The Dominy Craftsmen Collection

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Three generations of the Dominy family of East Hampton, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York functioned as craftsmen from ca. 1760 to ca. 1850. Nathaniel Dominy IV (1737-1812) was a woodworker and metalworker producing tall case clocks, furniture, and repairing thousands of pocket watches. His son, Nathaniel Dominy V (1770-1852) practiced all forms of woodworking. His activity included work as a furniture joiner, millwright, house carpenter, cooper, and supplier of agricultural tools to farmers in East Hampton township – Sag Harbor to Montauk. Nathaniel V’s son, Felix Dominy (1800-1868) was trained to be a clock and watchmaker. He worked primarily as a maker of tall case clocks and repairer of pocket watches over a short time span of ca. 1815 to 1828 when technological unemployment forced him to forego craft activity and take a job as keeper of the Fire Island lighthouse.

Direct descendants of the Dominy craftsmen kept together and preserved the craftsmen’s shop equipment, tools, and manuscript material on their original site until 1946 thus preserving the only complete record of craftsmen working in colonial America and the New Republic.

The Dominy Craftsmen Collection contains a revised and enlarged digital edition of With Hammer in Hand by Charles F. Hummel; the extensive collection of Dominy family manuscript material in the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Winterthur, Delaware; a video-taped lecture about the Dominy craftsmen; and a brief description of books owned by the craftsmen and members of their families.

Assistance from the East Hampton Historical Society, Richard Barons, Director, and the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, Tara La Ware, Collections Registrar, contributed to entries in Appendix C of With Hammer in Hand.

Twenty-three years ago, Eliza Werner of Sag Harbor was a catalyst in bringing With Hammer in Hand to the attention of Charles Keller and Glenn Purcell and led in 1991 to their collecting of objects made by the Dominy craftsmen. The result of their long persistence, energy, and passion for local East Hampton and Suffolk County history, combined with their cooperation with this author over the past seven years, has been new discoveries of Dominy- made objects, thus making possible identification of the full range of the craftsmen’s production and unlocking additional interpretation of Dominy family manuscripts.

Survival of their shop equipment and tools into the twentieth century, combined with extensive accounts, letters, and receipts chronicling their craft production, business activity, education, social life, and political views, provide unique insights about craftsmen working in rural and urban communities of colonial America and the New Republic; barter economies; transfer of shared Western craft technology and equipment; and an example of early nineteenth century technological unemployment.