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

The Eclectic Years, 1835-1890

Fashionable furniture in this era is characterized by the popularity of revival styles, including the Gothic, Elizabethan, rococo, and Renaissance revivals. New industrial processes also unleashed a period of intense creativity and increased productivity.

This period also witnessed other important influences both in style and processes. Exotic styles from around the world inspired decorative motifs. An interest in innovative, patent furniture emerged, emphasizing new materials and forms. And a gradual transition from small shop to factory production was accompanied by the use of new steam-driven machinery and tools. At mid-century, French influence, popularized by Auguste Eliaers and others in Boston, held sway. By the 1870s, the aesthetic movement, devoted to “art for art’s sake,” was characterized by highly ornamented furniture in diverse modes.

In Boston, A. H. Davenport and Co. and Irving and Casson were working with the country’s leading architects to compete and win contracts over elite manufacturers like Herter Bros. of New York. This new breed of craftsmen provided furnishings for libraries, private clubs, banks, and businesses all over the country. They were commissioned to make furniture for such places as the Glessner House in Chicago, the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, and the White House in Washington.

Selected Bibliography

  • Cooke, Edward S., Jr. “The Boston Furniture Industry in 1880.” Old-Time New England 70, no. 257 (1980): 82-98.
  • Ettema, Michael J. “Technological Innovation and Design Economics in Furniture Manufacture.” Winterthur Portfolio 16, nos. 2/3 (summer/autumn 1981): 197-223.
  • Seidler, Jan. “The Furniture Industry in Victorian Boston.” Nineteenth Century 3, no. 2 (summer 1977): 64-69.
  • Seidler, Jan. “A Tradition in Transition: The Boston Furniture Industry, 1840-1880.” In Victorian Furniture: Essays from a Victorian Society Autumn Symposium, ed. Kenneth L. Ames, 65-84. Philadelphia: Victorian Society in America, 1982.
  • Seidler, Jan. “Transitions in New England’s Nineteenth-Century Furniture Industry: Technology and Style, 1820-1880.” In Tools and Technologies: America’s Wooden Age, ed. Paul B. Kebabian and William C. Lipke, 64-79. Burlington, Vt.: Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, 1979.
  • Smith, Nancy A. “Boston Nineteenth Century Pianoforte Manufacture: The Contributions of Jonas Chickering.” In Victorian Furniture: Essays from a Victorian Society Autumn Symposium, ed. Kenneth L. Ames, 103-14. Philadelphia: Victorian Society in America, 1982.
  • Yehia, Mary Ellen. “Chairs for the Masses: A Brief History of the L. White Chair Company, Boston, Massachusetts.” Old-Time New England 63, no. 2 (fall 1972): 33-44.

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