1867 Kavanagh and Smith

January 5

It is a very cold winter day at 1 West Falls Avenue as the new year begins for Kavanagh and Smith. Business has slowed some but this was not unexpected. Robert Parker Coppersmith, the former occupant of the stall and Joe’s former employer experienced the same drop off. Joe and his partner George Smith anticipated it and are happy with the work they have. A steady flow of buyers walk through the door though reduced from the warmer months. People have less money in the winter as funds must be used to keep homes warm and that takes precedence over pots and pans and Joe’s other products. The Shop has work enough to keep them going and they are content for now.
April 14
The Shop, as Joe has begun to call it, has made it through its first year. The spring has brought more work and the partners are happy to celebrate their anniversary but to them, it was work, day to day. Still, when you own a business these markers are out there. You take note, feel some pride, but then you just go about your job and do what’s necessary. They got through their first winter. Imagine winter without heat or electricity. It was a hard life. It was normal at the time and thus, perhaps, more manageable. That all being said. Coppersmithing is a good job in the winter. You spend a lot of time with a torch nearby if not in your hand. One of the unexpected benefits of working with heat and fire. You’re actually colder at home than when in the Shop. Joe and George make some plans to purchase a horse and cart to move their wares about the city. The company is so new, but there are plans already to grow and expand.
June 14
Today the usual copper household items Joe makes are interrupted by a brass job. Joe can work brass. That is not an issue. He is not a brazier whose specialty is brass but a coppersmith. A customer enters the stall and informs George Smith he requires a small railing around a garden he is tending. The owner is well to do and has requested the railing. George calls Joe to step out of the Shop area and speak to this fellow. Joe assures him he can bend the rail if he can tell him exactly what he needs. The man has made a small sketch of a circular rail that surrounds a section of garden. Joe thinks for a moment then ask the gardener to return tomorrow and they will quote a price. Joe and George discuss the job and Joe lets his partner know how much time it should take. George spends the afternoon inquiring into the price of brass. He visits smelters to price copper every few days so he is familiar with the price but brass is different. Kavanagh and Smith quote the job and bend their first railing over the next week. A job that certainly augments their normal sales.
August 12
As great as coppersmithing is in the winter, it’s equally horrible in the summer. Once again, you are holding or near a heat source all day. 90 degrees can feel like 190 degrees when holding a torch in your hand. The summer days are days of oppressive heat and relentless work. As a smith, it’s a hard, physical job, but it’s also one of precision and detail. Every hammer impact is done with some care as a miss-hit could require three or four more taps to repair it. So, you have to be cautious. You have to be sure, but you also have to be fast. You can’t take your time as if there is no limit. You offer to make something at a price. You have to stick to that price. It’s a balancing act of quality and time management. You have to make a good product, but the smith who doesn’t concern himself with the time involved is a smith who won’t be smithing for long. Fortunately, Joe has George to help with sales and the business end of it. George gets his hands dirty occasionally because some jobs do need an extra pair of hands and until they can hire a helper, George is the helper. The two work well together and that’s very necessary for a partnership. This partnership is off to a good start mostly due to their hard work, George’s business acumen and Joe’s talent with copper. Joe was an extremely skilled coppersmith. One thing the Kavanagh generations agree on is his level of skill. The ability to wield a hammer with strength and precision are the most desirable traits in a smith. Joe excelled at both. The heat of an August day, the flame of his torch combine for a laborious summer day. Yet, a day that will be repeated again and again.
November 1
The winter arrives early on this cold blustery November morning. Joe wields a blow pipe or torch through the day and it is most welcome. The torch is used to anneal copper. Annealing is heating and softening metal for bending. The heat of the torch is an absolute bonus on a chilly day. It helps you do the job and gives some warmth as well. In a time of no electric or gas heat, some annealing can be a godsend. George meanwhile is doing his best to ply their wares from the storefront of the Falls Avenue building. Sales are up and down but overall, the need for their pitchers, pots, pans and cooking vessels stays fairly consistent.
December 25
Christmas is celebrated at Albemarle Street with the family in a festive mood. Joe’s Shop is doing well and he is gaining confidence every day that his early success will continue. The Kavanagh’s gather together and enjoy the holiday with food and song. Music is part of their religious and cultural tradition. Hymns and Irish folk songs are part of how they bond as a family, cherishing their faith and heritage. They are still an Irish family in America. They have been here less than twenty years but they know they belong. Alice and her children have made a home here, more specifically in Baltimore. The holidays is joyous and Joe and his family look to the winter and hope for a good year.



Andrew Johnson is the President of the United States. He dodges several bullets from Congress then is formally impeached by the end of the year. He’s cleared by one vote in the Senate. Reconstruction goes on. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Cy Young, Wilbur Wright and Molly Brown are born.

There are 27 states in the Union with the creation of Nebraska on March 1.

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