This trip “Inside the Collections” features another object on display in our 2021-2022 exhibit, Antiquarian to Accredited: A Look Inside the Historical Society. The embroidery seen below is a “found in collection” object, meaning we do not know how or when it came into our collection. Usually given to the Society at a time when we had limited recordkeeping, found in collection objects are rarely attributed to a creator or owner. This piece was no different.
At first glance, the embroidery reminded me of a woolie. What is a woolie, you ask? Woolie is a common name for a sailor’s woolwork picture, a folk art tradition centered on embroidered images of ships, nautical scenes, and patriotic motifs.
Most sources agree that woolies originated with British sailors in the first half of the nineteenth century, and remained popular from about 1840 to World War I. As a folk art form, woolies represent the coming together of three factors: free time, sewing skills, and sentimentality. Facing long hours at sea and in port, sailors likely turned to embroidery as a way to pass the time, keep their hands busy, and differentiate their working and leisure hours, similar to other maritime folk arts such as scrimshaw and knotwork. For as long as sailing ships dominated naval and merchant fleets, sailors were also required to possess rudimentary sewing skills, as one of their duties was to repair and maintain the ship’s sails. Sailors also mended and embellished their own uniforms, requiring them to keep sewing supplies on hand. Lastly, woolies served as mementos of a sailor’s service and travels or as gifts for loved ones upon his return. The number of woolies that survive from this period suggest they were prized possessions. Examples in period frames may even indicate that the sailor or his family made a monetary investment to have the woolie displayed.
Project Archivist Leith Johnson is working on creating and enhancing descriptive records for the Litchfield Historical Society Photograph Collection funded by a Connecticut Humanities SHARP grant. He contributed the piece below about this photograph, which had no identifying information written on it or with it, and required some investigation.
Do you remember that thirty five years ago the second graders at Litchfield Center School buried a time capsule on the Litchfield Green? Maybe you were not born yet. As a once in every seventy-five years event, Halley’s Comet is typically a pretty big deal. Mark Twain even said he came in with Halley’s Comet and would go out with it- he predicted correctly.
When this object was offered to the Society as part of a larger donation, my first assumption was that it was a simple piece of luggage. It was shaped like a small suitcase, had a handle where you would expect one to be, and was dotted with the kind of paper labels you sometimes see on pieces of older luggage. But then I took a closer look. Instead of a hinged lid, the case was comprised of two separate pieces that fit tightly together. The material itself was rigid but very lightweight. And the labels were not for cruise lines or airlines, but for shipping companies. On one side of the box, I found a partial label reading, “Fiberco [ ]ipack.” A quick internet search told me that this object was a laundry box, not a suitcase; and that it was meant to be mailed to its destination, not carried.
The Litchfield Historical Society is thrilled to announce the acquisition of a previously unpublished letter from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall to Judge James Gould, instructor at the Litchfield Law School, in which Marshall provides feedback on Gould’s book about pleadings.