In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, heavily ornamented, often factory-made furniture caused some people to seek simpler forms that were more expressive of the handcrafted furniture of pre-industrial times. more

In the World

  • 1876Battle of Greasy Grass (Custer’s Last Stand)
  • 1893World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago
  • 1918World War I ends

In Massachusetts

  • 1870Founding of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • 1876Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone
  • 1919Great Molasses Flood in Boston

Reaction and Reform

Pilgrims and Patriots: The Colonial Revival, 1876-1945

Massachusetts has been a center of the longstanding cultural phenomenon known as the colonial revival. This has been true since the inception of this movement in the nineteenth century and it has permeated all aspects of material life, especially architecture. The revival was an integral part of the wider arts and crafts movement but has proven to have exceptional longevity in Massachusetts. It remains very much a part of twenty-first century furniture making, and factory-made “borax” furniture and small-shop creations alike continue to embrace the colonial style.

The revival was fueled by nostalgia, nativism, patriotism, and a panoply of other emotions and motives. Many of the principal progenitors of this movement were located in Massachusetts but none was more prominent than Wallace Nutting, whose Old America Company produced high-quality reproduction furniture for several decades. A number of other companies also produced furniture to meet a seemingly never-ending demand by consumers at all economic levels for furniture in the “early American mode.”

The colonial revival style was broadly conceived: “colonial” was often defined as anything made before the start of factory production around 1830. A. H. Davenport and Irving and Casson, important nationally as well as within the state, were among the major suppliers of furniture in this “colonial” mode.

Collectors, both private and institutional, “in quest of the colonial” found a ready supply in the antique shops for which New England has long been known. (Fakers, unfortunately, took advantage of this enthusiasm for antiques by churning out many spurious objects.) Museum and historical society exhibitions and publications also began to feature colonial objects as the study of the material intensified.

Selected Bibliography

  • Axelrod, Alan, ed. The Colonial Revival in America. New York: W.W. Norton for the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1985. (See esp. the introduction by Kenneth L. Ames.)
  • Denenberg, Thomas A. Wallace Nutting and the Invention of Old America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
  • Jenkins, Emyl. Emyl Jenkins’ Reproduction Furniture: Antiques for the Next Generation. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995.
  • Lindquist, David P., and Caroline C. Warren. Colonial Revival Furniture. Radnor, Pa.: Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 1993.
  • [Nutting, Wallace]. Wallace Nutting’s Biography. Framingham, Mass.: Old America Company, 1936.

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