Springfield Library and Museums Association

Springfield, MA




Valley Furniture, Valley Tools


A selection of late-18th- and early-19th-century furniture is currently on display at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum through March 31, 2002, in the special exhibition Valley Furniture, Valley Tools. The exhibition features approximately 35 examples from the museum's permanent collection, including chests of drawers, tables, chairs, sideboards, desks, and children' s furniture, that was made in the geographic area of the Museum. Also on display are a number of antique carpentry tools.

Little furniture made before 1700 still exists, and none to date can be positively identified as being made in Springfield, which at that time encompassed most of the surrounding towns and parts of Connecticut. It is difficult to identify those very early furniture makers because they did not specialize in furniture, nor did they call themselves furniture makers or cabinetmakers. They were known as carpenters, joiners, and turners. Carpenters and joiners also built houses and other structures, while turners worked with lathes to produce turned spindles. (left: Chest on Chest, attributed, Elipalet Chapin, c. 1780-1790, Connicticut Valley Historical Museum at the Quadrangle, Springfield, MA)

Often, a piece of furniture can be linked to the greater Springfield area through ownership, even though it can not be attributed to a particular carpenter. Among the earliest pieces displayed is a Windsor armchair made around 1790 by an unknown joiner. It belonged to Abijah Hendrick (b. 1761) of Wilbraham, Mass., who enlisted in the Revolutionary Army at age 16 and who later served to guard the stores and arms at the Springfield Armory.

It becomes easier to trace cabinetmakers working in Springfield following the publication of the city's first newspapers, The Massachusetts Gazette or The General Advertiser, in 1784, and the Federal Spy, in the 1790s. The papers provided a vehicle for cabinetmakers to advertise their craft and to place want-ads for journeymen and apprentices. Some cabinetmakers also began to sign or label their furniture.

For example, the Museum owns a number of fine pieces by William Lloyd, the best-documented of the 21 cabinetmakers working in Springfield in the early-19th century. He first advertised his cabinetmaking business in 1802. He also signed and labeled his pieces, changing the spelling of his name from Lloyde, used from 1802-1810, to Lloyd, used from 1811-1815, when his advertisements abruptly ended.

Springfield-made furniture from the early-19th century has several common elements. It is usually made of cherry, a popular local wood at the time. Secondary woods, used on hidden parts of the piece, were pine, maple, or sometimes poplar. Much of the furniture is decorated with inlaid designs which are different from those found on furniture made in other parts of the country. For example, an unusual, icicle-like inlay appears on pieces made by both William Lloyd and Peletiah Bliss.

Another piece in the exhibit - less aesthetically pleasing, but nonetheless fascinating - is a stand-up mercantile desk dating to about 1850 that was owned by the famous abolitionist John Brown. The desk was used by Brown in his offices in Springfield, where he lived and worked as a wool merchant. Brown is remembered today for his failed raid on the Harper's Ferry Arsenal, and for his subsequent trial and execution.

By the middle of the 19th century, furniture was no longer primarily the province of individual craftsmen, but was being mass produced in factories and sold through warehouses somewhat similar to modern furniture stores.

Read more about the Springfield Library and Museums Association in Resource Library Magazine.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/3/11

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