Twelfth Night in Colonial Albany.. It’s All about the Cake

2 (2)

In early January, if you lived in colonial Albany in early 1700s what we would think of as December festivities- St Nicholas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s festivities would be winding down. But wait, there’s more – what we have come to know as Twelfth Night. Its origins are in a Roman festival called Saturnalia surrounding the winter solstice. In the Christian era the 12th day after Christmas was designated as the date of the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child. But over time, and due in large part to the Protestant Reformation, January 6th became more of a secular holiday.. more than a bit of a blowout.. it was off the hook.

Curiously, there’s no documentation of the celebrations in the early New York colony, although there are passing references to the holiday. But many historians think that keeping traditions would have been very important for people who crossed the Atlantic and came to a new world.

So the colonists of Albany, whether Dutch, Walloon (Protestant French emigres) or German or English or Scandinavian would have all whooped it up. The English called it Twelfth Night, the other colonists would have referred to it as variation of “Three Kings Day”. In some cultures the festivities started the eve of Epiphany (January 5) and in others Epiphany Day (January 6).

Whenever the celebrations started it was a rollicking bout of good cheer, with much food and drink ..lots of drink. All sorts of treats piled the tables of Albany homes and taverns (in Dutch homes they would have included doughnuts, cookies, waffles, and pancakes), but the cake was the thing. If you had come from England, a bean might have been inserted into one side of the cake and pea on the other side. The male who got the slice with the bean became king for a day, the female the queen. If you were Dutch there probably was only one bean, and that person became the king. There might be a designated “fool” or jester whose job it was to amuse and entertain. There would have been games and drinking (if only they had known about beer pong) and often music.

Paintings of The Three Kings celebration in the Netherlands in the 17th century, were a favorite subject during the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting. It was wild and crazy.. mischief and mayhem.

There was no single Twelfth Night cake recipe – but most of them were a version of a fruit cake. One food historian has concluded that by the mid-1700s the most often used Twelfth night cake recipe was also used for a “Bride’s Cake” – another cake recipe designed to serve a large crowd. In fact, George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night and her anniversary cake did double duty. (Google “Martha Washington anniversary cake” for updated versions). However the French emigres took a different approach and made a “Gallette des Rois” (cake of the kings”) – a large rough puff pastry filled with almond cream.




The celebration of Twelfth Night died out in America by the 1850s, as Christmas and New Year’s took center stage. (Descriptions of lovely winter scenes in American literature in the early 1800s are often compared to the white icing and sugar decorations of Twelfth Night cakes which tell about the refinement of the cake.) But try as we might, we found no ads for bakeries or bake houses selling Twelfth Night cakes in America in the early 1830s. (We need to do more research.)

15The “Godey Lady Book” (America’s most popular woman’s magazine of the 19th century ) described Queen Victoria’s Twelfth Night Cake at Windsor Castle in 1848 – “..a miracle of confectionary skill” – 3’ in diameter and 4’ tall – with lavish sugar decorations that included a working music box and mechanical fish and figures of “Chinese persons” that beat time to the music.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Cakes for Christmas? So Many Kinds -So Little Time

‘Tis the season for baking and what better than an Albany Cake? But which Albany Cake? The pudding? The cookies? Or an actual cake?

From the early 1800s to the early 1900s Albany Cake was a thing. Well, actually, many things. English cookbooks equate Albany cakes to “Dutch Pudding” in 1810. In the 1840s-1860s it appears Albany Cake was really a large soft cookie.. more like tea cakes. We found Albany newspaper ads for bakeries in 1841 – Albany Cakes are sold alongside “Lafayette Jumbles” – jam filled small sponge cakes and “Jackson Snaps” – crisp, thin lemon cookies, Plum Pudding and Dutch New Year’s Cake – caraway seed cookies.

1841 albany cake.JPG

1841 b

As we looked through old books and newspapers from the 19th and early 20th century for Albany Cake we found at least a dozen different recipes for pudding, cookies and cakes.

Here are four – from 1810 to 1922

“Dutch Pudding, or Albany Cake”
Mix 2 lbs. or less of good flour with a lb. of butter melted in ½ pint of milk. Add to this 6 eggs, separately well beaten, ½ lb. of fine sifted sugar, 1 lb. of cleaned currants and a few chopped almonds, or a little candied orange peel, chopped fine. Put into it 4 spoonfuls of yeast. Cover it up for an hour or two, and bake for an hour in a wide flattish dish. When cold it eats well as cake (“New London Cookery”, Esther Copley, London 1810)



Albany Cake
1 ½ lbs. of flour, ½ lb. of powdered sugar, ½ lb. butter, ½ pint black molasses, ¼ pint sweet milk, ½ teacup brandy, ½ yeast cake, cinnamon, cloves, ½ lb. of raisins, ½ lb. currants. This cake demands rather a long baking in a moderate oven. If iced it will keep for weeks. (“Harper’s Bazaar” 1905)

Albany Cakes
1 lb. sugar, ½ lb. butter and lard mixed, 1 egg, ½ pint sour cream. ½ tsp. soda and 1 ¼ lb. flour. Let stand in ice box overnight. In the morning roll in long pieces and twist around to form a cookie. Sprinkle top with granulated sugar. (“The All-American Cookbook”, 1922)

Luckily, a young food blogger recently converted an 1840 recipe (from a Canadian author) for Albany Cake to a contemporary form so you can try it out for the Holidays – icing and sprinkles would be very festive. (The Canadian author lived just west of Buffalo in Ontario.)

Julia Baird – Cloud 9 Cookery – Albany Cake

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Man who Brought Christmas to Albany – Santa Claus and the First U.S. Christmas Card

Christmas in Albany? Not so much.

The Dutch who settled in Albany celebrated St. Nicholas Day (St Nicholas was also known as Sinterklaas) with feasting and frolics in early December. Sinterklaas was a kindly religious figure in a red robe who brought presents and went down a chimney to fill stockings with presents. But the Dutch reserved Christmas for religious observances and then raised the roof on New Year’s Day, with much merry making and exchanging of gifts. The Protestant Germans who settled here in the 18th century did have a tradition of celebrating St. Nicholas Day and sometimes Christmas as well (the Germans pretty much rocked the whole month of December); such festivities were private –not for public display. BUT the English “Yankees” who came to Albany from New England in the 1700s were not big on Christmas revelry; that was hangover from the Puritans and the Mayflower who actually banned Christmas in the 1600s. At best a pagan ritual; worst case .. celebrating Christmas was blasphemy.

Even after the Revolutionary War, Albany didn’t really have its Christmas groove. But the idea of Christmas was catching on. By 1813 a few ads appear in newspapers for Albany stores selling Christmas as well as New Year’s gifts.

Washington Irving Wins the War on Christmas

Enter Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. In the early 1820’s Irving published five very popular stories about what Christmas was like in Merry Olde England (the English, at least in the Mother Country had transcended their aversion to Christmas). The stories describe holiday customs and traditions: feasting, gifts, mistletoe, music, family games, Yule logs and candles that resound with joy and merriment. Irving’s Christmas Eve is magical. In one of the stories, he makes an actual pitch for Christmas; the traditions are too beautiful to lose and winter is a cruel season – we NEED Christmas. Washington sealed the deal;. his descriptions were enticing and seductive- his descriptions flawless. Who didn’t want to celebrate Christmas? By 1822, the Troy Sentinel publishes “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a/k/a “The Night before Christmas”) by Clement Moore, an Episcopalian clergyman from Rhinebeck. Christmas is now officially a thing. But we still don’t have a Santa.

Irving had also done a splendid job of describing St, Nicholas Day in his first work, “A History of New York” in 1809; there were other pamphlets and books that told the St. Nicholas story. Over the next decade or so there are more stories about Christmas and St. Nicholas Day until the 2 holidays sort of merge into one. The merging is more of a process, rather than an event. The Dutch edge towards Christmas from St. Nicholas celebrations; the Yankees get the idea it’s ok to have fun on Christmas.. and the Germans, well, it was all good and Gemütlichkeit; Germans never need a reason to party.

The “Yankees” of Albany and New York appropriated the fun Dutch traditions for Christmas. Sinterklaas becomes Santa Claus; he’s described as a decidedly more English Falstaff-like guy.. his clerical robes are exchanged for a red suit and he becomes positively roly-poly. But we still don’t know what he looks like- there are no good pictures to accompany the written descriptions.

Enter Richard H. Pease
dRichard Pease was born in Connecticut in 1813. By the mid 1830’s he’d moved to Albany. Pease was a talented lithographer and engraver; also an amazing entrepreneur. In the late 1830s he established Pease’s Great Variety Store at 50 Broadway in Albany. If you wanted it, the Great Variety Store appeared to have it, especially as the “holydays” (holidays) of Christmas and New Year’s came around. Pease was a salesman, and he used his lithography skills to sell his merchandise. In 1842 the first image of Santa Claus as we know him today (almost) is printed in one of Pease’s ads. Pease clearly has read Santa descriptions from the previous decade; the Pease Santa is chunky, with a beard (not yet white) and suit. In his store ad, Santa is ready to climb down a chimney and there is a reindeer on the roof. His bishop’s miter had been traded for a peeked hat.


Over the next decades other images of Santa emerge, some very creepy, but Pease’s image gets wide circulation in newspapers across the country for many years. His talent and imagination created the basis for an enduring image of Santa. Thomas Nast, the political cartoonist, creates the next iconic Santa for “Harper’s Weekly” (1880s), drawing on the Pease Santa. The Nast image is finally replaced as the official Santa in the 1930s when Coca-Cola creates a genius ad campaign in the 1930s Depression, designed to get people to drink more soda in the winter. Coke.. it’s not just for summer.






Pease Strikes Again – the first American Christmas Card


The Great Variety Store thrives. By the mid -1840s, Pease moves to a new building at 516 Broadway and opens The Temple of Fancy. Just the name makes you want to shop. It’s basically the ‘Emporium of Everything”. Still a marketing genius, in 1849, he decides to make a special card for Christmas, which is the first Christmas card produced in the Unites States. (The first card ever was created in England in 1843. Alas, Christmas cards don’t really catch on until Boston-based printer Louis Prang started selling color cards in 1875.

What Happened to Albany’s Marketing Genius?

The Temple of Fancy thrives and Pease creates a number of wildly popular children’s books and games. The Temple closes about 1853 when Pease moves on to another successful enterprise. In 1854 Pease purchases the Albany Agricultural Works, and operates it as the Excelsior Agricultural Works with his son Charles, who previously owned a similar business in Tivoli Hollow. It looks like they were quite successful and we are on the trail of a potential Pease patent for a potato planter.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Christmas in Old Albany

This is the text of an article which appeared in the Albany Evening News, Friday, December 10, 1926.

By Parker Lloyd-Smith

Mistress Angelica opened one eye. Undeniably it was morning, for she could make out quite clearly the design of the frost on the windowpanes. It looked like a rabbit, with funny pointed ears stretching up ever so high, almost in the very top pane. Tentatively she sniffed the air, half expecting the familiar spiced odor of a rabbit which has hung on the great spit in the oven. Tentatively she wiggled one toe from beneath the gay quilt and counter pane and tested the atmosphere of the room.

Not at all tentatively she withdrew the toe, entirely satisfied by her experiment that it was a very, very cold day indeed, cold even for the Albany countryside, where cold winters were to be expected. She decided to close the half open eye and wait for something to happen; perhaps wait until summer before getting up.

But, try as she might, she could sleep no more. The truant eye simply would not stay shut, but was forever taking sly peeps about the olive and yellow walls. It rested on a sketch lying on her young friend, Philip Hooker whom the good burghers of Albany said was a youth of promise. Philip had said the drawing was of a house for a bank which had impressed Mistress Angelica mightily, for she had never seen a house before it became a house, if you know what she meant.

Around the walls swept the irrepressible eye, half awake in spite of everything, although the other eye was firmly shut. It reached the door way, peered out into the dark hall, glanced up at the sprig of mistletoe –

With a sudden decision both eyes opened at once. The mistletoe, of course. How could she have forgotten? Last night she had hung it because it was the night for hanging mistletoe, and so, of course, today must be —

Christmas! Christmas of the year 1826 in the ancient city of Albany!

Before she had time to think she was at the window and was slaughtering the frost rabbit with quick pushes of her fingers. Now she could see the barnyard and just make out the turkeys and chickens in their coops. She wondered if the had all faced to the east at midnight as animals are supposed to do at midnight of Christmas eve. Or was there perhaps one wicked old turkey who didn’t believe in such things and who resolutely looked the other way.

With a little frown she put such a shocking thought out of her mind. Cousin Van Rensselaer would be horrified and Aunt Huybertie would look pained.

At any rate she was sure that when she went downstairs she would find the kitchen had been swept by the fairies and that there would be three more faggots on the hearth, one for each of the family, a special gift of the Christmas spirits.

She dressed quickly and went out. She would breakfast with Cousin Harriet, but first she would go into the town. Thrilled by the prospect, Mistress Angelica tripped lightly through the snow into Albany.

The town was awake and busy. There were still several hours before the good Dutch folk would be going to church and they all seemed to have had the same idea as Mistress Angelica. It almost looked as if every one of the 15,000 souls who inhabited Albany had joined the Christmas parade.

The throng of apprentices stalking around with their segars and their walking sticks, lords of the day, far above work and ripe for sport.

The little darkies strutted about showing rows of ivory and the yaller of their eyes, tokens of joy for the return of the annual jubilee.

Now and then through the crowds cluttered sulky, gig or tandem with the dandies sitting in style, in true Tom and Jerry fashion. What gay and rushing life to see in this slow Dutch town, thought Mistress Angelica as she returned a charming curtsey for a most majestic bow from a passing sulky. For sure, New York could furnish nothing better on this Christmas day.

In the odd corners of the streets where there were no paraders, hung all the good things in Albany’s calendar of eatables. Fat turkeys, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, partridges and rabbits were as plenty as blackberries. The housewifely streak in Mistress Angelica responded in the abundance of delicacies. She thought of Christmas dinner.

This would come after church, which was the most formal event of the day. Not a Dutchman in Albany would miss church on Christmas, any more than he would have missed his St. Nicholas eve dinner three weeks before. The solid citizenry of Albany would be there en masse, in their most gorgeous clothes, suitable for the festive nature of the service.

For in all truth it was a festive service. The bare walls of the church were fairly hidden by garlands of evergreen, put up on Christmas eve by the devout. Mistress Angelica herself had helped with the decoration and had thought it great fun, although some had talked of the dissenters.

Not every one in Albany approved of this gay practice in the churches. There were those of strict Calvinistic persuasion who thought such designs smacked not a little of the “old one,” and who agreed with the anonymous person who called himself “Observator.” This earnest fellow had written to a newspaper in Schenectady, the”Cabinet,” only two weeks before and had called this evergreen hanging a “futile and improper practice.”

This has been recalled as Mistress Angelica helped put up the branches on which the snow was just melting, but she had answered by telling of what she had read in Albany’s newspaper, the “Microscope.” Just ten days before Christmas, the Microscope had probed into this business of Christmas customs and especially into the Puritan objections to church decoration.

“We have ever looked upon this custom as one of the most beautiful among all the ceremonies attached to the Christian worship,” declared the editor of the “Microscope.” “To deck the house of the Lord in wreaths of joyous flowers and ever-living germs of vegetation on the anniversary of the day that gave to the world a Saviour, a Redeemer and a God, must surely be deemed an act of piety.”

With these words, prettily uttered, did Mistress Angelica confound those who were quoting from the heretical Observation, and she went on, still remembering the Microscope:

“An evergreen is the emblem of the eternal spirit; and the coming of our Savior was certainly a matter of vital interest to all who believe in the existence of a soul. What then can be more reasonable, or what more proper, than that each return of the anniversary of that event should be marked by demonstrations of joy, and acts of good will to all mankind? Shall then the temples, erected expressly for the worship of God, be the first to be exempted?”

What could they answer, the doubters. One pictures them standing with rapt attention while the face of Mistress Angelica became grave.

“Would this modern Jeremiah have all our forms of worship dressed eternally in the sable garb of woe, and banish from our sanctuaries all those wreathed smiles and looks of honest cheerfulness which are the offspring and attendants of virtue? We trust not. At all events, if he is in favor of this gloomy, dark and dismal system, we trust he will find but few to second his unnatural, and we believe un-Christian wishes.”

Thus Mistress Angelica and the girls who were decking the church with garlands went at their work with new zeal, voicing their hearty disapproval of Observation and his gloomy ideas.

And so the church was verdant with evergreen when the good men and women of Albany filed in on Christmas morning, 1826, to hear the story of the wise men, and the Child of the manger.

If church was the formal occasion of the day, everyone knew that the afternoon would be devoted to another occasion, less serious but no less rigidly adhered to. Long before Christmas day, the odor of spices could have been remarked, coming from the witchens of the old Dutch houses. The “Microscope” had something to say about this, too:

“The practice also of passing round the merry can and partaking reasonably of the enlivening and invigorating glass, is truly appropriate, and can lead to no evil tendency among people of common sense. It warms the heart and arouses those feelings of generosity and humanity, which are so becoming to the human character, especially at this auspicious festival.”

Passing around the “merry can” was part of a custom which had existed ever since the oldest burgher could remember. This was the annual quaffing of copious libations of a mixture of spiced liquor, which the Dutch residents denominated “hot stuff.” This custom undoubtedly originated with the circulation of the Wassail bowl among the merry forefathers of this Albany of 1826.

The “Microscope” likes these antique manners:

“I like them well – the curious preciseness
“And all-pretending gravity of those
“That seek to banish hence these harmless sports
“Have thrust away much ancient honesty.”

So much for the day that Mistress Angelica lived with thrilling heart. The evening was to come, an evening spent before the Yule-Log which still burned brightly in the hearth. In the servants’ quarters hung the mistletoe still, and young men were plucking a berry from it each time they caught a lass beneath its greenery, until the last berry was gone and the sport ended.

And so Christmas drew to a close in the year 1826 and Mistress Angelica went back in her room to try to put all these things out of her mind. Which presently she did, and dreamed of young apprentices with segars and walking sticks, little darkies showing the yaller upon the windowpane.

Parker Lloyd-Smith was son of the late Supreme Court Justice Walter Lloyd-Smith, a graduate of Princeton and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. He worked on the Knickerbocker Press and the Albany Evening News from 1926 to 1928. First assigned the obituaries, within six months he was covering City Hall, where he was well-liked, and a little later he was editor of the Sunday magazine section. A forward thinker and local activist, he was Secretary of the Albany Air Board, lobbying hard for what would become Albany Airport; he also spearheaded the effort to install a carillon atop Albany’s City Hall. He wrote the above story at age 24.

In 1928, Time Magazine offered Parker a job as Associate Editor, and in 1930, as Managing Editor, he helped Henry Luce launch Fortune Magazine.


Late at night on September 16, 1931, Parker Lloyd-Smith jumped naked to his death from the 23rd floor of his fashionable apartment house at 12 E. 86th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, where he lived with his widowed mother. He left her this note:

“Mother Charm: The heat is frightful – but this is a farewell – if this is waiting – I will wait for you.

“My love and gratitude always. Signed Parker.”

He was 29.

Largely forgotten today, the classicist writer left behind a modest legacy of poems, magazine articles, and newspaper pieces.

This first appeared in Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

Creepy Clowns and a Trolley – Albany NY

Festive Albany

When Santa could drive you on the Trolley (with 2 creepy clowns)

1936 – Whitney’s was an upscale department store on N. Pearl St. in Albany for almost 100 years, with a very large Christmas toy department.

(Whitney’s in downtown closed circa 1969.)


America’s First Christmas Cookies from 1796 – Albany NY

The first Christmas cookie recipe printed in America appear in Amelia Simmons “American Cookery”. The cookbook was 1st printed in Hartford in 1796, but the second and more complete edition was printed 6 months later in Albany by the Webster Brothers, located at the corner of State and N. Pearl (the Citizens Banks is there today.) All evidence points to Amelia being a Hudson Valley (and maybe even Albany) girl.

Before 1796 what we know as cookie were called jumbles, biscuits (they still are in England today), wigs /whigs (from wedges) or wafers. But cookie comes from the Dutch word “koekje” (small cake) used in the New Netherlands to describe morsels of wonderfulness.

There’s evidence that the term “cookie “was used colloquially in speech in Albany (the Court Minutes of the 1650s describe Beverwyck bakers making cookies for trade with local Indians) for hundreds of years, but even bakeries in Albany (the most Dutch of all New Netherlands cities) were still referring to jumbles and biscuits and small cakes, not cookies, in their newspaper ads in the 1850s. It’s not until after the Civil War that the term “cookie” starts popping up in cookbooks and bakery ads with frequency, possibly because it was a term used by soldiers from New York who dominated the battlefields during the War. (NY furnished 450,000 troops – more than any other Union state.)

Amelia’s 1796 Christmas Cookie Recipe:
“To three pounds of four, sprinkle a teacup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound of sugar, dissolve one teaspoonful of pearlash in a tea cup of milk, knead all well together , roll three-quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shapr or size you please. Bake slowly fifteen or 20 minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put into an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when 6 months old.”

Better after 6 months?? After being in the damp? (Perhaps something is lost in translation.)

In any event, here’s a modern adaptation of the Amelia’s Christmas Cookie Recipe in much smaller quantity.

(Recipe from Amanda Moniz, the Assistant Director of the National History Center of the American Historical Association, as it appeared in the Historical Cooking Project Blog, July 2014.)

1 pound (about 3¾ cups) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1½ tablespoons ground coriander (or more)
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
½ pound (1 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup whole milk (more as needed)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine flour, salt, and ground coriander in a food processor. Pulse a couple times.
Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Combine baking powder and milk. Add to the dough mixture and stir, adding more milk if it seems too dry. Press the dough together into two balls.
Put each ball on plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, and chill for a couple hours.
Roll the dough to the thinness you want (about 1/8 inch is good) and cut out in any shape you want.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets about halfway through baking, until lightly browned around the edges, about 10 minutes.

And here’s a video from Jas Townsend & Son taking a whack at the original recipe, under somewhat original conditions of the 18th century.

Copyright 2021 Julie O‘Connor

Christmas Central – Coulson and Wendt Newsstand – State and N. Pearl, early 1900s


William Coulson ran a newsstand and Julius Wendt sold fruit in the late 1800s. They joined forces in the mid-1890s and established Coulson and Wendt, at 77 State St. (the site of Wendt’s fruit stand) in the Dexter Building on the corner of State and N. Pearl.

By the early 1900s they were selling everything Christmas – cards, candy, tiny toys, holly, wreaths and trees.. so many trees – hundreds every season.

(In 1913, Wendt left the business and it became Coulson’s newsstand; by 1919 it moved down to 34 State St. and then subsequently to Broadway, where it’s been for decades.)



Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Because Santa absolutely, positively has to be there on time, he flies an Albany Cutter.

25542458_1511345912246999_2234010446663884625_oDuring that latter part of the 19th century, the 20th and into the 21st, Santa has been frequently depicted arriving or departing in an Albany sleigh (or “cutter”). It has a “swell body” , distinctive barrel-chested nose and matching curved runners. In the 19th century, this kind of sleigh was the most expensive and sporty design available; depicting Santa’s arrival in one in 1880 would be akin to having him show up in a Ferrari today.


The reason for the association, however, is apt because the Albany sleigh became the “must-have” in the 19th century. James Goold of Albany developed the design in the early 1820s, when unartistic “piano” box sleighs were more common. Goold’s shape was more fanciful, and it was harder to imitate because the body and runners were built as a singular unit–the runners had to match the curve of the carriage.

Each new design ended up having its own unique character and appearance. Obviously the shapes changed over time, but it was always fashionable to own any Albany sleigh because, like stylish cars today, people could always identify the latest iterations.

Albany sleighs were available with all sorts of decorative painting and upholstery options. In many cases these patterns were complete one-offs, with wealthy owners deciding every detail. Such customization meant that Albany cutters were always costly, and mass-market models were rarely available until late in the 1800s.

The maker, James Gould, was born in Connecticut in 1790; when he was about 14 the family moved to Rensselaer County. After serving several apprenticeships and stop and starts he came to Albany in 1815 and rented a building on Maiden Lane and Dean (behind what is now the Foley Court House) from Peter Gansevoort (the uncle of Herman Melville) with the intention of establishing a carriage works. The business thrived. In 1831, Goold was commissioned to build the “coach tops” of the 6 carriages for the Mohawk Hudson Railroad, the first railroad in New York State. The railroad’s maiden run started at “The Point” where Western and Madison Ave. converge in Pine Hills and ran to Schenectady.

Despite setbacks, including 2 devastating fires in 1838 and 1849, the business flourished; a huge factory was located at the intersection of Hamilton, Division and Union streets, bordering on Broadway, into the early 20th century. The company built carriages, stage coaches, horse cars, electric trolley carriages, railroad road cars and sleighs. But it was the sleigh, the Albany Cutter, for which Goold is remembered.


The Cutter was iconic, sexy and sinuous. It came in custom colors (red with black trim and hint of gold was most in demand) and could have special carvings. It was sleek and fast, the choice of millionaires, like Vanderbilt and Morgan and even Russian Boyars and aristocrats. Over time, Goold developed 2 seat and even 4 seat sleighs of the same style, perfect for wealthy families with country homes on the River in the Hudson Valley.


And perfect for the traditional Gilded Age Santa we’ve come to love.




Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor