Well, James & I have gone around about nails before. I have a different view on the idea of nails being terribly costly & precious. The period I know is the seventeenth century; what happens after that is out of my league.
I would point out that the cheapest & most ordinary furniture of the day is the board chest, or carved box. Both of which are nailed together, quickly & easily. Both were just about ALWAYS fitted with locks as well. As were finer, joined chests & cupboards.
Here's a specific record from Essex County, Massachusetts from Ipswich in 1662:
?My ant Tutels a count of worke and other things? paid for nailes at Mr. William Paines 300 at 8d. per hondered, 2s; for nailes at Mr. Robert Paines, 5s; for nailes at Mr. Jowits the last yeare, 200 at 12d. per hondred, 2s; [in George Francis Dow, Records and Files of the Quarterly Court Essex County, Massachusetts, 8 volumes, (Salem, Massachusetts: Essex Institute, 1911-21) 2:362-366.]
These nails were being bought from merchants, not from smiths, thus the smith got even less for them...
From the same set of court records:
Ipswich, Nov 1674
Indenture, dated Sept. 29, 1674, Hugh March, son of Hugh March of Newbury, of his own will and with the consent of his parents was apprenticed to Benjamine Lowle, of Newbury, blacksmith, for six years, to learn the trade of a blacksmith, and said Lowle was to perfect him in writing and casting accounts, in reading English and in the trade of making or mending locks. Wit: John Kent and Robert Holmes. (5: 417-419)
There were blacksmiths in most every New England town by mid-17th century. Their apprenticeship contracts, like that above, often refer to the apprentice being taught to ?keep a book? or something to that effect.
The Saugus Iron Works, called "Hammersmith" at the time, ran in Essex County starting about mid-1640s. Production there included pig iron, wrought iron and end-products as well ? pots, kettles, skillets, firebacks and salt-pans. There was a blacksmith there making edge tools also.
It had begun in Braintree, Massachusetts earlier than that, but that site was quickly abandoned and the works moved to Lynn. A recreation of it is now run as a Nation Parks historic site = http://www.nps.gov/sair/index.htm
My take on the Virginia plantation legislation doesn?t focus on the nails, but on the idea that they wanted to keep people from destroying abandoned houses. If nails were expensive, the government would not be giving them to people!
My two cents.
(whoops - the name of that county doesn't get past some filters here)