How YOU can use our collections!

I often marvel at the variety of ways the public uses our collections.  I thought it would be fun to give a run-down of some of the ways individuals have used, or could use, our vast collections here at CHS. 


Dress. About 1910. CHS Collection, 1987.267.0.

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What is this?

thumbnail-high-chestOur exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it? To find out more, Continue reading

Forget the Futon, It’s Time for Grown-Up Furniture

FutonOk, I’ll admit that we still have a futon in our basement. But that’s not our greatest source of furniture shame. I remember vividly the hot afternoon we set out to get a new desk for my husband. I was a graduate student at the time and money was short, so we headed to a local discount furniture dealer. What a bargain—we chose the floor model of the particle board desk/hutch/computer tray combo—all we had to do to add to the savings was get it home ourselves. Continue reading

To one bureau

Pattern found in Thomas Loomis' account book. Ms 77696

Pattern found in Thomas Loomis’ account book. Ms 77696

CHS is hosting a furniture series once a month for the next three months. The first program, scheduled for Friday, September 20, from 5:30-7:00 pm, features Christina Keyser Vida, Curator of Collections and Interpretation of the Windsor Historical Society. She will share the history of cabinet-making in Windsor, Connecticut, in its heyday of the late 1700s. In anticipation of the program, I went looking through our manuscript collections for Windsor furniture makers. I found two, both named Loomis. Continue reading

Focusing on Furniture

A sneak peek into third floor furniture storage just leaves you wanting more.

A sneak peek into third floor furniture storage just leaves you wanting more.

Entering the furniture storage on the third floor still feels like I’ve stumbled upon a secret treasure trove every time I get off the elevator. Visitors on our monthly Behind-the-Scenes Tours sometimes get to experience this feeling, too, but we know that more members and visitors would love a way to learn more about this important and nationally-renown collection. Continue reading

Calling All Yankee Craftsmen!

If your workshop isn’t air conditioned, find a perfect respite from the rising temperatures at our Behind-the-Scenes Tours “CHS Toolbox” on Saturday, July 20 at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. With collections expert Rich Malley, visitors will explore vintage tools from awls to wrenches (ok, I couldn’t come up with a tool that started with z!) and many chisels, hammers, and planes in between. Please note the date change for this month’s tour—it isn’t our usual second Saturday of the month, but the third.

Solon Rust toolbox

Solon Rust used this toolbox as an apprentice at the Union Factory from 1865-1890. This special treasure featured in Making Connecticut will be unpacked for the tour.

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Due to Aaron Chapin & Son

Documenting the work of furniture makers through the archival record can be a challenge. The descriptions often are very cursory. How exciting, then, when we come across a bill like one from Aaron Chapin & Son to Mr. Thomas Burnham, dated 1820. Chapin made 1 cherry dining table 3 ft. 6 inches, and a curled maple bedstead. Having the size of the table and the woods used for each piece is not a particularly common practice. Account books from the same period may list a style (kitchen table, rocking chair), but they do not often include additional details.

Bill to Thomas Burnham, 1820, Ms 74390.

Aaron Chapin was a member of the furniture-making Chapin family. On 28 July 1788, he published an advertisement in the The Connecticut Courant and The Weekly Intelligencer stating, “He still caries on the Cabinet and Chair making business, in its great variety of articles – among which are Sofa’s Swelled or plain, easy Chairs – Clock Cases, Gun Stocks, weavers Shuttles, Pitch Pipes, Flutes, Fifes, &c. &c.” In this ad, he also stated that he did watch repair and cleaning. In 1794, Aaron was secretary of the Hartford Society of Cabinet-Makers. In 1807, he and his son, Laertes Chapin (1778-1847), joined in the partnership Aaron Chapin & Son. It was this “firm” that made the dining table and bedstead  described above.

What was it that made Aaron Chapin thrive as a furniture maker while others left the business or changed their techniques in the first 20 years of the 19th century? Alyce Perry Englund, Associate Curator of American Decorative arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum, will address that question in a program at the Connecticut Historical Society on Friday, July 20 at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $12.00 for CHS and Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) members, and $15.00 for non-members.  This program is part of summer series supported by the SAPFM and the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. The final lecture in the series will be Friday, August 17 at 6:00 pm. Visit our website at for further details.

A previously unknown Connecticut furniture maker discovered

When the initial query came about our interest in

The entry for the sampler frame is featured here.

an account book of a furniture maker, I was not overwhelmed. Until, that is, I received a scan of the very first page. The entry that caught my eye read “Eliza Punderson sampler frame 12 x 8 1/2”. Now that got my attention! One rarely if ever sees an entry for a sampler frame in an account book (although I have seen one or two receipts). The other exciting connection was that we have several well-known needlework pieces by Prudence Punderson Rossiter. The exact family relationship, if any,  is not yet clear; we need to do some additional research. Anyway, my answer to the donor was a very emphatic “Yes!”

Page 7 of the account book shows the variety of furniture he made.

Once we had the account book in hand, I noted that the other entries in this account book were equally intriguing. Park made cherry coffins for quite a few individuals. He also made rocking chairs, breakfast and dining tables, fan-back and slat-back chairs, woolen wheels, looms, candle stands, bedsteads, and bureaus. He also mended broken pieces for his customers and could turn new handles for your hoe or rake.

Our furniture collection documents the various styles and the handiwork of furniture makers throughout out state’s history. Furniture can be  available for research in our Research Center, which is open Tuesday through Friday, 12:00-5:00 pm and Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Making an appointment is suggested but not required.

If needlework is your interest, CHS has an upcoming exhibit “Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840” opening on October 5, 2010. In conjunction with the exhibit, we are offering needlework kits based on historic pieces from our collections. A companion book to the exhibition will be available in both hard and soft cover editions. CHS also will hold a one-day conference on October 30, 2010.  Please see for more information.

If you would like to see the account book, ask for Ms 100923 at the Research Center. You may also visit our web site,