Musician’s Pen Nib – Boys’ Shop Archaeological Dig, 2018

The Museum’s Archaeological Field School, held in conjunction with Plymouth State University and under the supervision of Dr. David Starbuck, dug within the foundation of the former Boys’ Shop in 2018. Located north of the East and West Brethren’s Shops, the building can be seen in this photograph taken from the cupola of the Great Stone Dwelling, indicated by the red arrow.

The foundation hole contained a rich collections of artifacts, with some areas seeming to be more artifacts than dirt at times. Mixed in with this vast array of found items is a small brass tool that is on of the most exciting finds in our five  years of digging.

It is part of a rostrum used in inking 5 parallel lines on paper for a music staff.  This 1 1/2″-wide pen nib attached to remains of wood that formed the handle.  The five “tines” are bent lengthwise into a shallow “v” and split up the center. On the back are the initials “I.Y.” which stand for Isaac Newton Youngs, a Shaker at the Watervliet Shaker Village who made these pens.

Music was very important to the spiritual and social lives of the Shakers, and they were prolific song writers. Much effort was spent teaching music in the communities and sharing music between villages. This pen nib, likely made circa 1840, shows some of the effort expended in fostering music in the villages. A product manufactured in one village, distributed to another village, in order to record music for use within the family as well as communication of songs between villages: this is a great story illustrated by a unique and fascinating artifact. Many thanks to the diggers at the 2018 Field School, and especially Brenden LaFleur who discovered this item.

The start of the Museum’s 2020 Field School in conjunction with Plymouth State University has been postponed until June 1, 2020.  For more information about archaeology at the Enfield Shaker Museum or updates on the scheduling of this dig, contact education@shakermuseum.org.