During the 1800s, a wave of successive, overlapping revival styles characterized fashionable furniture in Massachusetts and throughout America. more

In the World

  • 1844Introduction of the telegraph
  • 1849California Gold Rush
  • 1861Civil War begins

In Massachusetts

  • 1837Opening of Mount Holyoke College
  • 1845Henry David Thoreau begins living at Walden Pond
  • 1872Great Boston fire

Industry, Innovation, and Tradition

Commerce and Tradition, ca. 1800-1900

The diverse world of furniture making encompasses many types and varieties of objects that are not normally given extensive treatment in academic surveys of the field. Nor are they collected systematically by museums or individuals. These vernacular—or everyday—objects are a significant but often overlooked part of our built environment.

Many of these objects were produced for the home. Some were made in small numbers by professional or amateur woodworkers working in rural and urban areas, often in very traditional modes but occasionally in a more idiosyncratic manner sometimes characterized as “folk.” Other objects of this kind were made by the thousands in factories such as those in Gardner, Massachusetts.

Institutional furniture also forms a major part of this component of the industry. Ordinary pieces such as chairs, couches, desks, filing cabinets, and bookcases were made for offices, hospitals, schools, libraries, churches, transportation hubs, and other settings. Starting in the nineteenth century, these common furniture items were often marketed through trade catalogues and newsprint advertising, a form of social media of the time.

The Paine Furniture Company of Boston, which traces its origins to the early nineteenth century but which flourished from ca. 1870 to the 1930s, is one example of a large company that catered to a growing population’s need for furnishings. Many other firms throughout the state manufactured and sold furniture. One notable example was the C. Dodge Company of Manchester, which specialized in reproduction furniture from the 1840s well into the twentieth century.

Selected Bibliography

  • Benes, Peter D., ed. Rural New England Furniture: People, Place, and Production. Boston: Boston University for the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2000.
  • Derby and Kilmer Desk Company. Tenth Illustrated Catalogue and Price List of the Derby Roll-top Desks and Improved Office Furniture Specialities. Boston: by the Company, 1889.
  • Evans, Nancy Goyne. Windsor Chair Making in America: From Craft Shop to Consumer. Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2006. See also two other titles by this author on Windsors and their use.
  • Fales, Dean A., Jr. America Painted Furniture, 1660-1880. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1972.
  • Little , Nina Fletcher. Little by Little: Six Decades of Collecting American Decorative Arts. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1984.
  • Mühlberger, Richard. American Folk Marquetry: Masterpieces in Wood. New York: Museum of American Folk Art, 1998.
  • Paine Furniture Company. One Hundred Years of Paine’s, 1835-1935: A History of America’s Oldest Furniture Store. Boston: by the Company, 1935.

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