Object of the Month

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Object of the Month

Explore a selection of our collection, including some pieces you might have seen on a tour, and some from “behind the scenes.” Our Object of the Month series is featured in our email newsletter: sign up HERE.

18the century brown wooden spinning wheel

Acc# 2021.001. Gift of Glendyne Wergland in memory of Gertrude (Cosper) Beemer Weber.

In visiting the Bidwell House Museum, you might have noticed the two spinning wheels, along with other tools related to textile production, in the Second Bedroom. This past spring, we acquired a third to add to our collection.

Though they were still reliant on import for certain specialized fabrics, such as silks, the colonists sought to produce more textiles on their own, both in the home and commercially, particularly leading up to the Revolutionary War. During the time in which Rev. Bidwell lived in the house, his wives and daughters would most likely have learned to spin, possibly on a wheel much like this one.

This Saxony wheel was made in America sometime between 1740 and 1750, and was passed down through the family of the donor, Glendyne Wergland, a Berkshire-based historian known for her Shaker research and publications. It came to her from her grandmother, Gertrude (Cosper) Beemer Weber, who was believed to have been given the wheel by her grandmother, Marietta Arabella (Clark) Cosper. Marietta’s grandfather, Wells Clark, was from Blandford, MA, just a few towns over, during the Revolutionary War. Prior to the wheel’s donation, it was professionally restored, and is actually in excellent working condition: the restorer described it as one of the finest wheels he’s worked on, as “the Cadillac of wheels.”

Tobacco Pipes. 18th Century, Pipeclay. Acc# 2007.1001.82-85
Pipe Tongs. Late 18th Century, Iron, Massachusetts. Acc# 1966.104. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.
Pipe Kiln. 18th Century, Iron, American. Acc# 1974.101. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

This month, we’re looking at a group of objects in our collection: clay pipes. One can perhaps picture Adonijah Bidwell sitting at his writing table, composing his sermons, with pipe in hand. These pipes, while smaller and with a longer, more delicate stem than what we see in contemporary pipes, were the most common style through the early 19th century. Tobacco was brought back to Europe by the French and Spanish from South and Central America in the 16th century (though Sir Walter Raleigh sometimes gets credit), and this style pipe then was developed in England. As colonists began to settle what would become the United States, they would have brought them along, and Adonijah and his family would have been in possession of similar. They were simple and inexpensive to manufacture, and were also quite fragile, so many small fragments but few intact early examples remain. An early theory for the quantity of pipe fragments discovered by archaeologists was that taverns would have “communal” pipes that were passed between patrons, and in the interest of hygiene, the end of the stem would be broken off between users. While this wasn’t necessarily the case, the pipes did need to be cleaned: as the stem holes were so narrow, the best way to do this was to set them in an iron pipe kiln, comprised of three iron rings, and set in an oven overnight to cleanse them with heat after being rinsed. Another necessary tool associated with the fireplace was pipe tongs: a tamper near the handle was used to pack the bowl, and then the tongs were used to remove an ember from the fireplace to light the pipe.

Shaker Yarn Swift. 1850-1880, Maple, Mount Lebanon, New York. Acc# 1966.143. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

Shaker objects are an important part of our collection at the Bidwell House Museum. However, Adonijah Bidwell himself may or may not have been acquainted with the Shakers: at the time of his death in 1784, coincidentally the same year as the death of Shaker founder Mother Anne Lee, only the Watervliet Shaker Village had been established. His sons and daughters were likely familiar with the Tyringham Shaker Village (active 1792-1875), located a few miles away on Jerusalem Road in Tyringham, along with the other local Shaker communities that were founded in the late 18th and early 19th century, including Hancock, Mount Lebanon, and Enfield (CT). The Shaker objects collected by Hargis and Brush during their time as the residents of the house range from boxes from Harvard to tables from Canterbury, though the piece we’re looking at here is a little closer to home: a swift from Mount Lebanon.

Shaker history is filled with a rich history of invention and manufacture, with goods marketed and sold to people from “the World,” or non-Shakers. One such object was the swift, which improved efficiency in textile work: instead of relying on an additional person to hold the skein of yarn while another rolled it into a ball in preparation for knitting or crocheting, an individual person could instead place the skein around the adjustable slats of the swift and roll a ball of yarn themselves. A thumbscrew at the base clamps the swift securely to the edge of a table. When not in use, the slats collapse for easy storage. This particular piece was most likely constructed between 1850 and 1880, and Adonijah’s granddaughters might have used something similar, if not identical, when preparing yarn to knit garments to keep their families warm in the winter.



Portrait of Mary Gray Bidwell

Portrait of Mary Gray Bidwell (1764-1808) by Joseph Steward (1753-1822). Circa 1793, Oil on Canvas. Massachusetts. Acc# 2014.001. Gift of John and Judy Herdeg.

If you have been following our Bidwell Lore series, you have come to know Mary Gray Bidwell. If you are not familiar with the series, you can check it out here to learn more about Mary and the entire Bidwell family: https://www.bidwellhousemuseum.org/blog/. Her image has appeared in several of the entries, written by Bidwell descendent Richard Bidwell Wilcox, and you might have seen the portrait up close when visiting the Museum. In discussing Mary’s image in relation to her letters, Wilcox says, “It was a pilgrimage to the Bidwell House Museum where I sat with Mary Gray Bidwell and I thought how wonderfully the artist had captured her essence…. Drawn to the painting and reminded of the adage ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul,’ I drank in a woman who begged to tell her own story.” Mary herself is a fascinating character, and her portrait itself has a story as well. Explore more in the below three-part series.

Part One          Part Two          Part Three



Settle. Circa 1775-1825, Pine, American. Acc# 1975.104. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

Even though there might be a few days of summer warmth coming up, the chill of autumn is definitely in the air. We’ve looked at ways to keep warm in previous installments: bed warmers, foot warmers, and more. But sometimes, the cold could be kept away simply through the design of the house or the furniture within it. One such piece of furniture is a settle, a sort of bench with a high, solid back. Settles originated in medieval Europe, and were used in taverns, inns, and homes. Placed by the hearth, the solid back would help to retain heat, while blocking out cold drafts coming in from doors or windows. The example in our collection features a chest under the seat that could be used for storing blankets or a number of other things, and there were variations that could serve other functions: a hood at the top of the back to retain even more heat; a back that could flip down to become a table; and even a seat that could fold out to become a bed. Our particular settle dates from the end of the 18th century through early 19th century, around the time that settles lost popularity to settees and sofas. Rev. Bidwell might have had a piece very similar to this one, proving a warm resting place in the Keeping Room, or even possibly by the fireplace in the bedroom.

For an upcoming series of object highlights, we’ve reached out to our Board of Trustees to discover some of their favorite objects in the collection. This particular piece is a favorite of Dr. Richard Greene: “I also love the settee in the Keeping Room and imagine snuggling in it by a fire.” What’s your favorite piece at the Bidwell House Museum?



Bed Warmer. Circa 1775-1825, Maple and Brass. Acc# 1975.117. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

As temperatures fluctuate in March, we might experience some 70 degree sunshine, followed just a few days later by nights in the 20s. Like us, people of the 18th century would use blankets and quilts to stay warm at night, but would also prepare their beds to be a little extra cozy with a bed warmer, or warming pan. Filled with hot coals (or, for those more conscious of health and safety, with hot sand, stones, or brick), it was placed between the blankets and sheets and moved around to warm up the entire bed. This had to be done quickly to avoid burning: think about leaving a hot iron sitting on the item of clothing that you’re working on. This example from our collection features a hinged brass pan, decorated with a floral design, and a turned wooden handle. You may have noticed on your visits to the Bidwell House that it’s always a little cooler and snowier up here than at the bottom of the hill, so Adonijah and his family would most likely have gotten good use out of their warming pan!




Standing Cup. 17th Century, Coconut and Silver. Acc# 1978.107. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

Even though we’re blanketed in snow and experiencing single-digit temperatures here in Monterey, there are some objects in our collection that might remind us of warmer climates, perhaps a piece made of coconut. This 17th century coconut and silver standing cup was acquired by Jack Hargis and David Brush in the 1970s, and is perhaps slightly more elaborate than what one would associate with a rural New England minister. However, Adonijah’s father, Thomas Bidwell, was a wealthy merchant from Hartford, CT, involved in trade in the Caribbean, and Adonijah grew up in a comfortable household. This particular style of cup descends from earlier standing-cups, or hanaps: large, elaborate vessels, usually covered and used for formal occasions. They were commonly made of precious metals, but could be found in a variety of materials. In the 16th century, explorers including Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan brought coconuts back to Europe from their travels. The exotic fruit was initially thought to have healing properties, including as a defense against poison, making it the ideal base for a drinking vessel, particularly for someone suspicious of those around them. Coconuts were only available to the wealthy, and this diminutive cup would have been an indication of the affluence of its owner.


Fireback. Late 18th Century, Cast-Iron, American. Acc# 1962.109. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

Throughout history, people have devised ways to make the most of their heat sources during the chilly New England winters. As the snow starts to fall, we can reflect on one of the items that the Bidwell family would have utilized to increase the heat in their house: the fireback. Firebacks were developed in the 15th century to help offset the damage that an open fire caused to brick and soft stone, and by placing a cast-iron panel in the back of the fireplace, not only was the structure protected, but heat was also radiated back into the room. This particular example features a tombstone-style form with a central medallion including a bas-relief portrait of George Washington (1732-1799) surrounded by a ring inscribed with “George Washington 1788,” the year in which he won the first quadrennial presidential election. The piece was produced at Paul Revere’s iron and brass foundry in Boston’s North End. Before Jack Hargis and David Brush purchased this piece in 1962, it had come from the home of Esther Stevens Brazer (1898-1945) a pioneering historian in the decorative arts field.



Wall Pocket. Circa 1760, Tin-glazed Earthenware, Liverpool, England. Acc# 1965.115. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush. 

One of a pair of delftware wall pockets that flank the fireplace in the Dining Room here at the Bidwell House. You might have noticed them on your visit due to their striking white and blue contrasted with the more subdued hues of the room, or maybe due to their unique decorative elements. Though delftware, a form of tin-glazed earthenware, was influenced by the Dutch ceramics from which it took its name, these particular pieces came from Liverpool, one of the hubs of delftware manufacture in the 17th and 18th century. Hargis and Brush purchased them on a trip to London.  We often think of wall pockets as hanging vases, as that’s the purpose for which they’ve been most often used for the past century and what these would have been used for, but they originated simply as wall mounted storage for small objects. As time progressed, they evolved from utilitarian to decorative. This particular design features two faces: a female centered at the top, and a man on the lower point, both crowned in flowers. These have alternately been attributed as an angel and a devil or a nymph and satyr, both popular motifs in the mid-18th century. These particular pieces date from around 1760, around the time when delftware began to fall away in favor of sturdier creamware, and also around the same time that Adonijah was building the Bidwell House here in Monterey.



Flame Stitch Wallet. 1725-1760, Wool, Massachusetts. Acc# 1990.202.082.

This piece is an excellent example of flame stitch embroidery, a popular choice for men’s wallets and pocketbooks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Not only used for carrying money, they would also house letters and other important documents for safe transport, fitting easily into the pocket of one’s jacket or breeches. The distinctive pattern was often seen on both men’s and women’s pocketbooks at the time, and the intricacy and bright colors were seen as a sign of the status and wealth of the bearer. They were often constructed and embroidered in the home rather than purchased, so they would also indicate the needlework talent of the bearer’s wife. It should be noted that the prominent use of pink was not uncommon in menswear – until the 1940s, a stronger pink was considered to be a more masculine color, and a softer blue was thought to be more feminine.




Food Warmer, or Veilleuse. Circa 1760, Earthenware, Lambeth, England. Acc# 1966.119. Founding Collection, Gift of Jack Hargis and David Brush.

This interesting object is called a food or “pap” warmer (semi-liquid food was also called “pap”). In France, it was called a “veilleuse” or night light. It was meant to keep soup or tea warm on a bedside table if someone was bedridden or ill. There are four parts to the food warmer in the Bidwell House Collection:  a hollow pedestal, a bowl, a cover with a candleholder on top, and a small burner cup to hold oil. It is made of earthenware with a tin-glaze in a blue floral pattern. These food warmers were introduced in England in the 18th century. The well-to-do Bidwell family would have known about this fashionable item, and perhaps even acquired it from Adonijah’s father, who was a wealthy merchant in Connecticut.