Update – 4/2/2009

I want to share with you some of our plans for upcoming exhibits within the newly restored Madison mansion. Over the spring and summer we plan to move furniture and exhibit components into the mansion along with text panels which will help explain our process.

Our first major focus will be the Dining Room (M105). As of this week, we have removed the exhibit case that featured archaeology fragments of ceramics and glassware and installed two pieces of furniture. There is a dining table (a period piece with no Madison provenance) and a sideboard with purported Madison provenance, both on furniture lifts. It was a challenge to fit the furniture and lifts in the room and still leave room for a group of 20 people, but we managed to come up with arrangement that should work.

dining room table

Even though this particular set of tables does not have a Madison family provenance, the form matches the “3 folding leaf Mahogany tables” that were listed in the 1836 Inventory of the Dining Room.[1] The end sections are obviously from the same table, with the center section having been substituted at a later time. All three tables are period and similar to what the Madisons might have owned.

“in the center of the room a square mahogany table…”  -George Shattuck, Jr., 1835

“a large long and wide well polished mahogany table…” -Mary Cutts, Recollections, ca. 1850


According to the 1836 Inventory of the Madison Dining Room “2 Mahogany sideboards” (1 “old” / 1 “new”) were listed. Curatorial staff are currently conducting research on multiple sideboards with purported Madison provenance.

This particular sideboard was donated to The National Trust for Historic Preservation (Montpelier) in 1986 with a strong family history of purchase at an early Montpelier sale. At this time we do not have any record or advertisements of sales taking place at Montpelier during Madison ownership of the property, or in the post-Madison period until 1881.

A large sale took place at Montpelier in April, 1881, in which the “valuable personal property” of the recently deceased Frank Carson, occupant and brother of Montpelier’s owner, was auctioned off. A broadside advertising the sale included “a large quantity of HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE/ some very superior, Mirrors, Paintings,…a handsome portrait of President Madison, and other relicts of President Madison, one grand piano…”[2] While the broadside is unclear as to which, if any, furniture was owned by James Madison, it seems likely that the association of the sideboard with Montpelier could have easily been linked to the Madisons.

The Madisons had two sideboards in their Dining Room; the date of this sideboard places it potentially in the category of “new” sideboard. We will place photographs of the other sideboards that we are researching in the room and ask the question “which one of these do you believe may be the Madisons’ ‘old’ sideboard?”

“…on one side of the door was an old sideboard.” -George C. Shattuck, Jr. 1835

-Montpelier Curatorial Staff

1 “List of articles in Dining Room at Montpellier” and “Engravings in dining room,” July 1, 1836, box 1, folder 1831–1839, Papers of Dolley Madison, MS 18940, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
2 Madison, James. Letters and Documents at the Library of Virginia. Miscellaneous reel 4276. “Broadside announcing an auction at Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia on April 13, 1881.”


7 Responses to Update – 4/2/2009

  1. Ellen Wessel says:

    Is it already addressed in an earlier entry what sorts of activities happen under the heading of “curatorial research”? Newbies like me would like to know: What does it actually take to establish the authenticity of an object?

  2. Jayne E. Blair says:

    How does one verify ownership of such items? How do we know this is indeed one owned by the Madisons or one similar to one he owned. I know letters and diaries describe such items but will we even know for sure this or that actually belonged to Madison?

  3. Ken Clark says:

    When I worked there Conover Hunt dropped by one weekend to look at the sideboard. She was dubious that it was Madison.

  4. Looks like everythings coming together well, can’t wait for finished photos.

  5. Sarah Everett says:

    I cannot wait to see and learn more about this when I go to Montpelier this summer, as well as when I chekc this blog daily:)
    God Bless!
    Most Sincerely, I am Yr. Obt. Srvt.
    Sarah Everett

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