ASHER BENJAMIN (1773-1845)

The American-born carpenter Asher Benjamin was a prolific author of builder's manuals, publishing seven titles in numerous editions continuing into the 1850s. His Country Builder's Assistant, published in 1797 in Massachusetts, was the first manual written and published in America. Benjamin's manuals continued the traditional emphasis on proportion, scale, and the five orders, offering a range of complexity for different economic and skill levels.

Benjamin's writing career coincided with two trends developing in the first half of the 19th century: a rapidly increasing middle class that could afford single-family homes; and the growing prominence of the Greek Revival style. Many of his designs featured palmettes, anthemia, the Greek key pattern, with symmetrical, front-gabled facades emulating the elevation of a Greek temple.

  1. "Chronological Table" and "Principles of Architecture." Elements of Architecture, containing the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders, with all their Details and Embellishments. Also, the Theory and Practice of Carpentry. Boston: B. B. Mussey, 1843.

While much of the information was practical and directed to the carpenter, Benjamin also wanted to raise the general quality of architectural design as expressed in the preface to Elements of architecture: "If architecture were made one of the studies of our schools...a favorable change would soon be apparent in the style and form of our buildings." To compensate for this ignorance Benjamin included a chronological table of architectural history beginning with the Tower of Babel and ending in 1768 when the Royal Academy of Arts was established in London.

  1. "Design for a Front Door Case," plate XXVIII. The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter: Illustrated by Sixty-four Engravings, which exhibit the Orders of Architecture, and other Elements of the Art; Designed for the Use of Carpenters and Builders. Boston: B.B. Mussey, 1851.
  2. "Plan and Scrole of the Twist Rail for a Staircase," plate XXV. The Country Builder's Assistant: fully explaining, the Best Methods for Striking Regular and Quirked Mouldings: ... 2nd ed. Boston: Spotswood and Etheridge, 1798.
  3. "Ionic Order," plate IX. The Builder's Guide, or, Complete System of Architecture: Illustrated by Sixty-six Engravings, which exhibit the Orders of Architecture, and other Elements of the Art: Designed for the Use of Builders, particularly of Carpenters and Joiners. Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey & Co., 1838, 1850.

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