the work of James Dinsmore, was of cherry and beech. To avoid incurring the cost of imported pieces of furniture, particularly from France, Jefferson directed the production of furniture made from mahogany, cherry, and walnut of his own designs that reflected current French taste. The understated design of this paper knife which originally belonged to Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), probably utilizes a piece of scrap mahogany from a larger project, reflects the simple yet elegant fashion of the furnishings produced within the Monticello joinery. The ink inscriptions on both sides – “Randolph” on the handle and “from Jefferson’s bedstead” on the blade – were written by Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) after her father’s passing on July 4, 1826. A number of Jefferson Family relics were marked by family members immediately after his death as a way of preserving his memory. A fauteuil, a type of French armchair, bears similar markings carved into the inside of the left arm by Nicholas P. Trist (1800-1874), Jefferson’s grandson-in-law, to indicate it was the last chair used by Jefferson before he died. This paper knife descended though Martha Randolph to her granddaughter, Sarah Randolph Hammerslough (1871-1959).