Providence, Rhode Island: Providence Tool Company Armory, 1860-1863. Unbound. This archive contains over 300 records documenting business conducted by the Providence Tool Company Armory between the years 1860-1863 including both manuscript (the majority) and partially-printed purchase orders, bills, letters inventory lists, sales records, and other documents. The documents are sorted chronologically and in nice shape. The documents are related to the purchase of
boards and planks, boiler riggings, boxes, charcoal, cooling compound, grindstones, iron, meal, middlings, oats, sperm and other oils, sandpaper, sawdust, scrap steel, etc.
and the production, purchase, and sale of
bolts, calipers, castings, chains, hangers, hatchets, hinges, hoops, joint plates, links, latches, locks, nuts, pointed picks, plane irons, pulleys, rings, rivets, screws, shafts, ship scrapers, thimbles, washers, and much more
for and from New England and Mid-Atlantic companies including
L. Bennett, T. D. Bowen, J. R. Brown & Sharpe, Dugan Jenkins & Co., Frederick Fuller, J. C. Fuller, Geo. H. Gray & Danforth, Putnam Machine Co., M. Schwartz, Springfield Car Works, Woolstonholme Looby & Co. and many others.. Very good. Item #009655
The predecessor of the Providence Tool Company was founded by two brothers, Joseph and Jeremiah Arnold at Pawtucket in 1834 and produced nuts, washers, pickaxes, marlinspikes, and hammers for use throughout the country. When the elder brother, Joseph, retired, Jeremiah partnered with William Field, and the company relocated to Providence in 1846, where it was eventually named the Providence Tool Company. During the Civil War, the company, perhaps informally, added the word Armory to its business name.
With the advent of the Civil War, the Providence Tool Company incorporated weapons manufacturing into its business, hiring Frederick W. Howe, a former supervisor at the Robbins and Lawrence Armory in Windsor, Vermont, to oversee the process of manufacturing light cavalry sabers and Model 1861 .58 caliber percussion muskets for the Union Army. Although I noticed no documents specifically mentioning sabers or muskets, these records likely contain information regarding parts it supplied to other companies for use in manufacturing military arms and equipment.
Following the war, the company continued its lucrative firearm business and partnered with the Henry O. Peabody to manufacture a breechloader (a variation of the Martini-Henry rifle, “the best in existence”) to sell internationally. Between 1864 and 1875, it sold over 850,000 including 600,000 as part of a $10 million contract with Turkey. Unfortunately, Turkey failed to pay for the arms, and the Providence Tool Company was forced to sell its gun-making operation to stay afloat. Afterward, it reorganized as the Rhode Island Tool Company in 1885 and remained in business until 2003. (See the “"National Register of Historic Places nomination for Rhode Island Tool Company,” “Providence Tool Co.” at American Firearms and “Providence Tool Company Records” at Rhode Island Historical Society, all available online.)
Some items in this archive reference making payments using postage stamps, probably due to the scarcity of coinage during the Civil War. One letter requests a payment extension due to the “Cotton Famine,” a world-wide depression that crippled the textile industry between 1861 and 1865. Another addresses the increasing scarcity and expense of coal, no doubt the result of spiking military demand. (For more information, see “Postage Stamps as Ersatz Currency” at Civil War Talk, “Hard Times” and “Cotton Famine” articles at cottontown.org, and “The US Coal Industry in the Nineteenth Century“ at EH.net, all available online.).