The Collection of the Bidwell House Museum
The collection of the Bidwell House Museum helps to illustrate life in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The last private residents of the house, Jack Hargis and David Brush, obtained Adonijah Bidwell’s probate inventory from one of his descendants and set to furnishing the house using that list as their guide. A page from this inventory can be seen to the right. When the house became a museum after their passing, opening for its first season in 1990, the objects they had acquired over the years became the foundation of our collection. Several of the pieces have Bidwell provenance, and many were locally produced during the Bidwells’ time here. Our collection extends beyond what you see in the house, and includes objects relating to Hargis and Brush, who were both fashion designers. Please contact us if you’re interested in exploring particular aspects of our collection.
- 18th century furniture
- Early 19th century furniture
- Food Molds
- Lighting devices from the 16th – 19th century
- Rugs and other textiles
- Artwork, including 18th century portraits and mezzotints
- Documents from Adonijah Bidwell and the Bidwell Family
- Extensive archives
- And more…
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.
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 (1764-1808) by Joseph Steward (1753-1822), c. 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.
Settle, c. 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, c. 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.