Golden Chains

THAT was a clever pencil which depicted an American sylph loaded with the clumsy black chains now in vogue, complacently promenading before the eyes of Sambo and Cuffee, one of whom exclaims to the other, “ Hi den, niggah ! we’s frowed off de chains, an’ de w’ite gals has picked ’em up.”

But the clumsy black chains have one radical defect for our fair fashionists. Gutta-percha is not an expensive material, and it is impossible to prevent Fanny Furbelow, the milliner’s girl, from adorning herself with a chain as big, as black, and as clumsy as that weighing down the slender neck of Flora MacFlimsey herself. Such encroachment upon “the right divine ” is not to be borne. We may be republicans, but who shall dare accuse us of democracy!

Miss Flora does not dispute the ground with the Furbelow, but scornfully abandons it, and replaces the guttapercha chain with one of gold, massive and rich enough for an alderman at a Lord Mayor’s dinner. The Furbelow looks, sighs, and relinquishes the contest, or weakly pursues it with electroplate. The paternal MacFlimsey sighs also, for he sees the dawn of a new and expensive folly, and with gold at 137 feels indisposed to purchase it with paper at 100.

But our friends the chain-makers do not sigh. They smile instead, and rub their hands, and bid madam and the young people prepare for a visit to the Exposition and a summer among the Alps. For in the grand universal scheme even thistle-down and butterflies fill their appointed place, and the whims of the MacFlimseys are the necessities of their purveyors.

So Miselle, eschewing both the black chains and the gold, contented herself with smiling at the one and utilizing the other. She asked her good friend R——, who is the man to ask about chains, to take her to see these vanities in their crude and undeveloped condition; to show her their secrets of alloy and of manipulation ; to reveal to her, in fact, those mysteries which, once unveiled, go far to destroy the prestige of much of the gold that glitters in varied form before the eyes of nonpossessors in a world not yet entirely Arcadian in simplicity or sincerity.

“You would like to see the GoldChain Factory? But it is in Springfield, a hundred miles and more from the centre of civilization,” remonstrated Mr. R——.

“A hundred miles means three hours of railway travel, does it not ? I have travelled a thousand without stopping,” replied Miselle, with intrepidity.

“Three hours? That depends. Sometimes it means twenty-four hours without food or fire. Did you read in last night’s Transcript of the bridal party ‘snowed up’ between Springfield and Albany, and forced to substitute gingerbread and sandwich crumbs for the banquet awaiting them at the Delavan House ? ”

Hœc fabula docet, Always stop at Springfield; and when the Massasoit offers you waffles, be content to forego the pheasants of the Delavan.”

The logic was incontrovertible, and Miselle, quite according to the usual order of events, had her own way, and made an appointment to meet Mr. R—— at Springfield upon her return from New York, whither she was about to repair for the study of morals and polemics.

When Time and Miselle were young, when the Massasoit was not, and the railway still an innovation upon its rural privacy, Springfield to the hungry wayfarer meant Warriner’s, or rather Warriner’s wife, who, honest woman, fancied that the duties of a hostess were not simply verbal, or even ocular, and who, putting her own deft hand to the work, produced such miracles of culinary excellence as rendered the name she illustrated a joy and a solace in the land.

Warriner’s is no more, and “ Uncle Jerry” and “Aunt Phœbe,” like less faithful and valued public servants, have passed from the stage, leaving but a name behind, — a name in their case forever fragrant and savory. But a corner of their mantle has fallen upon the genius of the Massasoit House, and we, who love to reproduce in these latter days the coloring, the chords, and the periods of elder Art, may still eat waffles at Springfield, and linger musingly over the memories they evoke.

A crisp, sunshiny morning, a wellbeaten track, a cosey sleigh and pair of spirited horses brought Miselle and her guide to the Gold-Chain Factory, a pretty building upon the edge of a pond, by Young Springfield fondly called a Skating Rink, — a meek and modest building, a Peter Cooper of factories, with its outer pretensions in inverse ratio to its intrinsic value, and using none of its gold for its own gilding.

The genial air of the steam-heated office soon remedied the chill of the outer world, and Miselle, throwing aside her wraps, was ready for the wonders of Ophir and Golconda-

“ First, if you please,” remarked she, “ I should like to see the raw material, the gold as it comes from the mine.”

“We have no raw material,-—it is all réchauffée; but I hope you will not add — ”

Ne vaut rien ? We shali see,” replied Miselle, with diplomatic caution, while Mr. R——threw back the doors of a Bastile-Iooking safe, and opened one of many little drawers. It was half filled with coin of gold and silver, each piece divided in halves, and with coils of what looked like yellow satin ribbon about an inch in width.

“This,” said Mr. R——, unrolling one of the coils, “ is pure gold, cleansed from its native impurities, and as yet unalloyed. Notice how pliable it is.”

Taking the costly ribbon in her own hands, Miselle found it nearly as flexible as silk, and, twisting it about her fingers, wondered that it was not used by les grandes dames as head-gear, belts, and trimmings.

“Small waists will be more fashionable than ever, should your hint be adopted,” smiled Mr. R——; “for, as this belting costs something like five dollars an inch in paper money, it will pay to have the dresses a little tightened.”

“And to what use do you apply it here ? ”

“ Principally to electro-plating. But you shall see the whole process, if you are not afraid of the soil and din of machinery.”

So saying, Mr. R——opened a door leading from the office to a long workroom, fitted with benches at either side, and having various forms of machinery in the middle. Near the door stood a brick forge, and over the fire bent an anxious-looking man inspecting something buried in the coals. Miselle, stepping close behind him, saw that this something was a little crucible, in shape and size resembling the pottles in which strawberries are brought to the New York and Philadelphia markets. This crucible was filled with molten gold, its glow and hue like a summer sunset, its surface showing the iridescent changes and wavering shadows we all as children have watched upon the spoonful of lead melted for our innocent necromancies.

“ How do you know when it is done?” asked Miselle, as the workman drew the coals a little closer about his crucible, and stood erect with a waiting air.

“ I have been at it eighteen years, miss, and can tell by the looks,” said he, pleasantly. “New hands have to time it by the clock.”

He moved a brake beside the forge as he spoke, and blew the charcoal fire to a white heat. The molten gold danced and gleamed, and fiery sparks shot across its surface.

“ Of what is the crucible composed, to bear such intense heat without melting?” asked Miselle of Mr. R——.

“It is called crystal ; but the old adage, Lucus a non lucendo, applies here more closely than usual, for this crystal is, as you see, perfectly opaque and lustreless. It is in fact nothing but a species of pottery manufactured in Germany from glass-sand. We import them in nests, the sizes ranging from about three quarts to something hardly too large for a thimble. They never melt, and seldom break. But see, Bond is about to draw his oven. Let us see the baking.”

Miselle turned to look at Bond, who was removing the coals from about the crystal. Seizing it with a pair of long tongs, he lifted it from the furnace and deftly poured its contents into a mould set ready for it, with the loss of no more than a single drop.

“ That drop will be carefully taken up and saved,” remarked Mr. R——, sotto voce.

“O, what is that line of fire which runs around the edge of the mould as if the gold were blazing ? ” asked Miselle, more moved by the brilliant than the economic side of the performance.

“ The mould is oiled to prevent the metal from holding to it, and it is the oil which blazes. Gold can’t blaze,” rationally remarked Bond, as, laying down his tongs and crucible, he removed the upper half of the mould and tilted out upon the forge an ingot of gold about a foot in length and half an inch in breadth and width. This was laid upon an anvil to cool a little, and the crucible refilled with gold and silver coin, mixed with a proportion of copper alloy. “That is for eighteen, is it not?” asked the master, noting these proportions.

“ Yes sir, we are running on that now.”

“ Our chains are mostly fourteen or eighteen carats fine,” explained Mr. R——. “The gold coin of the United States is, you know, nine tenths of pure metal to one tenth of alloy. We however estimate by carats altogether, and, in saying that a chain is fourteen or eighteen fine, mean that fourteen or eighteen out of twenty-four carats is gold, the remainder silver and copper. Pardon the elementary nature of the explanation, but I was asked the other night by a literary lady if the Pacific Railway would go through the city of Mexico before reaching San Francisco ; and not long ago, by the daughter of one of our first savans, in what part ot the Bible she should find the history of Mahomet. Since that, I make it a rule to take nothing for granted in conversation with the fairer half of mankind.”

“ You remind me,” remarked Miselle, “of one of the lords of creation, — just out of college by the way,—who inquired in my presence the meaning of Sic semper tyrannis, and after the words were translated could not be brought to understand why Booth used them just after his murder of President Lincoln.”

“ That is not so remarkable, if he was a good patriot. But our ingot is now to go through its second process.”

So, leaving the fascinating forge where the second crystal of metal was already seething and shimmering, Miselle followed to the rolling-machine in the middle of the room, where she saw the ingot, now nearly cool, passed through a series of grooved wheels, each one smaller than its predecessor, until, reaching the last, it was drawn out to many times its original length, and proportionably diminished in thickness. “ That is all the rolling-machine can effect,” remarked Mr. R——, as the attenuated bar passed through the last groove. “ But the draw-plate will bring it down to almost a cambric thread. Here it is.”

He led the way to one of the benches as he spoke, and pointed to a heavy iron plate screwed against its outer edge, and standing at right angles to its surface. Through this plate were drilled a number of holes, graduated from the size of a large knitting-needle to that of the cambric thread promised by Mr. R——. Through this plate, the unfortunate ingot was now dragged by an operator armed with a stout pair of pincers and an indomitable set of muscles, until, reaching nearly the last degree of attenuation, it lay upon the bench a mass of glittering wire, ready for removal.

“ We do not often draw it finer than this,” remarked Mr. R——, handling the wire, “ the medium sizes being the most useful. For some purposes, when it is not wire, but a flat strip or ribbon of metal that is required, the ingot is passed through this other rolling-machine, where, you will see, the wheels are differently grooved, and the bar, while growing thinner and thinner, does not diminish in width. Within a few years these rolling-machines were all worked by hand, and I myself retain a vivid recollection of the force necessary to turn the heavy crank. Now we let steam do it for us, and use our brains more and our muscles less.”

“The links of a chain are all made from wire, I suppose,” suggested Miselle. “ Not at all. Very many, indeed the most, I think, are cut out of a flat strip of metal by this little machine, whose patented ingenuity costs us something like a hundred dollars to every square inch of its polished surface. A narrow strip of gold passed in at this point is carried beneath the die, which at each blow cuts a link, makes the opening, and rounds the outer surface, turning them off about as fast as a farmer’s boy can with his fingers shell a dry ear of corn. The links are next polished upon a swiftly revolving wheel, called a metal lap, the workman holding a number of them upon a piece of buckskin, and applying it to the side instead of the face of the wheel. This metal lap, in the course of a short time becomes ingrained with gold to a very considerable extent, and is then rubbed down with blocks of soft stone, and cleansed with cotton-wool soaked in oil, the stones and the cotton being subsequently treated to extract the gold they have absorbed.

“ Along with the links are prepared a quantity of little straight bits of wire for rivets, and the whole are delivered to the workmen or workwomen by weight, they being expected to account for them in the finished work, which is also weighed. Now we will go up stairs if you please.”

While speaking, Mr. R—— led the way to a pleasant upper chamber, where were ranged at either hand some thirty or forty young women, with one or two men as superintendents, all chatting and laughing over their pretty work, with an air of content and comfort which should have gladdened the heart of the gloomiest political economist. “ Here are the links and rivets again, you see,” remarked Mr. R——, pointing to some boxes in front of a smart, black-eyed girl, who, after one sharp glance at the visitor, went steadily on with her work, picking up each link with a pair of delicate pincers, arranging them between her thumb and forefinger in a certain order, and then, still with the pincers, inserting a bit of wire in such fashion as to combine the links, not only with each other, but with the chain already dangling from her hand.

“That is called a roller-chain. Do you see how it is made ? ” asked Mr. R——, as Miselle bent closer and closer over the nimble fingers of the workwoman.

“Not in the least,” confessed she. “ I ’ll do it slow, and then you will,” said Black-eyes, looking up with a flashing smile.

“ Thank you. Ah yes, I see it now ; but I could not do it in twice the time you take.”

The girl laughed, and Miselle, passing on, found that nearly all the workwomen were employed upon the same sort of chain she had just examined.

“ It is just now a popular style,” said Mr. R——. “ But the fashion of chains varies almost as often as that of bonnets, and we have to keep our eyes open, and our ingenuity on the stretch to invent something new, or our rivals would creep up and win the race. I went abroad a little while ago to see what novelties I could find in London or Paris, or what new combinations could be tortured from the fertile Gallic brain. Here is one of the results.”

As he spoke, Mr. R—— took from the hand of a young woman, and handed to Miselle, a bit of chain formed by uniting two large, plain links by another of twisted wire. The effect was novel and striking.

“ Then here,” continued he, “ is the rope-chain, as we call it, although it is really formed of links and rivets.”

Miselle looked at the chain now placed in her hands with astonishment. It had all the appearance of a cable or rope, laid up with many strands of heavy wire, and it was only by demonstration that she could be brought to believe that these strands were actually links, each one bored, at its point of intersection with the second, to admit the insertion of the third, in such complicated fashion as to give the whole a spiral tendency, and produce, as has been said, the full effect of a golden cable.

“ Here is a pretty variety, called Foxtail,” said Mr. R——, passing to the next operator. “ It is made of the finest wire, and requires very delicate workmanship and keen eyesight, so that the women are generally very unwilling to undertake it. It is used for the tassels of bracelets, fringes of combs, and the like. Here, you see, is a heavier variety of the same pattern, intended for a guard-chain.

“But here is a chain made without either links or rivets, — in fact, a knitted or woven chain. The process of its manufacture begins upon this machine, called a coiling-lathe or mandrel. You shall see it done.”

So saying, Mr. R——beckoned to a workman standing near, who, producing a skein of fine wire, fastened one end of it to the spindle of the mandrel, and, gently turning the crank, wound it upon the axle, precisely as the rope in a well is wound upon the windlass.

The spindle covered, the workman took it out, slipped off the coil of wire, and handed it to a girl whose spécialité it was to make this sort of chain. She, holding the two ends of the coil, inserted one within the other, and with a dexterous movement intertwined their links for about half an inch, then snipped off the end of the entering coil, and, recommencing, wove another row. The process was rapid, and apparently easy, and the result very like the strip of knitting prepared by careful grandmammas for the instruction of the youthful aspirant. Indeed, it occurred to Miselle that some one of her enterprising countrymen might weave for himself a sudden fortune by introducing woven chains at the English court to supersede the embroidered strap, with its motto of Honi soit qui maly pense.

“The edge of the chain,” resumed Mr. R—, “ is left somewhat jagged and uneven, as you perceive ; but this is remedied by placing the completed lengths of chain in a sort of mould which leaves only the edge exposed. The projections are then easily filed away, and the chain is subsequently subjected to a moderate pressure, which settles each link in its place, and removes the tendency to twist, or, as you ladies say, ‘kink,’ now perceptible.”

“ I see. Just as, after the soldiers’ stockings were knitted, we pressed them under heavy smoothing-irons to bring them into shape.”

“Exactly. And perhaps the soldiers socks were, after all, the more important result.”

“An appropriate compliment from the chain-maker to the chain-breakers,” said Miselle.

“ I was thinking more of the knitters than the wearers, I am afraid,” replied Mr. R—, leading the way to the other side of the room, where he showed various other patterns of chain in manufacture, and mentioned their names, such as Jazeroon, Piccolomini, Atlantic Cable, Globe, French Fancy Chains, and Jenny Lind.

“Next come the chasers,” said he, and brought Miselie to the bench where sat half a dozen men, each with a square frame or block of wood before him, covered with a species of cement. Into this cement the chaser patiently beds his chain, link by link, until only one surface is exposed. The block is then set aside until the cement is perfectly hard, and the chain so firmly fixed that the artist can cut the chosen design upon each link in succession, without disturbing it. The cement is then softened by means of a gas-burner and blowpipe, another surface of the chain turned uppermost, and the process repeated until the whole is completed.

“Sleeve-buttons, the links of bracelets, and many other articles, are chased or engraved in the same fashion,” remarked Mr. R—, passing on to the next bench.

“This man,” continued he, “is making split rings, like that connecting your watch and chain. It is rather a complicated process, and commences by coiling a large wire upon the mandrel you saw above. The coil, when complete, is split lengthwise, and drops apart in rings, each twice as large as the completed split-ring is to be. These rings are then coiled, one at a time, twice around the barrel of this mould, the ends brought opposite to each other, the cover put on, and a powerful pressure applied. Beneath it the bit of wire assumes in an instant the shape of a completed split ring, only requiring a little polishing to make it perfect.”

“ But does not this immense pressure sometimes weld the two circles together ? I should think it would come out a whole, instead of a split ring.”

“ O no. The gold is quite cold, you see, and no amount of pressure will combine two pieces of cold metal. The inner surfaces of the ring are flattened and pressed very closely together, but they never unite. — This next man is cutting the tops of sleeve-buttons.”

Mr. R——pointed, as he spoke, to a workman who, with a long strip of gold ribbon in his hand, sat before a leisurely sort of machine, its prominent feature a die working up and down by steam-power. When the die went up, the man thrust the end of his ribbon beneath it; and when the die came down, it nonchalantly cut out a disk of the metal, which immediately dropped out of sight into a drawer below. At Mr. R——’s suggestion, the workman, leaving his playfellow to carry on his side of the game alone for a moment, pulled out the drawer and showed it half-full of shining golden buttons somewhat larger than a ten-cent piece. These, it was explained, are subsequently laid over a mould, and, by the blow of a solid die, struck into the boxcover shape familiar to such inquiring eyes as—like Benjamin Franklin’s — are prone to look upon the other side of the peach. The stud or catches are afterward affixed, and the face of the sleeve-button chased, engraved, or enamelled, according to the prevailing popular prejudice.

“And now,” said Mr. R&emmdash;—, “we have seen the whole process of manufacture, I believe. The remainder comes more under the head of finishing, and begins here at the electro-galvanic bath, through which pass all our chains, and many of our other goods, before polishing. The object of this process is to give a deep gold color to the inside of the links, and such portions of other articles as cannot be reached by the brushes of the polishers.”

Every one, of course, is familiar with both the theory and the practice of galvanic action, especially as applied to electro-plating, — so familiar, that to attempt description of the process were an impertinence of which Miselle never will be guilty. Suffice it to say, that the gold used in this operation is the flexible ribbon of pure metal already described, and that an immersion of five minutes in its company is sufficient to give the rich but unpolished chain that society-surface so satisfactory to all but the unreasonable B. Franklinites before mentioned.

After the gilding comes the polishing, and this process is effected in a secluded nook, divided from the principal room by a partition covered with loose sheets of brown paper. More sheets of paper hang from the ceiling and line the walls of this recess, full half of which is occupied by a wide bench, above which plays a tangle of whirring wheels, belts, and shafts. Before this bench sit a row of weary-looking women, with grimy hands, faces, and garments, each one holding a gold chain which she sedulously applies to the wheel before her, — a wheel rayed with bristles like a pictorial sun.

Mr. R——, raising his voice above the din of the machinery, explained that these chains had first been covered with a preparation of rouge and other ingredients mixed with oil, and that the violent friction of the whirling brushes not only polished the chain, but removed the preparation, and with it the gold just plated on, and even more. Here was the secret of the sheets of paper in which the whole operation was, so to speak, packed. The gold whirled off by the polishing-wheels, and thrown up to the ceiling, and down to the floor, and against the walls, and out into space, becomes a floating capital, gradually absorbed by those quiet old speculators, the sheets of brown paper, and ultimately reclaimed by the somewhat summary process of burning the paper, and subjecting the ashes to a chemical analysis. Nor is this reclaiming process confined to the paper walls of the polishing-room. The operatives are required to wash their faces, hands, head-kerchiefs, and aprons upon the premises, and the settlings of the waste-water tank are found as rich as the sands of a Californian river. The metal laps upon which the links are polished, the leathern bottoms of the drawers in which the operatives drop their tools and work, the amalgam of dust and grease upon the machinery, the sweepings of the floors and benches, indeed almost every article and every surface about the Gold-Chain Factory is in turn searched and tortured, like the Jews of olden time, for the treasure it may vainly try to conceal beneath a garb of simple poverty.

The chains, thoroughly polished, are next submitted to a rigorous course of soap and hot water, and when thoroughly cleansed from the polishing-powder, are laid to dry for a while in a box of warm sawdust, and then packed for transportation to the New York office of the firm. Thence they are forwarded to first-class dealers in jewelry all over the country.

From the workshop Miselle was taken down to visit the steam-engine,— a pretty little specimen of its race, and kept with the exquisite neatness as characteristic of engines as of cats or ermines. Also she ventured an awesome peep into the cavern where idly stood the great water-wheel, for many years the sole motive-power of the machinery above, but now almost entirely superseded by its tiny rival. Finally she cast appreciative glances at the forge and bench of the resident machinist, at the labors of the carpenter, and at the laundry arrangements.

Returning to the office, she spent a pleasant half-hour in turning over drawers and boxes of odd trinkets, bits of chain made for experiment or sample, gold beads or links, and the various accumulations of a large and long-established manufactory. She listened, well pleased, to Mr. R——’s reminiscences of the time when he was hands where now he is head, and of the laborious means then employed to the same end to-day achieved by steam-power with tenfold the speed and certainty possible to the inferior human machine.

And so, musing somewhat pridefully upon the value and results of human ingenuity, and the marvellous results of science, Miselle took her seat once more behind the spirited horses, and found herself confronted by sunshine and blue sky, a wide landscape, and an exhilarating atmosphere, each unimproved since Adam, each as absolutely perfect as it was then.

Wonderful are the efforts of humanity ! Beyond wonder are the effortless results of Divinity !