Home Sweet Home: Jewelry of Our Historic Houses
In 1910, William Sumner Appleton founded the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in order to stop the dismantling and destruction of historic homes. Almost a hundred years later, Historic New England continues Appleton’s ambitious vision of preservation through its Historic Homeownership and Stewardship programs as well as the operation of thirty-six historic properties. Many of these sites, which range in date from the seventeenth to the twentieth century and are located from Maine to Connecticut, have related object collections which include jewelry and personal adornments. These pieces help Historic New England illuminate the histories of these homes, as well as convey rich and compelling stories about the people who lived within them.
The first owner of what is now known as the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm was John Spencer who was granted the land in 1635 and used it to raise livestock. Daniel Peirce, Sr., purchased the land in 1651 and around 1700 his son built the original main body of the house using masonry, which was a rarity in New England at that time. Subsequent owners updated and expanded the structure with a Georgian sash and paneling, a wooden wing, and twentieth century conveniences. In the mid nineteenth century, the Little family purchased the farm and in 1971 their descendants, Agnes and Amelia Little, donated the property to SPNEA. A major preservation project was carried out in the late 1980s by Historic New England to conserve this historically important building. Currently, the house and surrounding property operates as a house museum and working farm where visitors can learn about farm life in New England through hands-on experiences.
The Codman Estate was the home to five generations of the Chambers-Russell-Codman family. The original Georgian house was built by Chambers Russell in the late 1730s on seven hundred acres that were bequeathed to him from his grandfather, Charles Chambers. In the 1790s, John Codman made vast improvements to the estate, which was described by the wife of Christopher Gore in 1800 as “the handsomest place in America.” John’s son did not share Mrs. Gore’s enthusiasm and sold the estate in 1807 shortly after his father’s death. The estate was reacquired by John’s grandson, Ogden Codman, in 1862 who like his grandfather passionately refurbished the house and surrounding grounds. Today, the interiors are richly furnished with portraits, memorabilia, and art works collected by the family in Europe, and preserve the decorative schemes of every era, including those of noted interior designer Ogden Codman, Jr. The grounds feature a hidden Italianate garden, c. 1900, with perennial beds, statuary, and a reflecting pool filled with waterlilies, as well as an English cottage garden, c. 1930.
The Quincy House was built by Colonel Josiah Quincy in 1770, and was occupied by three generations of the family until 1893. The Quincys were influential and active participants in the culture and politics of Massachusetts. Josiah’s grandson, Josiah Quincy III, was mayor of Boston from 1823 to 1829 and president of Harvard University from 1829 to 1845. As a result, many distinguished Americans were guests at the house, including Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Commodore Matthew Perry, and the Quincy’s relatives presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. The house retains many of its original contents thanks to the efforts of Eliza Susan Quincy, who organized the family collection in the 1880s, and through donations made by Edmund Quincy and Helen Huntington Howe (Mrs. Reginald Allen), both direct descendants of Josiah Quincy.
The Otis House, located at the foot of Beacon Hill on Cambridge Street, was the first of three houses designed for Harrison Gray Otis and his wife Sally Foster Otis by the renowned architect Charles Bulfinch. This stately Federal style home exemplifies the elegant lifestyle led by Boston's governing class after the American Revolution. Harrison Gray Otis made a fortune developing nearby Beacon Hill, served as a Representative in Congress, and later was Mayor of Boston. He and his wife Sally were noted for their frequent and lavish entertaining. The interior, which has been restored with brilliantly colored wallpapers and carpeting, and high-style furnishings, provides insights into social, business and family life, as well as the role played by household servants.
The Phillips House is the newest addition to Historic New England’s collection of historic homes. One of the many elegant Federal style houses that line Chestnut Street in Salem, Massachusetts, the original structure was actually built by Nathaniel West and his wife Elizabeth Derby, daughter of the famous Elias Hasket Derby, in the neighboring town of Danvers. After a bitter divorce and the death of his daughter in 1819, Nathaniel moved a third of the house to Salem and added a hallway, a third floor, and a back ell section. In 1911, Stephen Willard and Anna (Wheatland) Phillips purchased the house and modernized and redecorated the interiors. The house remained in the family until 1971 when it became a house museum to display their extensive collection of furnishings and heirlooms related to the Phillips, Wheatland, Duncan, and Peabody families.
The Rundlet-May House, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has remained virtually unchanged since it was built by the self-made textile merchant, James Rundlet in 1807-1808. Three generations of the Rundlet and May families preserved many of the original contents, which include imported wallpaper from England, furniture commissioned from local cabinetmakers, and a kitchen fitted with a Rumford roaster and Rumford range. Interesting additions made to the house by later generations also survive, most notably an Edwardian era smoking room on the third floor filled with collegiate and athletic memorabilia. The original gardens, orchard, and attached outbuildings remain as well as a pet cemetery where generations of family pets were laid to rest.
Merwin House, located in the Berkshire County resort town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is a wonderful example of a summer retreat of a wealthy northeastern family in the late nineteenth century. The original house dates to the late Federal period. In 1875, it was converted into a summer home by William and Elizabeth Doane. The interiors reflect the family’s eclectic collection of European and American furnishings, much of which they acquired during their extensive travels. Today, the Berkshires are home to many cultural and historical institutions and are still a popular summer destination.
Roseland Cottage was built in 1846 as a summer retreat by Henry Chandler Bowen, an entrepreneur, publisher, abolitionist and active member in the Republican Party. Henry chose English architect Joseph C. Wells who utilized the Gothic Revival style developed by the famous designer A.W.N. Pugin and made popular in America by the architectural publications of Andrew Jackson Downing. The interiors, which include internal plumbing and ventilation, are laid out using the principles that Downing advocated such as functionality, sanitation, comfort and convenience. Today the interiors retain the original Gothic style furniture that Henry purchased for the house as well as the embossed Lincrusta Walton wall coverings that were hung in 1880. The surrounding buildings and landscaping also remains virtually unchanged and includes an icehouse, garden house and a carriage barn with a private bowling alley, as well as a boxwood parterre garden.
Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, the famous school of arts, crafts and product design in Weimar, Germany, came to America in 1937 to head the architecture department at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. The house that he designed and built in Lincoln, Massachusetts, for his family is a mixture of the Bauhaus principles of simple design and functionality, and elements of vernacular New England architectural forms and materials. Gropius and his wife Ise filled the house with their collection of works of art, furnishings and household items, including examples by Marcel Breuer, Eero Saarinen, Josef Albers, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The house and its collections are not only a showcase of Bauhaus philosophy but an invaluable resource for the study of design and architecture.
These are the wedding and keeper rings of Amelia W. (Bradley) Little (b. abt. 1864), who married Daniel Noyes Little (b. 1858) on December 29, 1885. The rings retain their original box from the jeweler William Moulton. The Moulton family had a long tradition of silversmithing and jewelry making in Massachusetts. The first Moulton silversmith to establish himself in Newburyport was William Moulton (1720-c.1793). William’s younger brother, Joseph (1724-1795), and son Joseph (1744-1816) were also silversmiths, as well as four of William’s grandsons.
The last two generations of the Codman family to live in the Codman House were intensely proud of their heritage. As a result, this rare eighteenth century diamond ring has survived with its original silver setting and gold band. The ring first belonged to the donor’s great-aunt, Hannah (Robinson) Codman (1768-1819). Hannah married Stephen Codman (1758-1844), the brother of John Codman III (1755-1803) and the donor's great grandfather, around 1789. The inscription on the ring describes the descent of the ring through the Codman family from Hannah to her daughter Elizabeth Anne Ellis Codman (1802-1866) to her nephew Edward Wainwright Codman (1833-1904). Edward was the son of Elizabeth's brother, Edward Codman (1800-1862).
The Quincy family has donated a number of mourning pieces to Historic New England, including this ring which memorialized the death of Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744-1775), son of Colonel Josiah Quincy who built Quincy House. Josiah, Jr., was an active participant for the American cause during the Revolution and was affectionately known as “the Patriot.” He was also the attorney who defended, along with John Adams, the British soldiers who in 1770 fired on an unruly mob of civilians, an event that is now infamously known as the Boston Massacre. Tragically, Josiah died at sea in 1775 returning from a diplomatic mission in London and never saw the cause that he believed in so passionately become a reality.
One of the strengths of Historic New England’s jewelry collection is the related objects, such as portraits and photographs, that help to illuminate how a piece of jewelry was worn. In 1804, Sally Foster Otis sat to have her portrait done by the brilliant Boston miniaturist Edward Malbone. For this special occasion, Sally chose to wear her most fashionable attire, including a carnelian pendant cross set with a topaz and pearls on a necklace of pearls. Today, the pendant is set on a carnelian bead necklace, which may have been purchased at the same time and used interchangeably with the pearls.
The Stephen Phillips House contains a large and diverse collection of jewelry dating from the eighteenth to the mid twentieth century related to the Phillips, Duncan, Wheatland and Peabody families. These bracelets originally belonged to Anna Perkins (Pingree) Peabody (1839-1911). Anna was married to Joseph Peabody, a member of a wealthy Salem merchant family. Her jewelry, which consists of many pieces purchased from high-end retailers and jewelry manufacturers like Tiffany & Co., reflect the tastes of well-to-do New Englanders in the late nineteenth century.
While most cameos were carved into profile bust portraits, classical and religious scenes were also common. This brooch, which may have been purchased by a member of the Rundlet or May families during a trip to Rome, depicts the birth of the goddess Venus. According to the classical myth, Venus emerged from the sea and was then carried to the shore by wind gods who showered her with roses, which also came into existence at her birth. Venus was the goddess of beauty and love and a brooch featuring her birth would have been an appropriate gift to a sweetheart or wife.
Garnet jewelry was particularly fashionable in America during the mid eighteenth century and again in the late nineteenth century. Garnets used in American and European jewelry largely came from Bohemia. Surviving examples from the eighteenth century show that rosettes, floral sprays, and crescents were popular designs used in suites, rings, hair pieces, and buckles. This bracelet set, with large rosettes and matching girandole style brooch, reflect the revival of eighteenth century jewelry styles as well as the taste for oversized jewelry in the second half of the nineteenth century. Bohemian garnets were widely available and inexpensive making them the perfect stone for mass-produced jewelry.
Lucy Maria Tappan was a highly fashionable bride in 1844 for her wedding to Henry Chandler Bowen when she wore a white silk floral dress with a lace collar, veil, and carried a bouquet of flowers held in an repousséd and chased silver posy holder. White became the standard color for brides after Queen Victoria famously wore white to her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Henry’s gold wedding band is also in Historic New England’s collection and is engraved with the couple’s initials and the date of their wedding.
Jewelry design in the 1960s reflected the emerging youth culture and the rejection of the femininity of the 1950s. Couture designers used geometric shapes, bright unnatural colors, and experimented with new space-age materials. The costume jewelry manufacturer Richelieu produced a line of plastic geometric jewelry designed by the architect and animator for Walt Disney, Giorgio Sant’ Angelo. The line was aptly named Architec-jewels. The demand for this new style increased after a 1967 cover of American Vogue, designed by Sant’ Angelo, featured the model Twiggy wearing a pair of his earrings.