Ellsworth Table Back After 155 Years
On the morning of Saturday, January 26th, Windsor Historical Society Curator Christina Vida watched with bated breath as Sotheby’s Auction House in New York City auctioned a ca. 1792 mahogany card table originally owned by Windsor’s Oliver Ellsworth. Ellsworth was one of the first Connecticut Senators, negotiator of an early treaty with France, and the third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
In recognition of his significance, the Society’s Collections Committee and Board had approved use of the Society’s Collections Reserve Fund, carefully built up over many years. Vida had no idea whether funds in this modest account would be sufficient to secure the table and bring it home to Windsor.
The item auctioned just before card table, a 1781 Chippdendale chair made by Eliphalet Chapin estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 had just sold for over $170,000. If that trend continued, the Society’s hopes would evaporate. The first bid for the table came in at $4,250, the second at $4,750, and it quickly escalated from there. In just under a minute, the final hammer came down - at a purchase price of $11,250 - the Society’s dream had become a reality!
The table was likely made around 1792 in Hartford County, when Judge Ellsworth constructed an addition on his Windsor home, “Elmwood” named after thirteen elm trees he planted to represent the thirteen original states. Ellsworth had an abiding love for his roots. “I have visited several countries, and I like my town the best,” he said. “I have been in all the States of the Union, and Connecticut is the best State; Windsor is the pleasantest town in the State of Connecticut and I have the pleasantest place in Windsor. I am content, perfectly content, to die on the banks of the
He passed away there in 1807, and his probate inventory included a “[pair] of mahogany tables” valued at $22. Ellsworth’s son, Martin Ellsworth inherited the tables and they were still in the same room fifty years later, when they were inventoried as a “pair of card tables.” After 1857, the furnishings of Elmwood were distributed amongst heirs.
The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead Museum, run by the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, owns the second mahogany card in the pair. Chairman Jean Kelsey stated “The Oliver Ellsworth House Museum is ecstatic that the card table will be residing in Windsor once again.” In the future, the Society will lend this table to the Homestead, reuniting the two tables that have been separated for over 155 years.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art owns one of the chairs that would have been used beside this card table as well as an oversized portrait of Oliver and Abigail Ellsworth by artist Ralph Earl. “I am thrilled for the Windsor Historical Society on their recent acquisition of the Oliver Ellsworth game table,” said Alyce England, Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts. “We look forward to working more closely with the Society in developing education and exhibition programs that link this game table to works at our institution.”
After successfully acquiring the card table, the Society also received an anonymous donation of the manuscript inventory taken in 1807 after Ellsworth’s death. This archival document is in fine condition and lists the contents of Oliver Ellsworth’s estate. With this donation, the donor would like to honor Dr. Thomas P. and Alice K. Kugelman, the table’s most recent owners, for their contributions to Connecticut furniture scholarship. The inventory will soon go on display with the card table in the Society’s long-term exhibition, Windsor: Bridging Centuries, Bridging Cultures.
For twenty years, the Society has maintained a Collections Reserve Fund, a fund specifically designated for the purchase of museum collections. Without regular contributions to this fund, the Society would not have been able to acquire the table. The Reid and Reige Fund has already contributed over $1,200 toward the purchase of the table, and the Society is looking to replenish the fund so it can be ready when other important Windsor items surface. If you would like to support the cost of returning this table to Windsor, please contact Christine Ermenc, Executive Director of the Windsor Historical Society at cermenc@windsorhistoricalsociety. org. Donations can be mailed to 96 Palisado Avenue, Windsor, CT 06095. If you have Windsor items you would consider donating to the Society, please contact Christina Vida Curator of Collections and Interpretation at
or Barbara Goodwin, Archivist at
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