Historical Connecticut Furnituremakers

April 4, 2024 | 3 min read | By: Len Smith

Chapin Dressing Table, Circa 1783

Central Connecticut – especially the Connecticut River Valley – extending from  Suffield down to Middletown, has a rich history of furniture makers.  Some are well-known and some are not.  In the 1990s a group of individuals, in cooperation with Yale University and the Connecticut Historical Society, formed the Hartford Case Furniture Study to research these furniture makers.  In 2005, they published their 576-page thesis, titled Connecticut Valley Furniture by Eliphalet Chapin And His Contemporaries, 1750-1800, which focuses extensively on Mr.Chapin, his contemporaries, their work, and the culture at the time.  

Eliphalet Chapin (1741-1807) opened his East Windsor cabinet shop in 1771 and introduced a new style of furniture to the Connecticut River Valley. Chapin set himself apart from his Connecticut contemporaries by incorporating various rococo elements of Philadelphia-inspired design and detail into his work. Although born, raised, and apprenticed as a cabinetmaker in Connecticut, Chapin abruptly departed Connecticut to flee a paternity suit in the late 1760s and spent nearly four years working alongside and learning from craftsmen in the urban Philadelphia area.  Eliphalet was a bit of a scoundrel as well as a talented maker. 

On his return, Eliphalet Chapin integrated components of Philadelphia furniture design into his work. Using local resources available to him and adapting to the tastes of Connecticut buyers, Chapin’s furniture departed in some ways from Philadelphia styles. Rather than the rich mahogany wood favored by the craftsmen of Philadelphia, Chapin’s furniture was made from local cherry and pine. Chapin’s use of ornamentation was subdued in comparison to that employed by Philadelphia craftsmen; however, it was still more than most Connecticut furniture-makers were using.

The Chapin style spread throughout the region, partly through Chapin’s many apprentices and journeymen as well as others who emulated his style. 

Parts of this blog were used with permission from The Magazine Antiques and other sources.

Connecticut Valley Furniture 1750 - 1800
Click the image above to download.

Some of Chapin’s pieces are on display at The Wadsworth Atheneum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winterthur, among others.

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