Furniture to Fashion

Aspects of the Colonial Revival

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Photograph of Cabinet, early 20th century
This showroom photograph is of a Margolis cabinet made in the early 20th century. After 1920 the Margolis shop dedicated itself almost entirely to reproduction furniture. Gift of Harold D. Margolis. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1982.126.7. Photo:Harold D. Margolis
Sideboard Label. 1914
This label, placed within a Federal style sideboard, let the original owner, C. E. Ripley, know that he was purchasing a true reproduction from the talented Nathan Margolis. Gift of the estate of Gail Ripley. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1994.148.1
Dress and Two Petticoats. About 1905-1915
This colonial costume gave the impression of an earlier era, yet, its construction and materials are more of the time it was made. Gift of the University of Connecticut Health Center Auxiliary Thrift Shop. The Connecticut Historical Society. 2002.57.1a-c.
Woman in Colonial Revival Costume at a Spinning Wheel. Photograph, 1905-1920
Historical accuracy was not always pertinent, for example, a woman wearing such elaborate clothing would not be spinning her own flax. Gift of the University of Connecticut Health Center Auxiliary Thrift Shop. The Connecticut Historical Society. 2002.57.4
Dress Bodice. About 1892
This bodice shows one way colonial clothing influenced every-day fashion. Although the inspiration is that of a men’s 18th century embroidered jacket, it is interpreted here as a fashionable women’s bodice. The Connecticut Historical Society. 2003.33.0
Hotel and Green, Litchfield, Conn. Postcard. About 1920
This postcard shows the restored colonial town Green. Litchfield was one of many New England towns that chose to revitalize their colonial past. Gift of Ruth and Howard Imhof. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1992.93.33.

From the Nation’s Centennial in 1876 through about 1940, increased interest in America’s colonial past produced the movement known as the Colonial Revival.  Connecticut became an early center of the movement, and examples of the style are found throughout the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society.  

While some people expressed their fascination with the colonial period by collecting American antiques, many others purchased modern reproductions or objects meant to evoke the colonial era.  The Russian-born Hartford cabinetmaker, Nathan Margolis, made a name for himself as an excellent maker of Colonial Revival furniture.  From Chippendale to Federal style furniture, Margolis created finely crafted pieces for his customers, each one harkening back to a “simpler” time amidst the chaos of the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.   

Not only did people dress their homes in the colonial style, but they also dressed themselves.  Centennial celebrations usually included costume balls, pageants, and parades with men and women dressed in elaborate colonial recreations, or even treasures from the family attic.  Generally these individuals sought the feel of the era, rather than an accurate recreation of it.  Colonial-inspired designs for everyday dress also made appearances, sometimes crossing gender lines as men’s embroidered colonial jackets inspired women’s embroidered bodices.

Along with furniture and costume, architecture, book design, ceramics, silver, and even photography and the fine arts were all influenced by the Colonial Revival. Occasionally, entire towns would revive their colonial aesthetic, replacing 19th-century buildings with Colonial recreations so that the Green once again became the town center. What remained of colonial Connecticut assumed great importance in the minds of its residents, resulting in a variety of nostalgic works that focused on the ideal of the small New England village.

Even today, the colonial style remains popular, especially in New England; and as Halloween approaches people continue to enjoy dressing as ghosts of the Nation’s past.  



Love the sideboard label, if

Love the sideboard label, if only all antiques had such a label...