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John Grass Wood Turning Company records


Held at: The Center for Art in Wood [Contact Us]141 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the The Center for Art in Wood. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The John Grass Wood Turning Company, which was in operation for nearly 150 years, specialized in creating tool handles, flag poles, furniture legs, and other wooden objects shaped on a lathe.

The company was started in 1863 by John Grass, a Bavarian immigrant who had arrived in the United States a decade before at the age of 15. After an apprenticeship in New York, he came to Philadelphia to open his own shop.

Grass's son-in-law, Louis Bower, and John Stortz, who owned a tool company nearby for which Grass produced many handles, took over the John Grass Wood Turning Company and had it incorporated in 1911. They moved the company nearby to 146 N. 2nd Street, where it continued until the company folded in 2003.

The neighborhood where Grass started his business, Old City, was already a light manufacturing hub in the mid 18th century and is sometimes called "the crucible of Philadelphia's Workshop of the World." Over nearly a century and a half the company adapted with changing times, converting the steam engine that once powered its equipment to an electric motor, but also retained old methods and tools for woodturning. The company's longevity illustrates Philadelphia's importance as a longstanding industrial center in America's history.


Woodall, Peter. "Where Time Stood Still." Hidden City Daily blog. April 18, 2013. Accessed May 15, 2014.

This collection consists primarily of financial records of the John Grass Wood Turning Company from two significant periods in its history: a forty-year duration beginning just before the company's incorporation in 1911, and a decade-long span leading up to the company's closure in 2003. It is likely that records from the intervening period (from the 1950s to the 1990s) were destroyed by the John Grass Wood Turning Company at the time.

From 1910 to 1952, the collection includes: daybooks and account books; employee records, principally time books and payroll; tax returns and associated records; check stubs, cancelled checks, deposit and balance books, and account statements with the Corn Exchange National Bank and Trust Company; bills paid (organized alphabetically within years); and various other account ledgers, including purchase records, merchandise inventories, and petty cash books. The distribution of these materials, over time and across document types, is fairly consistent.

From 1993 to 2002, the collection includes: receipts/invoices for John Grass Wood Turning Company products; bills paid by the company; client correspondence, including price quotes and some illustrations of works; catalogs from suppliers and from other companies in the woodworking business; equipment manuals; and other office files, including some general business information such as government compliance rules for employers.

Of special interest is a 1993 study of the company's building, in the Historic American Engineering Record format.

In 2010, the Philadelphia Chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America purchased the John Grass Wood Turning Company building and all of its contents. The carpenters' union gave the John Grass Company records to The Center for Art in Wood.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact The Center for Art in Wood directly for more information.

The Center for Art in Wood
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Access Restrictions

Contact The Center for Art in Wood for information about accessing this collection. Certain records, especially employee related, may be restricted due to privacy concerns.

Collection Inventory

Bank book, 1909-1916, 1920-1942.
Bank reconcilement, 1918-1945.
Banking and taxes, 1911-1938.
Blank notices, undated.
Business and materials, 1915-1918.
Cancelled checks, 1917-1945.
Capital stock tax, 1917-1941.
Cash books 1-3, 1910 October-1916 May.
Cash books 3-23, 1909 September-1912 October, 1940 September-1941 November.
Census of manufacturers, 1916-1939.
Check book, 1916.
Check stubs and canceled checks, 1917-1931.
Customer order receipts, 1923 September-1936 April, 1939-1942.
Customer order receipts office copy, 1936.
Day book, 1908 January-1925 January, 1933 January-1937 April, 1941 June-1946 March.
Deposit slips, 1926-1934, 1935-1945.
Frasse, 1940-1948.
Inventory book, 1910 October-1921 January, 1922-1930.
Ledger book 1-5, 1909-1926, 1928 March-1932 December, 1935 January-1940 December.
Materials and supplies, 1919 April-1920 January.
Miscellaneous, 1941-1957.
Paid bills, 1930 January-1950 December, 1952.
Petty cash, 1940-1941.
Purchase book 1, 2, and 4, 1911 December-1920 October, 1926 August-1938 December.
Quarterly employers tax return, 1941-1942.
Special journal book, 1910 October-1912 November.
Trial and balance books, 1910 October-1912 November.
Wage book, 1909 January-1943 December.
Wage memo payroll report, 1918-1941.

ADT alarm, 1998-2006.
Bank statement, 1967-1999.
B.G. Balme certificate and insurance, 1989.
Check stubs and canceled checks, 1965-1991.
City of Philadelphia, 1997-2000.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department, 1990-1992, 2000-2002.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources and rights to know saftey sheets, 1990-1992.
Customer order receipts, 1994-1955, 1996 September-1997 April.
Customer order receipts office copy, 1997 May-1997 December, 1998 January-1998 April, 1998 September-1998 December, 1999 January - 1999 August, 1999 October-1999 December, 2000-2002.
F.C Haab Heating, 1995-2006.
Gabriel Laramee, 1997.
IRA, 2000-2003.
Law office of Canuso, 1993.
Loose papers, 2001-2002.
Miscellaneous, 1990-2000.
New tools receipts, 1990-1992.
Outside solicitation, undated.
Owner's manuals, 1939-2000.
Philadelphia Gas Works, 1981.
Robinson alarm, 1998.
Schliefe, Stanley resume, undated.
SG&H Certified Public Accountants, 2000.
Signs and tags, undated.
State workmen's insurance fund, undated.
Strawbridge and Clothier, undated.
Supply catalogs, 1935-1998, 1991-2001.
Supply orders, 1954-2001.
Textile Shield Company, 1974.
Treasury note, 1962-1978.
United States Department of Commerce, 1993.
Wood Turning Center, 1997-2008.

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