Of the 116 portraits, most were images of prominent Andover family members whose surnames were given to Andover streets: Abbott, Chandler, Chickering, Gould, Hidden, Holt, Jenkins, Poor (my own street), etcetera. There were also portraits of two famous people, a couple, who lived here only briefly, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband, Calvin E. Stowe; a likeness of a semi-famous one, author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1815-1852); and those of many who were locally famous, e.g., Samuel Harvey Taylor (1807-1871), a principal of Phillips Academy, and the Honorable John Aiken (1797-1867), a Phillips Academy trustee. It wasn't important to the people who put this exhibit together who the artists of these works were. Nor did they mention the works' media, except in the case of silhouettes and daguerreotypes. The lenders' names were noted, however, in thanks and in apparent acknowledgment that ownership was key, the reason these things had been preserved in the first place.
I can't say the chairs, a category that included seating as well as other forms of furniture, were well described. Mrs. John C. Sears lent "two chairs of the last century." John L. Abbott's contribution was an "Inlaid table, 100 years old." Charles L. Carter showed an "Old table used by one of the Fosters at the time of the French and Indian War." Miss Gertrude L. Flint's loan was an "Ancient washstand." Mrs. C.E. Abbott brought out her "Chippingdale [sic] work table." The descriptions of china were even sketchier: "Choice plate, very old." "Very old plate." "Very old mulberry plate." And of those with dates appended -- "Two blue plates, 1770," "Mug, 1830," "Mug, 1800," "Plate, 1785" -- one has to wonder how the dates were determined.
For some reason, though, my skepticism leaves me when I read down the list of silver and jewelry in the exhibition. I want to believe that Andoverites really did possess and show a "Pepper box made by Paul Revere, before 1775" and a "Watch, 150 years old, carried by Moses Bailey through the Revolutionary War." Same with the war relics: "Knee buckles worn by a revolutionary soldier," "Bone pie marker, carved with a pocket knife by a prisoner of the War of 1812," and "Piano key taken from the house of Joe Davis, home of Jefferson Davis." The curators of this exhibition must have felt the same way about the "First apple parer made and used in Andover," "Razor of Andrew Peters, the first town treasurer of whom record is found," "Curious shaped stones, found by Mr. Follansbee twelve to eighteen feet below the drift in undisturbed glacial deposits and supposed by him to show artificial shaping," and the inevitable "silver spoon brought over in the Mayflower."
These people didn't care much about their objects' condition or completeness, as evidenced by "One-third of a wedding dress of the wife of Lieutenant Poor of revolutionary times," "Stone pestle and part of mortar dug up near Great Pond, North Andover," and "Piece of flag presented to the 'Old Sixth' by the loyal citizens of Baltimore after its passage through the city, April 19, 1861." Like artists, they were trying to communicate a feeling, via these bits of wood and silk and metal, to others. What is more, these were not objects whose dollar value they knew or were concerned about. They weren't selling them; they hadn't bought them. They had kept them, or found them, or been given them, and would pass them down. To put it as simply as possible, they loved their country, its history, their town and their "antiques." How pure is that? All of us in the antiques world would do well to take a page from their (rare) book.