More than 300 years of Chester County history comes to life in the museum collection that contains over 70,000 objects.
The CCHC museum is the most comprehensive regional resource for documenting and understanding the history and people of Chester County and the Delaware Valley. This artifact collection, from European settlement in the late 1600s to the present, has been assembled since 1893. The collection represents daily life, agriculture, education, and some industry.
Artifacts represent county individuals and, collectively, illustrate diverse tastes, economic means, cultural background, and occupations. Artifacts provide a vivid three-dimensional awareness of people’s choices, opinions, beliefs, and creativity – and may be the only evidence that some people existed.
Paintings and works of art on paper are important to the Chester County story of local artists and/or subjects. To name a few, European American artists Bass Otis of Philadelphia (1784 –1861) and George Cope of Chester County (1855 – 1929) illustrate local people and places. Self-taught African American artists Ida Jones (1874 – 1959) and Horace Pippin (1888 – 1946) express ideas, events, and changing seasons. Mildred Miller (1892 – 1964) and Charles Porter (1931 – 1994) are among the artists who were instructors and students at regional arts organizations.
Fraktur of the late 1700s, hand-drawn or hand-colored birth and marriage certificates, document the 1700s German influence in the northern part of the county. Dozens of identified paper silhouettes made circa 1700 at the Peale Museum in Philadelphia add a visual dimension to genealogical research. Watercolors and pastels by Barclay Rubincam (1920 – 1978) and Albert Van Nesse Greene (1887 – 1971) depict historical events and contemporary impressionistic landscapes.
An IMLS grant funded a preservation survey of paintings and some painting treatments.
Ceramics represent 18th– and 19th-century taste and artisanship. Various examples of Chinese export cate circa 1800, including examples from the set owned by the Nixon who married into the Morris family, both of whom were involved in the American Revolution. Imported ceramics encompass Chinese Rose Medallion pieces, English creamware, early 1700s Delft-style English plates, and 1800s transferware.
This collection has one of the largest groups of utilitarian and decorative early 19th-century redware made by Chester County potters. Tucker porcelain, one of the earliest made in the U.S, is another substantial group of artifacts. It was manufactured in Philadelphia between 1826 and 1839 from kaolin quarried in southern Chester County. Whimsical Phoenixville majolica in the late 1800s represents a fad of the era with mass-produced leaf plates and shell-and-seaweed dinner services among other forms.
The clothing collection includes an extensive array of women’s, men’s and children’s outer garments, underwear, and accessories dating from the 1700s through the present.
Women’s clothing and accessories encompass the Quaker and broader community: rare everyday 18th-century shortgowns to luxurious silk ball gowns; quilted petticoats, including one made by Ann Marsh (1717-1797); chemises, pantaloons, stays, corsets, hoops, and bustles; shoes dating from the 1700s to the early 2000s; 19th-century Quaker and calash bonnets among other headwear; and capes and coats, including dusters worn at the advent of the automobile.
Children’s clothing reflects changing fashion trends and gender neutral dresses of early childhood. Some garments have a provenance as memorials to 19th-century child mortality. Suits and uniforms represent men’s ready-made clothing dating from the mid-1800s with handmade shirts and breeches reflecting the customized sewing of earlier eras.
An NEH grant funded a clothing and clothing accessories preservation survey
The category of bedding includes linen sheets from the 1800s. More colorful, however, are woven coverlets from the 1800s that represent a wide array of geometric and Jacquard-woven designs. A few are identified by the weaver’s name or family name.
Quilts number over 175 and span the late 1700s to early 1900s. The majority were made between 1830 and 1920 as finished bed quilts. Highlights include mid-1800s Turkey red printed cotton friendship quilts with names of local people and sometimes places. Decorative silk pieces from the late 1800s also represent national trends by local makers. Unfinished quilt tops and blocks are also included.
The Chester County Quilt Documentation Project 2002/03 captured information and images of more than 1,000 quilts in the community. Many have Chester County origins. This work was funded by grants from the PA Historical and Museum Commission. A subsequent exhibition and publication, Layers: Unfolding the Stories of Chester County Quilts 2009-11, were funded by a grant from IMLS. The publication Layers is available in the museum shop.
British and northern European settlers are well-represented in furniture and household accessories. Highlights include: regional wainscot chairs from the early 1700s; spice boxes from the mid-to late 1700s, some with Welsh line-and-berry inlay; and a 1706 chest of drawers believed to be the earliest documented example with line-and-berry inlay; document boxes, including one from 1684; and signed furniture by Chester County cabinetmakers and tall case clockmakers through the early 1800s.
Silver and pewter flatware and hollowware represent trends of the growing middle and upper economic classes into the early 1800s. Highlights include a large collection of silver chatelaines, teaspoons, and sugar bowls, and creamers; silver or pewter tea pots; pewter porringers with various types of tab handles; and pewter chamber pots. Makers are from Philadelphia, Wilmington, New York, England, continental Europe, and West Chester.
Ferrous (iron) metals are primarily represented by cast iron stove plates and fire backs produced at local and regional furnaces. Architectural hardware, tools for hearth cooking, fireplace andirons, and various hardware for blacksmith and other tools were mass-produced or hand-wrought in the 1800’s.
An NEH grant funded a ferrous metals preservation survey
There are many artifacts used by earlier generations to meet daily needs and make a living. Agricultural equipment dates primarily from the 1800s and includes plows that broke ground in flat and hilly fields in order to grow corn, grains, tobacco, and flax. Grain harvesting tools reflect the work that made Chester County the bread basket of the east coast. Flax production tools turned harvested seeds, one of the largest exports well into the 1800s, and turned fibers into linen.
Cobblers benches, blacksmithing bellows, and other tools of the trade harken back to the 1800s when handwork was slowly being replaced by mass production.
Medical and scientific tools from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s reflect early scientific investigation and advancements in public health. Tools of precision are: surveying compasses made by local and regional clockmakers through the late 1700s, the microscope used by botanist Humphry Marshall (1722 – 1801), an orrery by Aaron Willard, Jr. from the 1820s, and lab equipment used by Raymond Rettew (1903 – 1973) in his effort to mass produce penicillin.
Taverns and post offices still exist today but painted wood post office and tavern signs are tangible evidence of specific entities in the 1800s that are no longer in operation. Painted metal law office signs adorned many building in the West Chester, the county seat. Some are now in the museum collection.
Three signs in poor condition underwent conservation treatment, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. One is a painted metal sign of daguerreotype photographer George Pyle (1821 – 1888). Another is the sign of David Husted’s (1799 – 1893) boot and shoe shop, and the third advertised the law firm of James B. Everhart (1821 – 1888).
Banners, typically painted silk, from the 1800s depict fraternal organizations and fire companies. They also identify opinions about temperance by both women’s and men’s organizations. Political campaign banners from the mid-1800s also reflect that varied opinions throughout the county.
IMLS funded a preservation survey of signs, a survey of flags and banners, and conservation of three signs
Childhood became an identified part of the cycle life in the 1800s. No longer seen as miniature adults, children’s lives were influenced by the socio-economic status of their families and their access to learning. There are many 19-century children’s toys and games that depict the ability of the local growing middle class to provide time and materials for children’s recreation and education. Of special interest are the thousands of paper toys and dolls printed in Europe and the United States, many collected by Bart Anderson, CCHC’s first director.
IMLS funded rehousing the paper toys and dolls
NEH funded a preservation survey of three-dimensional toys
The Chester County History Center seeks to make its museum collections available to the public to the fullest extent possible through exhibits, lectures, publications, and other means. Special purpose access to the collections may be requested when the visitor’s needs require more than can be offered in a gallery tour or museum visit.
All requests for special access to the collections by individuals or groups must be made in writing to the museum on the History Center’s “Collections Access Request Form.”
CCHC generally charges a research fee. It also reserves the right to charge an additional fee if the access visit causes unusual and/or extraordinary expense. Sufficient advance notice is necessary in order to make the visit as productive as possible. If possible, a minimum of three weeks is preferred.
If the request is accepted, any and all conditions, limitations, and qualifications based on curatorial, conservation, physical, or other pertinent considerations will be clearly stated. If refused, a reasonable explanation will be made in writing.
Access to Chester County History Center’s collections is for personal use only. Separate restrictions and fees apply to the commercial use of the collection.
Photography of objects in the museum collection is arranged by the curatorial staff. They can be reached at 610-692-4800 or email@example.com for a photographic reproduction quote. Prices vary according to changes in vendor fees and whether or not new photography is required. Reproduction and publication request forms are available upon request.