Reading with Rose: Treasure Island & The Weir of Hermiston

Books: Treasure Island

               The Weir of Hermiston

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, 1887. Taft Museum of Art.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His prolific career produced some of the most enduring novels of the Victorian era. [1] Two of his most significant works, Treasure Island and The Weir of Hermiston, can be found in Rose Standish Nichols’s eclectic library collection.

Treasure Island

Stevenson began writing what is arguably his most famous novel in 1881. This story was originally published between October 1881 and January 1882 in serialized form in a magazine for young boys called Young Folks [2], under the pseudonym “Captain George North.” The wild plot contains the swashbuckling adventures the Scottish author became known for. Upon its release in Young Folks, the story received little fanfare. It was published in book form in November 1883, and was so well-received that to this day it has never been out of print. [3] Rose’s edition of Treasure Island is inscribed “To Rose Standish Nichols 1894.” It lives in the bookcase behind Arthur Nichols’ desk in Rose’s library.



The Captain’s Papers “The Squire and I were both peering over his shoulder.”-Page 49.

The Weir of Hermiston

The full title of Stevenson’s last novel is, appropriately, The Weir of Hermiston: An Unfinished Romance. Stevenson began writing this novel, which many critics portended to be his true masterpiece, in 1892. Stevenson spent hours working on the story the very day he suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage—leaving Hermiston “unfinished.” Today, this novel is overshadowed by the raw psychological thriller Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stevenson’s aforementioned children’s stories; however, the plot of The Weir of Hermiston is perhaps his most personal. According to biographers, the damaged relationship between father and son mirrors Stevenson’s own relationship to his father. Furthermore, the figure of Adam Weir was based on the real life Lord Justice Clerk Robert McQueen, Lord Braxfield. [4]

w-colvinAlthough Stevenson died before completing the novel, he reportedly left notes detailing its intended ending. Some of these notes appear in editions edited by the author’s friend Sidney Colvin. [5] Rose’s edition of The Weir of Hermiston was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1896 and is inscribed with her name. It lives in the bookcase Margaret Nichols Shurcliff built for Rose, in the corner of her bedroom.


[1] Mehew, Ernest. “Stevenson, Robert Louis (1850–1894).” Ernest Mehew In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, September 2014.

[2]”Chronology.” The RLS Website. 14 October 2016.

[3] Mehew, Ernest. “Stevenson, Robert Louis (1850–1894).” Ernest Mehew In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, September 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Works. Weir of Hermiston.” The RLS Website. 14 October 2016.

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate.

Makers Marks: A Call for Artists

The “Object of the Month” blog has been a place for staff and interns from the Nichols House Museum to share research and insights about our favorite objects in the collection. Several of the featured objects have been more than just collection objects but were actually made by Rose Standish Nichols herself.

This fall, the Nichols House Museum is seeking art makers who are interested in showing their work alongside the objects in Rose’s collection.

Detail of Rose Standish Nichols’ hand-embroidered bed hangings. Read more about this object in our October 2015 post.

The three Nichols sisters, Rose, Marian and Margaret, came of age during a critical time in American craft history: the Arts and Crafts movement, active from 1880ー1910. Following the Industrial Revolution and widespread abandonment of cottage industries, champions of the Arts and Crafts movement William Morris and John Ruskin, were calling for a return to handcrafts for the sake of beauty, quality and social progress. The values maintained and taught by members of the Arts and Crafts movement impacted the educations, careers and politics of the Nichols sisters.

Detail of an oak chair with carved decoration by Rose Standish Nichols. Read more about this object in our July 2015 post.

The Nichols sisters were instructed in handcrafts from a young age. Letters, memoirs, and objects in the museum’s collection tell the story of their work with sewing, pottery and woodworking.

“Once a week we had clay modeling with Mrs. Holland, Any creations we wished to take home were baked for up and transformed from a soft mass of dark damp clay to firm white objects of beauty.”–Margaret Nichols Shurcliff, Lively Days.

“She has taken up carving again and is making some frames. Not having you to get up the designs she expects me to do it and I am helping her all I can.”–Elizabeth Nichols to Rose Nichols about Margaret Nichols, November 30, 1896.

“This is a most delightful morning. Margaret and I are writing on the piazza and Marian sewing in the garden.”–Elizabeth Nichols writing to Rose Nichols, June 5, 1901.

Margaret Nichols Shurcliff knitting, ca. 1905.

The Nichols House Museum is inviting emerging and student artists working in craft disciplines (textiles, ceramics or woodworking) to submit proposals for site-specific works to be installed in the museum for an exhibit that will be on view from March to August 2017. The exhibit is part of a series of programs entitled “Makers Marks: Art, Craft and the Fiber of Change.” The Nichols House Museum aims to position the history of the Nichols family in dialogue with a wide range of contemporary perspectives to create new and mindful interpretations of the house, collection and family.

Applications are due no later than January 16, 2017. Click here to download the prospectus and application form.

Capturing the Captivating Robert Louis Stevenson

Hidden in plain sight in the halls of the Nichols House Museum is a depiction of one of Victorian literature’s most enduring authors: Robert Louis Stevenson. Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ plaque of Stevenson became one of his most popular works, first modeled in 1887, with copies of it selling well after Saint-Gaudens’ death in 1907. [1] In fact, the plaque was so memorable that Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to create a copy that would serve as Stevenson’s memorial in Edinburgh. This plaque, completed in 1904 and residing in St. Giles Cathedral, remains the only memorial of Stevenson in his native country. The story of how Gaudens’ Robert Louis Stevenson plaque came to be echoes the travels and international friendships that Rose Nichols so appreciated.

RLS-Memorial st giles.jpg
Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial. St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland. Saint-Gaudens’ original plaque depicted Stevenson holding a cigarette in his hand. For the church memorial, Saint-Gaudens changed the cigarette to a quill. [2]
Stevenson, one of Scotland’s greatest literary treasures, belongs to an elite group of writers who can claim success beyond their own lifetimes. His writing inspired even those who seldom read to pick up his stories. One man who falls into this category is none other than “God-like sculptor” Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

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Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1905. Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire.

Saint-Gaudens had little taste in literature until his friend Mr. Wells introduced him to a work entitled “New Arabian Nights,” which “set [him] aflame as have few things in literature.” [3] He was instantly impressed, and when the opportunity presented itself for him to meet the author of these stories, he jumped at the chance. The American painter Will H. Low, a mutual friend of both Stevenson and Saint-Gaudens, arranged for the two to meet in the autumn of 1887, when Stevenson (an avid traveler) was on his way to the Adirondacks. He accepted Saint-Gaudens’ offer to “make his portrait” and first sat for the sculptor at the Hotel Albert on Eleventh Street. [4] The original portrait took five sittings which consisted of two to three hours each. Shortly after this initial meeting, however, Saint-Gaudens decided to expand the portrait to include the author’s hands. He began this expansion by using his own wife Augusta’s hands before realizing that they did not serve the task. [5]
Self Portrait at Montigny, Will H. Low, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

Arrangements were made for a second meeting between the sculptor and the author. Upon Stevenson’s move to Manasquan, New Jersey, he once again met with Saint-Gaudens to sit for his portrait. It was this sitting which gave Saint-Gaudens a lasting impression of Stevenson. Because it was decided that the author looked too stiff simply sitting in no useful occupation, Saint-Gaudens suggested he should pose in his natural state: writing. To this Stevenson not only agreed, but took the suggestion to heart by writing a letter to Homer Saint-Gaudens, Augustus’ son. [6]

Once the plaque was completed, the author and the sculptor never met in person again, but did maintain a friendship as evidenced by the exchange of several letters. Stevenson referred to Saint-Gaudens as his “God-like sculptor,” [7] and Saint-Gaudens was pleased to consider the author who captivated his literary attention a friend. After the original rectangular plaque was completed, Saint-Gaudens began casting smaller, circular editions of his work in 1898, including the one that hangs in the hallway of the Nichols House Museum, just outside the parlor—which is inscribed “To Rose Nichols,” his niece. As a tribute to the mutual friend who introduced them, the plaque features the words of Stevenson’s poem “To Will H. Low:”

Detail of plaque including title, inscription and first stanza of “To Will H. Low”

Youth now flees on feathered foot
Faint and fainter sounds the flute,
Rarer songs of gods; and still
Somewhere on the sunny hill,
Or along the winding stream,
Through the willows, flits a dream;
Flits but shows a smiling face,
Flees but with so quaint a grace,
None can choose to stay at home,
All must follow, all must roam.

This is unborn beauty: she
Now in air floats high and free,
Takes the sun and breaks the blue;—
Late with stooping pinion flew
Raking hedgerow trees, and wet
Her wing in silver streams, and set
Shining foot on temple roof:
Now again she flies aloof,
Coasting mountain clouds and kiss’t
By the evening’s amethyst.

In wet wood and miry lane,
Still we pant and pound in vain;
Still with leaden foot we chase
Waning pinion, fainting face;
Still with gray hair we stumble on,
Till, behold, the vision gone!

Where hath fleeting beauty led?
To the doorway of the dead.
Life is over, life was gay:
We have come the primrose way.

Even though the Nichols family had their own Stevenson plaque to admire, Marian took the opportunity to visit the memorial in St. Giles- a testament to how much the family admired the work of their ‘Uncle Gus.’

“This morning we are going to St. Giles to see the Stevenson monument, and this afternoon we are to drive to Rosalyn. You remember that we couldn’t get into the Chapel before, as it was Sunday so I shall have a chance to see that.”- Marian Nichols to Arthur Nichols, August 30, 1904.

[1] Augustus Saint-Gaudens 1848-1907: A Master of American Sculpture. Toulouse: Musèe des Augustins, 1999.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Saint-Gaudens, Homer. The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Vol  1. London: Andrew Melrose, 1913: 367-389.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate.

The Original Yellow Drawing Pencil

One of the most asked about objects in the Nichols House Museum’s collection is a small blue box filled with yellow pencils. While it sounds like a simple set of objects, these pencils have been puzzling visitors and guides alike for years. It is the size of these small pencils that make them so unique. At one and a half inches each, these pencils would simply be too small to comfortably hold and write with. Each wooden pencil has a brass screw fitting on the back, making it clear that these small pencils were designed to attach into a larger drawing tool. The box originally held twelve pencils (or as the box reads “1 douz.”) but only nine remain.

The brand on the pencil box is L&C Hardtmuth Koh-I-Noor. L&C Hardtmuth is a pencil manufacturer that was founded at the turn of the nineteenth century in Vienna. At the end of the century the company adopted the name Koh-I-Noor [1] after a famous diamond discovered in India that is now part of the crown jewels of the United Kingdom [2]. Koh-I-Noor is credited with designing the “original yellow drawing pencil” and appealed to artists with a range of seventeen grades of graphite. [3]

Queen Elizabeth at her coronation, 1953. The Koh-I-Noor diamond is at the base of her crown. National Media Museum, United Kingdom

To find out more about these tiny pencils we reached out to Caroline Weaver, a self-described “lifelong pencil lover” and founder of CW Pencil Enterprise. She informed us that these pencils were a refill for pencil holders that were fashionable in the early 1900s. Usually made of sterling silver or brass, these pencil holders would often have a small ring attached to them so that they could be carried on a chain.

Brass pencil holder, L&C Hardtmuth, late 19th century, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Knowing where these pencils were from and what they were designed for, the question is which member of the Nichols family may have carried the fashionable little accessory that held them. With no such pencil holder in the collection, we are relying on photos and letters in the archives to tell the rest of the story.

Elizabeth Nichols possibly wearing a chatelaine

A photo in the Nichols family’s collection shows Elizabeth Nichols standing in the garden in their New Hampshire summer home, wearing a rope belt around her waist that appears to have a silver object hanging from a chain. Chatelaines, decorative chains that were attached to a woman’s belt and held objects such as sewing scissors, button hooks, smelling salts and pencils, were a women’s accessory in the mid to late nineteenth century [4].

Cut steel chatelaine, English, nineteenth century, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Chatelaines became popular as a result of the lack of pockets in Victorian fashion [5]. While they had largely fallen out of fashion by the time the Koh-I-Noor pencils were manufactured, the photo of Elizabeth wearing a chain from her belt most likely dates from the early 20th century, after these pencils were available.

chatelaine pc.jpg
Postcards from Rose Nichols’ collection showing women wearing chatelaines

There are also a few references to pencils in the family letters.

“Having spent about all the time I have to write to you in looking for a pen I am afraid you will have to content yourself with pencil.”–March 14, 1898, Margaret to Rose

“Papa is fixing the soles of my feet and that is why I have to write in pencil.” –February 2, 1902, Margaret to Marian

“I left my pencil watch key in the upper, left hand waistcoat pocket, the same garment in which you found the bank-notes. Please bring it to me, and you may possibly find also a lead pencil.” –November 30, 1902, Arthur to Elizabeth

While Margaret’s letters suggest that pencils are not her favorite writing instrument (even if her reasoning is a bit strange), Arthur seems to prefer using a pencil. His “pencil watch key” was most likely a small pencil holder attached to the chain of his pocket watch, that is seen in an image of Arthur from the photo collection.

AHN.2 - Copy
Arthur Nichols wearing a chain that most likely held his “pencil watch key”

His interest in pencils is also documented by on another object in the collection. A little red pencil sharpened on both ends is labeled with a tag in Arthur’s handwriting that reads,“Bought at the manufactory / Nürnberg / Anno, 1868. / Used 1885-1891. / A. H. N.”


Arthur visited the Faber manufacturer in 1868, while he was studying medicine in Vienna. His detailed record of this little red pencil that was in his possession for over fifty years, along with his use of a “pencil watch key” suggests that he was the “lifelong pencil lover” of the family and the likely owner of our small box of yellow Koh-I-Noor pencils.


[1]“History.” Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

[2] Tarshis, Dena K. “THE KOH-I-NOOR DIAMOND AND ITS GLASS REPLICA AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE EXHIBITION.” Journal of Glass Studies 42 (2000): 133-43. Web.

[3]”Back Matter.” Art Education 6.5 (1953): 40. Web.

[4] “Chatelaine.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

[5] Matthews, Christopher Todd. “Form and Deformity: The Trouble with Victorian Pockets.” Victorian Studies 52.4 (2010): 572-3. Web.

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.


Tucked safely away in the Nichols House Museum’s archives are roughly three hundred photographs that make up the “Nichols Family Photograph Collection.” The collection is divided into five categories: individual portraits, group portraits, gardens and landscapes, buildings, artwork and decorative arts. The bulk of the photography collection is portraiture, followed closely by images of gardens and landscapes, unsurprisingly based on the Rose Nichols’ career as a landscape architect. Photos grouped in the “artwork and decorative arts” series make up only twenty-seven of the collection’s photos. While many of the photos in the artwork and decorative arts series appear to be photographs of collection objects taken and distributed by established museums, a very small number of photos stand out as something slightly different–student work. Three photos in the collection show figurative sculptures that appear to be made of plaster, each with a handwritten inscription on the back: “Walker Hancock – American Academy in Rome.”


Walker Hancock was an American sculptor who lived from 1901 to 1998. He is most well known for his monumental works, including the Pennsylvania Railroad Memorial, and his
role as one of the Monuments Men, recovering artworks that had been looted by the Nazis during World War II [1].

hancock portrait
Portrait of Walker K. Hancock, 1928, by Frank P. Fairbanks, Fellows’ Work Collection, 1910-1960, American Academy in Rome.

Hancock studied sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art before being awarded the Prix de Rome fellowship which allowed him to study at the American Academy in Rome from 1925 to 1929 [2]. It was during his time at the American Academy of Rome that he designed the three sculptures that appear in the Nichols Family Photograph Collection.


Two of the sculptures appearing in these photos, Bagpipe Player and Boy with Squirrel were eventually cast in bronze and are found in several museums across the country but the third sculpture of two mermaids in a loose embrace, does not appear to have been completed. A very telling inscription handwritten in blue ink across the front reads “unfinished.” While the two completed models are photographed on slightly more formal pedestals, the two mermaids are seen on top of a rough looking table draped with a wrinkled piece of white fabric. Some scratchy pencil lines drawn on the photo from the base of the sculpture moving up through the two figures suggests Hancock’s design was intended as a fountain. Two copies of this photograph also exist in the photography archives of the American Academy in Rome. The records of these photos also indicate that the work was never resolved as the copies are archived under two different names,  Marine Sculpture and Fountain Group [3].

Fountain Group, Fellow’s Work Collection, 1910-1960, American Academy in Rome.

While this work seems to have been left “unfinished” it appears to have been a precursor for Hancock’s work, Triton, a piece that Hancock designed as a fountain for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City [4].

Hanccock, Triton P.jpg
Large Triton Fountain, courtesy Brock & Co.

The Nichols Family’s connection to Walker Hancock does not seem to be documented outside of Rose Nichols’ possession of these three photographs. It is not surprising that Rose had an interest in Hancock’s sculptures based on her use of fountains and statuary in the gardens that she designed. While Rose may not have worked with Hancock directly or utilized any of his statuary in her designs, she did own a pair of small statues made by Hancock’s friend and contemporary, Paul Manship, depicting Adam and Eve.

Pair of bronze statues, Paul Manship, 1961.344.1-2.

Hancock and Manship both studied at the American Academy in Rome, and were both associated with the sculptural style of “modernized classicism” [5]. Manship and Hancock were educated in sculpture in the early twentieth century, prior to the Great Depression. Unfortunately for these two sculptors as well as many of their contemporaries, bronze casting was often out of the question during the Depression due to financial constraints. Many trained sculptors during this period worked in carved wood and plaster instead of bronze. A renewed interest in modernized classicism in the 1980s allowed for many of these models to finally be cast in bronze, including one of Hancock’s most well received works, The DiverWhile many of Hancock’s statues were given new life throughout the 1980s, this fountain seen in Rose Nichols’ photo collection has remained “unfinished.”


[1]”Society of Fellows News.” American Academy in Rome. American Academy in Rome, Feb. 2015. Web. 3 Aug. 2016.

[2]”The Monuments Men.” Hancock, Capt. Walker K. Monuments Men Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[3] “Fellows’ Work Collection, 1910-1960.” Digital Humanities Center. American Academy in Rome, n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[4] Howlett, D. Roger. “Thirties Sculpture in the Manship Tradition Reborn in the Eighties.” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 16 (1990): 28. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 20 July 2016.

[5] Ibid. 24.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist.

A Crane, a Goat, a Lizard

The Nichols family’s love of travel is well documented through letters, diaries, postcards, and photographs. Rose Nichols visited Europe more than thirty times to visit friends, see museum collections, attend conferences, and study gardens for her many articles and books about European landscape architecture. Evidence of the family’s many tours through Europe is found throughout the house in the form of paintings, furniture, textiles, and other souvenirs. 

Postcard from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.

One piece in particular stands out as a fascinating example of the renewed interest in ancient Roman furnishing styles during the 19th century. This bronze oil lamp features a crane that is perched on a budding oak tree surrounded by a wreath of acanthus leaves. The tree emerges from a stand held up by three animal legs with cloven hooves and a small lizard meandering along the base.  The crane holds a wire form in its beak that holds two small vessels on chains along with a pair of tweezers. These small vessels would have provided the lamp’s light. They would have been filled with olive oil, which was used as the lamp’s fuel source. Wicks would be inserted into the vessels using the lamp’s tweezers [1]. As this lamp was manufactured in Italy in the late 19th century, it was most likely never used in the traditional fashion as a light source.

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Oil lamp, 1961.128


In During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, archaeological discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum caused a renewed interest in ancient Roman art throughout Europe and the United States, and reproductions of ancient artifacts became common [2]. Rose Nichols was aware of this trend in her home decor, as well as her garden scholarship and design. In her 1928 book Italian Pleasure Gardens she writes:

“For centuries Herculaneum and Pompeii lay smothered under masses of lava and ashes. Finally in 1748, skillful archaeologists began to remove this heavy mantle and discovered a wealth of artistic treasures buried in the buildings and gardens. These works are now scattered in various museums all over the world, but many of the finest objects have been claimed by the National Museum at Naples. Here we can study a superb collection of bronze and marble statuary, wall paintings, mosaics, furniture and household utensils. Even the humblest articles often show the hand of a skilled designer.” [3]

The oil lamp in its current location on the second floor landing in the 1920s.


Etruria, an ancient civilization that spanned the geography north of the city of Rome from roughly 500-700 BC, was also a source of inspiration for eighteenth and nineteenth century designers [4]. This piece employs the characteristics of an ancient Etruscan lantern, including the traditional round hanging lamps and its tripod base, but this object’s strong relationship to ancient Roman and Etruscan history is also found in its symbolic representation of animals.

The main figure featured in this lamp is the crane.  The crane is rich with symbolism in the ancient world. The crane represented seasonal change, as the migration patterns were well observed by early Greeks and Romans [5]. The crane’s circular style of movement or “dance” was associated by the ancients with the seasonal movement of the sun [6]. The relationship to the changing of the seasons and the cycle of the sun’s movement have a clear connection to light, making the crane an appropriate figure to be holding up the oil vessels that provided the lamp’s glow.


etruscan lamp_british museum
Bronze lampstand from the Etruscan period, British Museum.

The base is supported by three animal legs with cloven hooves. Three-legged lamp stands with hooves seemed to be common in Etruria, as examples of these footed lamps are found in museum collections in the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The three hooves seen on this lamp appear to be representative of the feet of goats: ancient Greek and Roman mythology included the god Pan, who represented the power of nature and was fabled to be able to control the weather by playing his flute [8].  As images of Pan often showed a man with the horns and legs of  a goat, the isolated goat legs of this lamp could be a reference to Pan and his connection to the natural world.



Statue of Pan, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Greece.


The lizard crawling across the lamp’s base is a very small feature that is difficult to notice on first glance. But its symbolism throughout Etruscan and Roman history is fascinating in reference to the function of this object. The ancient Romans saw lizards as a symbol of death and rebirth, due to a belief that the animals hibernated in the winter months and reappeared in the spring. In Etruscan tradition, people also believed that lizards went blind as they aged but could regain their sight by bathing in bright sunlight [9]. This belief caused lizards to become symbolic of light and heat, making them a perfect image to adorn an oil lamp.

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Detail of oil lamp base

This small bronze oil lamp is representative of ancient Roman and Etruscan civilization and the resurgence of their decorative tradition in the 19th century. The three animal seen on this small oil lamp – the crane, goat, and lizard – suggest the ancient understanding of light. Through referencing daily cycles of the sun, the shifting of the seasons, or by the changing of the weather, the animals that decorate this bronze lamp all give meaning to the lamp’s traditional function: to illuminate dark spaces.


[1]Haines, T. L. Museum of Antiquity; a Description of Ancient Life. By L. W. Yaggy. Chicago: Western House, 1884. 287-95.

[2]Wilton-Ely, John. “Pompeian and Etruscan Tastes in the Neo-Classical Country-House Interior.” Studies in the History of Art 25 (1989): 51.

[3]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Pompeian Peristyles.” Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931. 5.

[4]Wilton-Ely, John. “Pompeian and Etruscan Tastes in the Neo-Classical Country-House Interior.” Studies in the History of Art 25 (1989): 51.

[5]Johnsgard, Paul A., “Cranes of the World: 8. Cranes in Myth and Legent” (1983). Cranes of the World, by Paul Johnsgard. Paper 11. 70.

[6]Ibid. 73.

[7]Fox, William Sherwood. The Mythology of All Races: Greek and Roman. Vol. 1. Boston: Marshall Jones, 1916. 268.

[8]Leland, Charles Godfrey. Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition. London: T. F. Unwin, 1892. 267-68.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

“3 black Windsor chairs, $45”

“Solid wooden Windsor furniture was also in great demand. Shapely, strong, and comfortable, it have been popular since the middle of the eighteenth century.”

Rose Standish Nichols,“Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture,” House Beautiful, 1909.

Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture_1909-1
Image published in “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture”

The American Windsor chair has had a presence in homes and public buildings since the eighteenth century. These handcrafted chairs, often the work of the wheelwright rather than the carpenter, are characterized by spindle backs, turned legs, and steam-bent “hoops” that were socketed together without hardware. The solid wood seats were often carved or “saddled” to be more comfortable, and the turned spindles and steam-bent features were often a different type of wood than the carved seats, making painted Windsor chairs very common [1].

While Windsor chairs received their name from a leading market village in seventeenth century England, the style quickly spread to America and became iconic in the northeast. Nicknamed the “Philadelphia chair,” after the chair’s major manufacturing city in America, the Windsor chair claimed a prominent place in the political history of the United States when Thomas Jefferson sat in his Windsor writing chair and penned the Declaration of Independence[2][3].

Windsor writing chair [4]
As the style moved throughout the Northeast, several different styles emerged, from smaller children’s chairs, to settees, to early rocking chairs.[5] The chairs, in their many styles and forms, became common for for use private homes as well as public spaces including the Pennsylvania State House [6], and the Boston Public Library [7].

Marian Nichols’ bedroom showing a Windsor rocking chair, ca. 1920
Postcard from Rose Nichols’ collection showing Windsor arm chairs at the Boston Athenaeum

Rose Nichols’ interest in the Windsor style is well documented in her 1909 House Beautiful article, “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture.” While she suggests in her article that they may not be “fancy” enough for a formal parlor, she writes that they are “appropriate for the library.” She also notes that “for furnishing a piazza nothing surpasses Windsor chairs and settees.”[8] Several postcards from Rose’s collection also boast Windsor chairs in interior images, including scenes of libraries, bedrooms, entry halls, and even kitchens.

A postcard from Rose Nichols’s collection showing a Windsor chair in a study
A postcard from Rose Nichols’ collection showing three Windsor chairs in a kitchen

Rose’s collection includes four, black “bow-back” Windsor armchairs, a style that was common at the turn of the nineteenth century.

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One of Rose’s four Windsor chairs

Despite her appreciation for Windsor chairs, it is unclear where Rose’s set of four chairs belonged. Throughout the years, the chairs were documented in three different places. In a photo from the early twentieth century, the four chairs were placed on the piazza at the Nichols family’s summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire. In Rose’s 1935 inventory of the furnishings at her 55 Mount Vernon Street home, “3 black Windsor chairs” are listed in the library. However, the oral histories from her caretaker, Mary King, from the late 1950s suggest that they were used in the kitchen. Although it is unknown where Rose would have permanently housed these four chairs, all three of the documented locations do align with her published advice regarding the use of painted furniture.

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Rose Nichols’ 1935 inventory of her furnishings including “3 black Windsor Chairs $45”


EFN 1.121
Elizabeth Nichols (left) and friends, seated on the four chairs on the piazza of the family’s summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire.

These four “shapely, strong, and comfortable” chairs may have had a somewhat nomadic life with the Nichols family, however they represent Rose’s interest in interior design and furniture as well as American history. Though the Windsor chair was originally designed in England, its evolution through early America and associations with Philadelphia at the time of America’s founding, makes it an iconic example of American furniture. Rose Nichols understood this rich history and shared it, both through her written work and the preservation of her collection.


[1]Ormsbee, Thomas H. Field Guide to Early American Furniture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. 91-95. Print.

[2]Butler, Joseph T., Kathleen Eagen. Johnson, and Ray Skibinski. Field Guide to American Antique Furniture. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1985. 44-45. Print.

[3]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture.” House Beautiful. February, 1909. 54-56. Print.

[4]Ormsbee, Thomas H. Field Guide to Early American Furniture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. 101. Print.

[5] Ibid. 91

[6]Osborne, Harold. The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975. 830. Print.

[7]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Some Good Specimens of Old-Fashioned Painted Furniture.” House Beautiful. February, 1909. 54-56. Print.

[8]Ibid. 56.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist