Between 1859 and 1954, three generations of Gibson family members and scores of employees lived at the Gibson House. They collected objects of value and objects of utility. They inherited furniture and artwork from family members, and purchased trendy clothing and silverware from Boston-area makers. They brought home souvenirs from their travels. They used and admired these objects in different ways and at different times in the almost 100 years that the Gibson House was a home.
This iron, powered by liquid gasoline, would have been considered cutting-edge technology in the late 19th century. This particular iron is likely to have been used at the Gibson House before 1910, when the house was converted to electricity. Heat was generated by a flame fed by the gasoline, and the laundress did not have to worry about a cumbersome hose, which was necessary for the natural gas-powered irons these models replaced. Although the liquid fuel irons did carry a risk of fire or explosion, they were significantly lighter than earlier irons and their temperature was more even.
Smith & Anthony Stove Co.
This cast iron, coal-burning stove, installed in 1884, likely remained in use well into the 20th century. The stove, with its five burners, would have been kept on all day long for cooking and for heating water to be used throughout the house. One of the five surfaces on the stove is occupied by a waffle iron—a good example of the kinds of culinary gadgets that were so well-loved in the Victorian era.
American Wringer Co.
New York, c. 1898
Mechanical wringers, or mangles, were used to remove excess water from clothing and linens before drying. This example, patented in 1898, was guaranteed for only three years of use for a single family. Cleaning the delicate and complicated clothing of the Victorian era required considerable attention. This wringer would have been familiar to Mary A. McDonnald Crocker (born 1854), a Canadian immigrant who worked as a laundress for the Gibson family.
Likely made in the early 1870s, this gown is a pitch-perfect example of Victorian fashion. The tightly coreseted waist and prominent bustle create a much-desired silhouette, one that shows off a more “natural” form in comparison to the large hooped skirts of the 1860s. In dress, as in most other things, the Victorians preferred a high level of specificity; the two bodices that accompany the skirt signify the expectation of different attire for day and night.
This bible, one of nine in the Gibson family collection, belonged to Catherine Hammond Gibson. She was fourteen when the bible was gifted to her. This edition is an early version of the “Brattleboro bibles,” published by John Holbrook, which were distinguished by their elaborate engraved illustrations and their attention to design.
Japan, early 19th century
Japanese and Chinese decorative arts were incredibly popular in fashionable western residences in the 19th century. The Gibsons owned a number of objects imported from China and Japan, including a large set of dinnerware and a set of large vases; the wallpaper in the front hall and Rosamond Gibson’s bedroom set were also inspired by East Asia. This Imari porcelain plate (named after the port in Japan from which the goods were exported) was produced specifically for a Western market. It hangs on the wall next to the fireplace in the dining room.
Japan, early 19th century
Apothecary tables and chests were utilitarian in origin; the many drawers allowed for the storage of herbs, vials, and mixtures for medicinal purposes. This elaborate decorative apothecary chest, however, is more likely to have been a stationary chest, made for Westerners. It is another example of the fashionable trend of collecting artwork and furniture with East Asian elements. This piece is believed to have been given to the Gibson family by John Collins Warren (1842-1927), a prominent physician and the brother of Rosamond Warren Gibson
Ferdinand Barbedienne (French, 1810-1892)
This small bronze cast is of the Roman god, Mercury (also known by the ancient Greeks as Hermes), after an original work by the Renaissance sculptor Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608). In the mid-19th century, Mercury’s caduceus—his staff with two intertwined serpents—became a symbol of medical practice, and its presence at the Gibson House might be a reference to the many prominent doctors on the Warren side of the family. The choice to display this classical figure in the family library also projects a sense of education and cultural wealth.
In December of 1871, Rosamond and Charles Gibson went on their honeymoon to New York City, and while they were away, Rosamond’s mother re-decorated her daughter’s new bedroom with a 13-piece faux bamboo bedroom set. Although designed and manufactured locally with bird’s-eye maple wood, the bedroom set mimics Chinese building materials and incorporates Chinese design aesthetics. Note that the size of the bed was small in comparison to what a modern viewer may expect, corresponding to a current-day “full” mattress. (The frame is also lower than modern frames, rising only 15 ½” off the ground.) Rosamond and Charles kept separate bedrooms, adjoined by a shared bathroom, which was quite common for wealthy couples in this period.
The form of this Bergere-style sofa, with its low arms and deep seating, was popular in the 19th century. Victorian parlors were typically crowded with heavily upholstered furniture. This piece likely dates from the earliest years of the Gibson House, when Catherine Hammond Gibson was in charge of the decoration.
This three-armed sconce is one of a pair that flanks a mirror in the Music Room. It is part of a set, along with the central chandelier and another pair of scones, which originally hung in Rosamond Gibson’s childhood home at 2 Park Street. The house was lit by natural gas, the standard source of energy available to urban households in Boston until electric service was introduced in the late 19th century. The chandelier and one set of sconces were electrified in about 1910, but for some reason, this set was never converted from gas.
Providence, c. 1870
In 1831, Jabez Gorham founded a small silver manufacturing company in Providence, RI, which went on to become the largest silver company in the world. In the late 19th century, everyone who was anyone owned a piece (or many) from Gorham Silver. This pitcher was a gift to Charles Hammond Gibson from his friend Francis Bacon to commemorate Charles and Rosamond’s marriage.
Tall Case Clock
Aaron Willard (American, 1757-1844)
Aaron Willard was a Roxbury-based clockmaker and, along with his brother Simon, was the most sought-after clockmaker in early 19th century Boston. On the inside of the door, where you find the clockworks, it is written in pencil, “This clock made for Abraham Gibson, Boston, Mass,” and it goes on to list all of the subsequent Gibsons who inherited this tall case clock, demonstrating its status as a prized family possession.
William Morris Hunt (American, 1824-1879)
Oil on canvas
William Morris Hunt was the leading painter of mid-nineteenth-century Boston and his work was in high demand. The Singers, which depicts two young people singing from an open songbook, was exhibited alongside The Listeners (now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) at the National Academy of Design in 1865. Unfortunately, a significant number of Hunt’s works were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872. This painting was a gift to Charles Gibson, Jr. from his cousin William Crowninshield Endicott, who served as the first vice president of the Gibson Society.
Mirrorscope Postcard Projector
Cleveland, c. 1909-1921
This electric postcard projector was engineered to light up and project postcards and other images onto a screen or blank wall. They were incredibly popular in the early 20th century as entertainment for children, but they would also have been useful to someone like Charlie Gibson, who regularly gave lectures about his travels and would have been able to use this projector to illustrate his talks