Portraits and Artifacts
Visitors to Antiquarian Hall and other AAS buildings are generally surprised by the array of antique furniture, artifacts, and portraits. The furniture includes some fine American and English antiques, including John Hancock's double chair, tall clock, and desk that are housed in the Council Room. Another piece favored by American scholars is the high chair used by descendants of Richard Mather, including Cotton Mather. Much of the furniture in the administrative offices has some interest to collectors or admirers of American antiques. An unusual aspect of this collection is the number of working antique clocks, including a Willard banjo clock and a David Wood shelf clock. The most recently acquired example was a gift of Kenneth D. Roberts; it is a clock made in Worcester by Samuel Stowel in 1773 as his apprenticeship piece. The clocks keep our staff and readers alert with hourly chimes. An article on some of the most important pieces in the collection was written by Wendell D. Garrett for The Magazine Antiques (March 1970).
Artifacts include two wooden busts of John Winthrop and Voltaire, carved by the Salem architect Samuel McIntire, a vial of tea collected after the Boston Tea Party in 1773, silver from the family of Isaiah Thomas, miscellaneous pieces of silver and china, some of which is used at public functions, and the Emma DeForest Morse Collection of American Historical Pottery. This collection of 324 pieces of nineteenth-century Staffordshire pottery illustrates major sites in the United States and commemorates events in this nation's past. Two other artifacts in the collection are Col. William Henshaw's musket dating from the American Revolution and a sword that once belonged to Fitz-John Winthrop, the governor of Connecticut, which descended through the Winthrop family to the Society.
The collection of oil portraits is displayed throughout Antiquarian Hall. The Society has never actively acquired paintings, except for portraits of presidents of the Society. Over the years, however, a significant collection has been formed. Several portraits of eminent members of the Mather family are present (including two portraits of Cotton Mather and one of Mather Byles, Sr., by Peter Pelham), four portraits by the itinerant artist Ethan Allen Greenwood, and Mather Brown's self-portrait. The collection of oil paintings, as well as the miniatures, the sculpted portrait busts, and a few framed drawings are described in Frederick L. Weis's checklist in volume 56 of the Proceedings (1946). Since that time portraits of Timothy Swan, Benjamin Chapin, John Moore, Stephen Peabody, members of the Goddard family, and Samuel Sewall, a painting of the Hongs at Canton, and American landscapes and genre paintings have entered the collection. An article by Louisa Dresser on the collection was published in The Magazine Antiques in November 1969. The Society's portraits are included in two Smithsonian Institution databases, the Catalogue of American Portraits and the Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings. A catalog of the collection, Portraits in the Collection of the American Antiquarian Society, compiled by Lauren B. Hewes, was published by AAS in 2004. An illustrated inventory of the painted portraits, miniatures and sculpted portrait busts collections was designed and created by Jaclyn Penny in 2009.
- Georgia B. Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Emerita