Wednesday, July 15, 2015

John Gerald Shea's "Friendly Gremlins"

From John G. Shea, Woodworking for Everybody. (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1944, Fourth Edition 1970).

I picked up this book (along with another Slater vise!) at a yard sale a couple of weekends ago.  I love old shop books and have collected quite a few, but I'd never encountered this one before.  I love the whimsical illustrations included throughout the book that Shea referred to as "Friendly Gremlins."

In his comprehensive online book, A History of Woodworking: Narratives of Woodworking Epochs in America, Britain and Japan, Raymond McInnis provides the following information:

John Gerald Shea was born June 7, 1906, at Rye , NY and died in Greenwich , CT , November 12, 1980. He attended the State University of New York from 1926 to 1930, going on to graduate study at New York University, Columbia University and Whitewater College.  In the 1934, he collaborated with Paul Nolt Wenger, a Manual Arts Supervisor for the Greenwich, Connecticut public school system on a book on colonial furniture.  The two men continued this collaboration on several other books, culminating in Woodworking for Everybody in 1944.  This was targeted at the over-35 year-old men untouched by conscription in World War II.  McInnis concludes:

I don't think it is an exaggeration to claim that the four editions of this woodworker's manual make it one of the most significant documents of the woodworking "movement."

In 1970, Shea himself wrote in the preface to the 4th and final edition:

When prefacing a new edition of a book which has been in print for over one-quarter of a century, the author's first impulse is to express a resounding thank you to the thousands of people who have made his work so enduringly popular. But with this expression of gratitude comes reflection on the changes which both the book and the world have undergone in the years since the original edition was published. For the world, this quarter-century spans the advent of the atomic bomb, many major wars, and the fantastic accomplishment of men walking on the moon.
And the book, born in the turmoil of World War II, has also changed. At first, it was designed essentially as a school textbook -- and used in industrial arts and vocational education classes. In this role, it was adopted by many state boards of education. Shea -- the author -- claimed that he was gratified by the part it played -- and still plays -- as a practical educational medium.
Then, during the immediate postwar period, this work was more generally used by homemakers. Many of its new readers had only recently returned from the rigors of military combat and were eager to settle down and apply their creative abilities to the peaceful pursuits of building and furnishing new dwellings. Thus, as the book advanced into its 2nd Edition, additional material was offered to help new home-makers with their domestic woodworking activities. This gave birth to a tandem "trade edition" which soon attained circulation equal to that of the original textbook edition.
Meanwhile, with the dawn of the nuclear age, all things started to change—even the techniques, tools, and materials of woodworking. So much so, in fact, that anybody examining the fourth edition of Woodworking for Everybody and comparing it to the first and second editions will find very little of the text and photographs remain the same. Actually, about the only original elements are the animated chapter headings and caricatured tools, which seem to have endeared themselves to readers as "friendly Gremlins" ever since the book was first published. But aside from these creepy characters and the "Safety First" sketches and standard line illustrations, little else of the original edition remains. 

Also of interest  is the list of American tool manufacturers acknowledged in the 1970 edition. Most of these have since disappeared entirely or have been absorbed by the few large tool-making corporations that now dominate the industry:

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