Scholla: Peter Derr, Craftsman 1793-1868 January 12, 1943

Peter Derr, Craftsman 1793-1868 January 12, 1943

After asking many inquires about the life and work of Peter Derr we have met with success in the favor of George W. Yeagley, of Reading, who sends us a biographical account and some valuable photographs dealing with the early Berks craftsman. Many antique collectors have looked at metal objects hoping to find the letters “P.D.”  and a date imbedded in the metal. Many persons know Peter Derr’s work, but few know anything about the man himself. Here are a few facts, condensed from Mr. Yeagley’s longer account.

Peter Derr’s grandfather came to America in 1734, on board the brig “St. Andrew,” a vessel which brought many Palatines to these shores. Hannes Derr obtained lands in Jefferson Township through the agency of Conrad Weiser. There he reared a huge family. The second Hannes Derr, father of Peter Derr, served in the Revolutionary War in Benjamin Weiser’s company. Peter Derr was born in 1793, married to Elizabeth Hubler, died in 1868, and lies buried in the Host Churchyard.

Peter Derr was not an ordinary blacksmith; he made all of his own tools and discovered a way to harden copper so that a cutting edge could be put on it. He always stamped his work with the initials  “P.D.” which now marks his wares for collectors. In his shop he made useful kitchen utensils. Perhaps his best known products are the “Shmutz Amschels” or Betty Lamps used in earlier days, be he made other objects just as skillfully, such as spoons, forks and branding irons to mark horses hoofs to show what insurance company they belonged to.

Among other objects he made ornamental hinges, the hinges of the doors to Host Church are his products; clocks, ear-rings, finger rings, and pincers to pull teeth. He worked in silver, gold, copper, brass, wood and stone.

One of his most remarkable feats of skill resulted in the carving of a ten-foot water trough out of a solid block of sandstone. The trough was 30 inces wide and 30 inches deep. It weighed five tons. His two daughters, Marie aged 15, and Salome, aged 17, assisted him in cutting the stone. The trough still stands near the foot of the Blue Mountain and bears the full inscription: Peter Derr, November 20, 1845.

Derr was a quite a diarist. Among his notations is the interesting circumstance in 1833 when it was believed that the world was about to come to an end. He states that it was announced in church. On the fateful night of November 13, Derr gathered his family about him and all of them knelt in prayer while the heavens were putting on a display of shooting stars. But the awful night passed and when daylight came nothing could be seen of the havoc that was being spread during the night.

On another occasion the heavens above the Blue Mountains seemed to be aflame. Again Derr and his family prayed through the night.

Among other things he noted that a bluebird made its appearance on February 27, 1847, and this was always interpreted as a sure sign of spring, but this time the sign failed because the next day brought a fierce blizzard which closed the roads for several weeks.

Archival Notes: In our photo it is noted the trough was located in Bernville at the time the picture was taken. More information on Peter Derr is available on pages 36,40-42, Vol.2 of the Passing Scene Meiser & Meiser.

Peter Derr Water Trough November 20, 1845. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
Peter Derr Water Trough November 20, 1845. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Berks County.
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