Published: July 6, 2004
The Hitchcock Chair Company, Ltd recently donated a portion of its historical materials, dating back to the original owner, Lambert Hitchcock, to the Connecticut Historical Society Museum (CHSM).
The donation includes a selection of historically significant chairs, a collection of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century photographs, and a variety of manuscript rdf_Descriptions relating to the residents of Hitchcockville – now Riverton – Conn. This significant gift follows the recent closing of the company’s Hitchcock Museum.
In 1818, at the beginning of Hitchcock’s career, chairmaking was a time-consuming task. Each component of the chair was created by hand, painstakingly, one piece at a time. By using the mass pro-duction techniques perfected by other Connecticut craftsmen, such as gunmakers and clockmakers, Lambert Hitchcock was able to revolutionize the chairmaking industry. He efficiently produced a variety of chairs and other forms, using such woods as maple, birch and oak, in a sawmill at the confluence of the Farmington and Still rivers.
In 1825, Hitchcock established the Hitchcock Chair Company and elevated his craft even further by featuring fresh black finishes, creating original seat back shapes, redesigning the shape of arms and legs, and by implementing a stencil technique that became a signature of his style. Under these circumstances, Hitchcock was able to annually produce a staggering 15,000 chairs while maintaining a coveted custom-made look.
The Hitchcock Chair Company’s gift includes a pair of black Hitchcock side chairs, as well as a green painted example and a pair of brass stencils used to achieve Hitchcock’s distinctive decoration. Also donated were three side chairs from a nearby competitor, the Union Chair Company.
The CHSM graphics collection acquired photos and aerial views of the factory and surrounding area, as well as images of local establishments and people. Among the papers and documents in the gift are broadsides, manuscript account books and bills, as well as letters and assorted paperwork.
“We firmly believe in the preservation of the legacy of Lambert Hitchcock as well as the historic pieces we’ve accumulated and we are disheartened at having to dissolve the museum,” remarked Ronald Coleman Jr, Hitchcock’s president. He added, “We are pleased to be donating a number of key rdf_Descriptions to the Connecticut Historical Society Museum.”
CHSM is among a group of institutions that received donations of objects from the former Hitchcock Museum. The Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmark’s Society, the Unionville Museum, the Barkhamsted Historical Society and the Windsor Historical Society have also received historical materials appropriate to their collections.
“The Hitchcock brand embodies Yankee ingenuity and craftsmanship. Lambert Hitchcock’s ability to serve a growing market by introducing mass production to a traditional craft without sacrificing quality is a historically significant development in the evolution of furniture making in New England and throughout the country,” noted David M. Kahn, executive director of the CHS Museum. “We are extremely grateful for this donation, which enhances our current collection of material relating to Connecticut’s manufacturing history.”
The donation of the furniture pieces in particular will offer researchers an opportunity to examine the continuum of furniture making in Connecticut, allowing for a comparative evaluation of the hundreds of examples of furniture at the CHSM.
The Connecticut Historical Society Museum is at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford’s historic West End. Museum exhibition hours are Tuesday-Sunday, noon to 5 pm. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for seniors, students and youths 6-17, free for children under six and CHS members. For information, 860-236-5621, or www.chs.org.
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