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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Concord Museum Celebrates its 125th

Concord Museum. Photograph by Eric Roth.
Concord Museum. Photograph by Eric Roth.

Fig. 1: Attributed to Timothy Martin Minot (1757-1837) after Amos Doolittle’s 1775 view, A View of the Town of Concord, April 19, 1775, ca. 1825. Oil on canvas, 29-1/2 x 38-1/2 inches. Bequest of Mrs, Stedman Buttrick, Sr. Concord Museum Collection (Pi414). Fig. 2: Wallace Nutting’s 1912 view of the interior of the Reuben Brown House following a reinstallation undertaken in 1907.
Fig. 1: Attributed to Timothy Martin Minot (1757-1837) after Amos Doolittle’s 1775 view, A View of the Town of Concord, April 19, 1775, ca. 1825. Oil on canvas, 29-1/2 x 38-1/2 inches. Bequest of Mrs, Stedman Buttrick, Sr. Concord Museum Collection (Pi414).

Fig. 2: Wallace Nutting’s 1912 view of the interior of the Reuben Brown House following a reinstallation undertaken in 1907.

by David F. Wood

Concord, Massachusetts, has a lot of history for a small town. Founded in 1635 as the first inland settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Concord had a population of about fifteen hundred through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, Concord on several occasions—most notably at the beginning of the Revolutionary War—rose to play a role on the national stage. The events of April 19, 1775, which saw the first military engagement with British forces, permanently affected the community’s view of itself (Fig. 1). Revolutionary hero Lafayette’s visit in 1825 stirred up a rivalry with neighboring Lexington over just where the Revolution began, one that was still bitter enough in 1875 that President Grant was constrained to eat lunch in both towns during the celebration of the centennial of the battle. When the Civil War began, many in town conceived of it as another Revolution.

The reverberations of that epochal event seem to have jostled Cummings Davis (1816–1896), a descendant of one of the first English families to settle in Concord, into the then unusual activity of collecting historical artifacts. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Davis moved to Groton, Massachusetts, with his family, working as a tailor before moving to Concord in 1850 to operate a “refreshment saloon” selling newspapers and pastries at the train station. Though not schooled beyond the ninth grade, Davis assembled an extraordinary collection of about two thousand seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century objects in all media.


Silver cann, cream pot, pair of salts, strainer, and porringer marked by Samuel Bartlett (1752–1821), Concord, 1780–1795. Gift of Joseph and Anne Pellegrino; Gifts in memory of Ruth S. Kondon; Gift of the Cummings Davis Society; Gift of Timothy B. and Rebecca M. Blodgett. Photograph by David Bohl.
Silver cann, cream pot, pair of salts, strainer, and porringer marked by Samuel Bartlett (1752–1821), Concord, 1780–1795. Gift of Joseph and Anne Pellegrino; Gifts in memory of Ruth S. Kondon; Gift of the Cummings Davis Society; Gift of Timothy B. and Rebecca M. Blodgett. Photograph by David Bohl.

A refugee from the Siege of Boston, Bartlett moved to Concord in 1776 and for more than twenty years practiced the occupation of silversmith. Twenty-seven pieces of Bartlett’s silver are in the Concord Museum collection.

Silk and oil paint on silk needlework picture of Charity worked by Miriam Buttrick (b. 1796), in 1812, perhaps at Mrs. Rowson’s Academy, Medford, Mass. Anonymous gift; Gift of Neil and Anna Rasmussen; Gift of George and Lisa Foote; Gift of the Cummings Davis Society; Anonymous Gift; Gift of Barbara Elliott; Gift of Seymour A. DiMare and Paula Hatfield DiMare; Gift of Randy and Sue Rettberg (1998.22). Photograph by David Bohl.
Silk and oil paint on silk needlework picture of Charity worked by Miriam Buttrick (b. 1796), in 1812, perhaps at Mrs. Rowson’s Academy, Medford, Mass. Anonymous gift; Gift of Neil and Anna Rasmussen; Gift of George and Lisa Foote; Gift of the Cummings Davis Society; Anonymous Gift; Gift of Barbara Elliott; Gift of Seymour A. DiMare and Paula Hatfield DiMare; Gift of Randy and Sue Rettberg (1998.22). Photograph by David Bohl.

Concord girls, to whom the path to college and the professions was closed in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, were nevertheless often well educated. Miriam Buttrick, who worked this piece, was the daughter of a Concord farmer.

The Stone family cupboard, attributed to the Harvard College joiners and dating from the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Gift of Cummings Davis (1886) (F113). Photograph by David Bohl.
The Stone family cupboard, attributed to the Harvard College joiners and dating from the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Gift of Cummings Davis (1886) (F113). Photograph by David Bohl.

One of the highlights of the collection—Number 1 in the 1911 Catalogue of a Portion of the Collection of the Concord Antiquarian Society—is the “black oak court cupboard” that descended in the Stone family of Cambridge and Concord. Historian Robert Trent used this cupboard in the 1970s in building his case for ascribing a large body of joined furniture to the shop tradition of Harvard College joiner John Taylor and his successors, further adding to its luster as a touchstone and icon.

Timepiece by Daniel Munroe Jr. (1775–1859), a rare variant on Simon Willard’s (1753-1848) iconic timepiece that might even predate Willard’s 1802 patent. Anonymous gift (1998.2). Photograph by David Bohl.
Timepiece by Daniel Munroe Jr. (1775–1859), a rare variant on Simon Willard’s (1753-1848) iconic timepiece that might even predate Willard’s 1802 patent. Anonymous gift (1998.2). Photograph by David Bohl.
Timepiece by Daniel Munroe Jr. (1775–1859), a rare variant on Simon Willard’s (1753-1848) iconic timepiece that might even predate Willard’s 1802 patent. Anonymous gift (1998.2). Photograph by David Bohl.

Only one clockmaker, Joseph Mulliken (1765–1802), had worked in Concord prior to 1797 when Daniel Munroe Jr. (1775–1859) moved to Concord from Roxbury, where he had apprenticed with Simon Willard and worked in the shop of Willard’s brother, Aaron. With his brothers, clockmaker, Nathaniel, and cabinetmaker, William, Daniel soon established a sophisticated clock manufactory organized horizontally, with a brass foundry and wire-drawing mill across the street (which ran along the top of the mill dam) from clockmakers’ and cabinetmakers’ shops. With the expiration of Willard’s timepiece patent in 1816, Concord ramped up production of so-called “banjo” clocks, producing hundreds a year until 1819, when the market seemingly collapsed in the early twenties. Except for Samuel Whiting, who produced fifty timepieces in 1831, Concord’s clock making episode ended as quickly as it began.


Davis displayed his collection to the public in rooms rented in Concord’s court house. In 1881 a group of town fathers, including author Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose fame put Concord on the international stage, determined to assist Mr. Davis, then failing, and to preserve the collection they now recognized as important. In 1886 the Concord Antiquarian Society (now the Concord Museum) was chartered, and in 1887 bought the eighteenth-century Reuben Brown house near the center of town to house the collection (Fig. 2). The museum quickly became a landmark for anyone interested in American antiques and until the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum opened their American wings in 1924, was one of the few public collections with so broad a range of documented objects on view. The early literature on American antiques by such writers as Frances Clary Morse, N. Hudson Moore, Robert and Elizabeth Shackleton, Alice Van Leer Carrick and Esther Singleton is peppered with examples from the Concord Museum. Wallace Nutting wrote in Furniture of the Pilgrim Century (1921): “We know of no other Museum collection in a town the size of Concord of equal merit with this, or indeed in any public collection aside from the two or three greatest.”

In 1930 the Society erected a new building, which was for decades known as the Antiquarian House. Author and collector Russell Kettell (Pine Furniture of Early New England) collaborated with historian Allen French and architect Harry Little on the project. When done, they came to call the facility “our jewel.” An administration building was added to the site in 1980 and an addition made to the 1930 building in 1991. The collection, which includes more than one hundred literary and personal items of local author Henry Thoreau, now comprises some thirty-five thousand objects covering all periods of Concord’s habitation, from twelve thousand years ago to the present.

Now in its one hundred and twenty-fifth year, the Concord Museum continues to explore aspects of Concord’s history through long-term installations and a program of temporary exhibitions. Membership in the Cummings Davis Society supports acquisitions. For information about Concord Museum and the Cummings Davis Society call 978.369.9763 or visit www.concordmuseum.org.


David F. Wood is curator of the Concord Museum, Concord, Massachusetts.

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