The Boston Furniture Archive is a free, online resource for the study of Boston furniture. The Archive’s database provides catalog information and photographs of objects produced between 1630 and 1930 in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Charlestown, Dorchester, and Roxbury. In addition, the Archive offers basic information about furniture design and construction and links to related online resources.

Boston and its environs, published by R. Philips, 1806.
Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. [Click to enlarge]

Defining Boston and its Furniture

The seventeenth-century settlement of Boston occurred on the Shawmut Peninsula, an area of less than a square mile that extended into Massachusetts Bay near the mouth of the Charles River. As the population of Boston grew, new land was created by filling in marshes, inlets, and streams and rivers. Craftsmen, and others involved in the furniture trade, moved between Boston and the villages and towns immediately surrounding the Shawmut Peninsula. Today, some of these communities survive as neighborhoods within the city of Boston, while others maintain their own local governments. By including objects made in Brookline, Cambridge, Charlestown, Dorchester, and Roxbury, the Archive acknowledges the dynamic history of Boston and provides a more complete picture of Boston-area furniture production.

Some furniture can be tied to Boston makers through documentary evidence such as labels, inscriptions, or bills of sale. The Archive expands this group by also recording objects whose characteristics of design and construction, similarity to documented Boston pieces, or family histories suggest Boston as a possible place of origin. In addition, the Archive includes objects whose place of origin is the subject of scholarly debate. The diverse collection of objects in the Archive invites users to make comparisons, discover new connections, and expand knowledge of the furniture produced in Boston.

Identifying Objects

The Boston Furniture Archive presents pieces drawn from public institutions and private collections, as well as items known only through published sources such as periodicals and auction catalogs. The Archive builds upon the Winterthur Library’s Decorative Arts Photographic Collection (DAPC), which began in 1950s as a repository for photographs of decorative arts objects from across the country. In addition to digitized DAPC records, the Archive includes objects cataloged and photographed by Archive staff and volunteers, and pieces identified in surveys of trade publications. The Archive will expand as new collections and objects are identified.

Developing the Archive

The Boston Furniture Archive is a project of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in conjunction with Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, an unprecedented collaboration of eleven cultural institutions exploring furniture production and use across the Commonwealth.

The Boston Furniture Archive is the work of:

Sarah B. Parks, Project Manager
Brock W. Jobe, Project Advisor
PJ Carlino, 2014 Americana Foundation Intern
Emily Luiken Gessmann
Kathryn Head
Valerie Holliday
Patrick Leahy
Rebecca Migdal
Annette Pratola
Vincent J. Ryan, Jr.
Daniel S. Sousa, 2014 Americana Foundation Intern
Jon Sweitzer-Lamme
Annie Stockmar Upton
Catharine A. Vaughan
David Walker
Amber L. Wingerson, 2014 Americana Foundation Intern

All materials are copyrighted by Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library or by participating institutions.

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