Documenting the work of furniture makers through the archival record can be a challenge. The descriptions often are very cursory. How exciting, then, when we come across a bill like one from Aaron Chapin & Son to Mr. Thomas Burnham, dated 1820. Chapin made 1 cherry dining table 3 ft. 6 inches, and a curled maple bedstead. Having the size of the table and the woods used for each piece is not a particularly common practice. Account books from the same period may list a style (kitchen table, rocking chair), but they do not often include additional details.
Aaron Chapin was a member of the furniture-making Chapin family. On 28 July 1788, he published an advertisement in the The Connecticut Courant and The Weekly Intelligencer stating, “He still caries on the Cabinet and Chair making business, in its great variety of articles – among which are Sofa’s Swelled or plain, easy Chairs – Clock Cases, Gun Stocks, weavers Shuttles, Pitch Pipes, Flutes, Fifes, &c. &c.” In this ad, he also stated that he did watch repair and cleaning. In 1794, Aaron was secretary of the Hartford Society of Cabinet-Makers. In 1807, he and his son, Laertes Chapin (1778-1847), joined in the partnership Aaron Chapin & Son. It was this “firm” that made the dining table and bedstead described above.
What was it that made Aaron Chapin thrive as a furniture maker while others left the business or changed their techniques in the first 20 years of the 19th century? Alyce Perry Englund, Associate Curator of American Decorative arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum, will address that question in a program at the Connecticut Historical Society on Friday, July 20 at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $12.00 for CHS and Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) members, and $15.00 for non-members. This program is part of summer series supported by the SAPFM and the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. The final lecture in the series will be Friday, August 17 at 6:00 pm. Visit our website at www.chs.org for further details.