Reading with Rose: Second Star to the Right


“The child’s map of Kensington Gardens,” from The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens, 1920.

This November marks the 115th anniversary of the publication of J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird. Less known today than the idea it gave birth to, this novel was the world’s introduction to one of the most popular literary and cultural figures to date: Peter Pan. This month we will take a look at three books by Sir James Matthew Barrie held by Rose Standish Nichols in her library collection.

Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1892.

James Matthew Barrie was born May 9, 1860 in Kirriemuir, Scotland. The ninth child of David and Margaret, Barrie’s academic aptitude was identified and nurtured early in his life. He began his academic career in 1868 as his brother Alexander’s pupil at Glasgow Academy. Throughout the next several years, Barrie continued to follow his brother to various schools, including Dumfries Academy, where he composed his first play for the drama society. In 1878 Barrie enrolled at Edinburgh University, where he received his MA in 1882. With his education complete, Barrie began work almost immediately as a journalist. His literary career coincided with his journalistic one–he wrote six novels while contributing to fifteen journals. [1]

Rose Standish Nichols owned three of Barrie’s works:  two story-collections, When a Man’s Single (1888) and Auld Licht Idylls (1888), and the novel The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens (1902;1920). The former are widely regarded as autobiographical fictions, while the latter is mainly remembered as the work that introduced the world to the boy who wouldn’t grow up. The Peter Pan in The Little White Bird only slightly resembles the one we have come to know through various film and stage adaptations, but his life began here.

Title page.

Rose’s copy of The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens was published in 1920 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, the owners of Scribner’s Magazine in which the tale first appeared in America. This version of Peter Pan’s story was revised to include the earlier tales from both The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a children’s book published in 1906 that expanded the mythology of Peter. Her copy of When a Man’s Single dates to 1890; Auld Licht Idylls to 1891. Rose would have been twenty years old and already traveling through the United Kingdom.

Inscription from Rose Standish Nichols’ copy of Auld Licht Idylls. 

Barrie’s works gained widespread attention and admiration during the 1890’s, when many of his plays were put on. He continued to write (mostly plays) throughout his life, but it was undoubtedly Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up that became his most endearing and successful work. In 1913 King George V made Barrie a Baronet, and in 1922 Barrie was awarded the Order of Merit. Barrie’s plays continued to be produced on stage–to varying degrees of success– until his death in 1937. He is buried alongside his family in Kirriemuir. [2]

J.M. Barrie’s London residence, near Kensington Gardens, is marked as a member of London’s Blue Plaque Heritage landmarks.       [Victoria Johnson, 2014.]

[1] R. D. S. Jack, ‘Barrie, Sir James Matthew, baronet (1860–1937)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2014.

[2] Ibid.

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate







Made: American, by unknown craftsmen

Materials: Oak, rope, brass, and iron

To see this piece at the Nichols House Museum, visit us!

Currently On Display at the Nichols House Museum











The antiquated wooden dumbwaiter at the Nichols House Museum is a popular feature of the semi-hidden butler’s pantry, located on the second floor off the dining room. This two-tier wooden contraption carried food, plates, and utensils from the kitchen on the first floor to the dining room on the second, saving time and energy. A fascinating piece of home technology built directly into the structure, it now silently hangs between the two floors it traveled so frequently. Its installation in 1897, however, gives an indication of the busy household it served 100 years ago.

Pantry 2nd Floor compressed
Looking down the Butler’s Pantry. The dumbwaiter is to the left, out of the frame.

The Nichols household at the turn of the twentieth century would have included three live-in servants – a cook and two maids. There would have been other household staff, as well.[i]  For larger dinner parties, extra wait staff would have been hired. The Nichols family built the butler’s pantry twelve years after they moved to Beacon Hill. The butler’s pantry was a boon to the family and its staff, as it added a staircase connecting the first floor kitchen to the dining room, a sink, extra storage, and the dumbwaiter. Food could be sent up from the kitchen via the dumbwaiter, platters were stored on the new shelves, dishes could be washed in the soapstone sink, and servants could move between the dining room and the kitchen using the back staircase without disturbing the diners. The space also allowed for a final touch on the plated dishes before they were carried out to be served.

Speaking tube
The speaking tube connects downstairs into the kitchen.

The dumbwaiter was an essential part of this hustle and bustle. It was quick, and lowered the risk of a fall on the stairs. The speaking tube located next to it (which couldn’t be used too loudly as it would disturb the dining party) again facilitated communication between floors without the need of running up and down stairs. Victorian diners knew servants were necessary to help run a household, but the less they were seen and heard, the better. The butler’s pantry, and the dumbwaiter, facilitated this separation between the servants and their employers.

Origins of the term

Although the term “dumbwaiter” may sound demeaning to modern-day ears, the old-fashioned name hints at the benefits of installing such a system – privacy, and a silent, labor-saving device that reduced hired staff.

Today the term “dumbwaiter” often refers to the food lift seen here at the Nichols house, there is another type of dumbwaiter which more accurately describes the origin of the term. During the 18th century, a dumbwaiter was a stationary piece of furniture, whereas by the mid-19th century it referred to the contraption we have today.[ii] The 18th century version was a small, stationary table with shelves that would be left next to each guest at a dining table to serve themselves without the aid of wait staff.[iii] Each guest would have their dumbwaiter with all the food implements and courses already laid upon it. This style of “dumbwaiter” allowed guests to discuss important topics without worrying servants could overhear. At his home Monticello in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson not only had small wine dumbwaiters installed on either side of his fireplace mantel (in the style of the Nichols’ lift), but he also owned multiple stationary dumbwaiters as well for hosting private dinner parties.

The Nichols House Museum now offers Servant Life Tours of the house- if you are interested, please give the museum a call at 617-227-6993 to arrange a special tour!

By Ashley Jahrling, Assistant to the Director

[i] See B. June Hutchinson, At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family, for a description of the many servants, both male and female, who worked at the Nichols House.

[ii] For an analysis of the changes over time of the phrase and type of dumbwaiters available, see Dead Media Archive and

[iii]Visit the Monticello website to learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s entertaining and lifestyle at his home in Virginia: and


Wooden “Bible” Box

Made: In England during the late seventeenth century, by an unknown craftsman

Materials: Oak and iron

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.64 at

Currently On Display at the Nichols House Museum

1961.64 -- 1 edit
Often referred to as a “Bible box,” this box would have stored much more than a Bible in a seventeenth-century household.









Adore this piece? Read on to find out how you can own a Nichols House Bible Box!

Three hundred years ago, this dark wooden box would be unrecognizable. Smelling of fresh wood, likely cheerfully painted in the popular brazen colors of the period, and sporting newly wrought iron hardware from the blacksmith, this box would have been an eye-catching but functional piece of decor.[i] During the seventeenth century, a family would have kept small valuables ranging from money and documents to fancy linens inside this box—it was easy to grab in case of a fire. Its slanted top also increased its functionality as a portable podium or desk. During the late nineteenth century, this style of box came to be known as a “Bible box” when people began collecting them as antiques.[ii]


The English joiner, or carpenter, who made the box, carved the front panel when the wood was freshly split, or green, as it was wet, soft, and easier to carve than if it were dried and aged. Oak is a type of hardwood, and it hardens as it dries.[iii] The wood did not warp during this drying process after it was carved because 1) the wood was of high quality without knots or curves and 2) the wood was cut lengthwise (split) with the grain rather than cut crosswise (sawn) into rounds against the grain. Splitting the wood kept it more stable.[iv] The hand-carved design, if you look closely, is not symmetrical. Naturalistic designs like this one were very popular in England and New England during the period.[v] The box is held together with wooden pegs, and has an interior shelf to keep the contents organized.

1961.64  detail
Detail of the carved front panel.

Change over time

Over the years, this box has undergone a complete transformation. The box may have lost its original lock when the key was lost, forcing the owner to break it open. The original paint was likely stripped around the turn of the twentieth century when it was popular to refinish old furniture, similar to the repurposing of old furniture today. The box was probably in this condition when Arthur Nichols purchased it for his daughter Rose on February 16, 1912. He specifically recorded in his diary: “Sale at Libbie’s of a consignment of old furniture, clocks, china, crockery and bric-a-brac from England has lasted five afternoons, attracting a large company. I bought a table, two mahogany candle-boxes… [and] an oak bible box was bought for Rose.”[vi]

A Reproduction

Interested in owning your own Bible box? Come to our annual Spring Fête on June 5 at the Boston Athenæum! The talented Oliver Bouchier from Payne-Bouchier, Fine Builders, will reproduce the box as an item in our silent auction.[vii] Bid on your own piece of history at the Spring Fête – for tickets, please visit our website.

By Ashley Jahrling, Assistant to the Director


[i] For a brief discussion of paints and finishes on 17th century English and American furniture, see the New England Antiques Journal article by John Fiske and Lisa Freeman, and joiner Peter Follansbee’s blog post on finishes for 17th century reproduction furniture

[ii] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “Bible box” was first recorded in 1904.

[iii] For a breakdown on the difference between hardwood and softwood, visit

[iv] For an article chronicling the process of creating furniture in the 17th century style, see Stephanie Stone’s article on Peter Follansbee’s work at: Peter Follansbee’s blog, Peter Follansbee, joiner’s notes, can be found at:

[v] For a discussion of seventeenth century furniture styles, see The New England Antiques Journal article by John Fiske and Lisa Freeman, See also the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on American Furniture, 1620-1730: The Seventeenth Century and William and Mary Styles:

[vi] Arthur Howard Nichols Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

[vii] For more information about Payne-Bouchier, Fine Builders, visit their website

Tall Case Clock by Elnathan Taber (1768-1854)

Made: c. 1790 in Roxbury, Massachusetts; Birmingham, England

Materials: Mahogany, eastern white pine, brass, metals, paint

To see this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection, search for 1961.371a-d at

Currently On Display at the Nichols House Museum

Before watches or cellphones, a long case (or tall case)[i] clock was a functioning piece of home technology signifying status and wealth. Not only were clocks expensive (costing upwards of a few thousand dollars today), but in the agrarian past when time was based on the sun and the seasons, a clock signaled that its town-dwelling owner valued punctuality in an increasingly regimented world.[ii] But such a device had to be cared for. A clock had to be wound every so many hours or days (depending on the model) so it would continue to keep time. Its chimes could be heard throughout the house, interrupting household activities.  This clock, made by Elnathan Taber about 1790 in the Nichols House Museum collection, is an eight-day model, a top-of-the-line piece with the newest technology of the eighteenth century. The brass gears inside the wooden case did not need to be rewound for eight whole days…. failure to do so would silence the clock. [iii]

How a clock moves

Within a mechanical clock, the pull of gravity moves the weight down with each pendulum swing, which also moves the hands around the clock’s face. [iv] In a grandfather clock, the weight slowly (in this model, over the course of eight days) dropped the length of the clock’s trunk, and combined with the precise and (ideally) frictionless swing of the pendulum, the clock kept more accurate time than smaller clocks of the period. Numerous factors could slow a clock down, from dust in the gears to seasonal changes of humidity, all which minutely affected a clock’s meticulously created movement. Making sure the clock functioned properly was part of the art of clock making. Not only did the piece have to look nice, its gears had to function well, too. In the collection of Old Sturbridge Village, one of their Elnathan Taber clocks has hand-written instructions inside describing how to wind and care for the clock.[v]

The men behind the clock

This clock was made by Elnathan Taber (1768-1854), a clockmaker based in Roxbury, Massachusetts who was said to be the best apprentice in the shop to renowned clockmaker Simon Willard (1753-1848).[vi] These two men lived and breathed clocks. Although many artisans made pieces for clocks including mechanics, artists, forgers, and cabinetmakers, it was the clockmaker who had the knowledge to coordinate the ordering and assemble the pieces. For example, Elnathan probably ordered clock cases from a local cabinet maker, while the gears came from a factory in Birmingham, England. Elnathan apprenticed under Simon Willard after Simon made a name for himself in the Boston area for his fine clocks.[vii] Simon made household clocks and also installed large clocks in public buildings, including Old South Meeting House and the US Senate.  Elnathan worked with Simon for years and later bought the business and, in a marketing strategy, also acquired the right to label his clocks “Simon Willard.” Simon was well known for producing quality clocks, so his name carried the public’s trust in its quality. The clock in the museum collection, however, bears Elnathan’s name but dates from a period when he would have been working alongside Simon at his shop. The clock features a patriotic eagle over the hood, and an allegorical image painted in the lunette, the arched top part of the dial. Tall clocks were investments in the eighteenth century, a sign of the growing social importance of accurate time-keeping.

By Ashley Jahrling, Assistant to the Director

[i] Grandfather clocks were known as long case or tall case clocks before an 1876 song “Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay Work popularized the new term Listen here:

[ii] Philip Zea, “Timekeeping: The Lifestyle of Accuracy- An Interpretive Essay for the J. Cheney Wells Collection of New England Clocks at Old Sturbridge Village.” 1986.

[iii] Jessica Chappell, “The Long Case Clock: Engineering Behind a Grandfather Clock.” Illumin, Vol. 1 Iss. IV. University of Southern California, 2001.

[v] Old Sturbridge Village, Tall Clock by Elnathan Taber. 57.1.2.

[vi] Walter A. Dyer, “The Willards and Their Clocks.” Country Life in America, June 1915, pg 47.

[vii] For more information about the Willard family of clockmakers, see: Joseph Downs, “Three American Clocks,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. Vol. 32, No. 5, May 1937. 129-137; The Willard House and Clock Museum at