Since construction of its Museum and Research Library & Archives building in 1931, the Association has enjoyed the support of leading collectors and organizations. Pre-eminent among its early patrons was Mrs. J. Amory Haskell (1864 – 1942), a major collector of Americana. Between the opening of the Museum and her death eleven years later, Margaret Riker Haskell and her estate donated more than 800 items to our collection. These included some of the Association’s most iconic holdings, such as a wainscot armchair made in Freehold in 1695 by a Scottish carpenter named Robert Rhea and a large painting dated 1856 of Molly Pitcher being present to George Washington after the Battle of Monmouth by Dennis Malone Carter. The Haskell gifts were especially strong in locally documented early furniture, portraits, and household items, all with their histories of ownership intact. Mrs. Haskell also contributed a large quantity of children’s furniture and toys. Principal among her benefactions to the Association, however, was the 1936 restoration of Marlpit Hall in Middletown, which she presented to the organization fully furnished with period items. This important structure, built in part in 1686 and enlarged in 1756, was the first historic house museum in Monmouth County. In addition to her many gifts, Mrs. Haskell also lent more than 750 items to special exhibits held in the Association’s museum. One of the more important was a pioneering 1934 display of New York furniture by renowned cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. From the outset, Mrs. Haskell set a remarkably high standard for the museum collection that attracted the support of other collectors and dealers for decades.
The furniture holdings of the Association, numbering over 500 items, include a wide range of examples from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, the majority of which were owned in New Jersey. Pieces range from the late 17th century through the Queen Anne, Chippendale, Federal, and Empire periods. Forms include high chests, linen presses, dressing tables, desks, tables, chairs, tall case clocks, cupboards, Dutch kasten, bedsteads, etc. Fashionable items made in the style centers of New York and Philadelphia contrast to the plainer country products of local New Jersey craftsmen. Furniture highlights include an exceptional ca. 1720 grisaille-painted Dutch kas from New York that was owned by the Luyster family of Middletown. It is one of five known that were decorated by the same as-yet unidentified artist. Other notable items include a hanging cupboard also from the Luyster family dated 1722, an imposing mid-18th century walnut desk and bookcase made by William Applegate of Middletown, six unusual 18th century rush-seated slat-back chairs long attributed to Michael Maps of West Long Branch, and tall case clocks by Anthony Ward, Joseph Hollinshead, Elias Sayre, Benjamin Guild, Leslie & Williams, and Joachim Hill. Makers of signed, labeled or otherwise documented furniture include Matthew Egerton, Sr., Matthew Egerton, Jr., Fenwick Lyell, Oliver Parsell, Samuel Jaques, William Hahn, Collignon Brothers, and Cornelius A. Demarest. The bulk of our furniture collection is displayed in the Association’s historic houses. Forty-four outstanding examples were published in the January 1980 issue of The Magazine Antiques.
Approximately 1,000 paintings and drawings in the collection provide images of the people and places of Monmouth County and New Jersey over more than two centuries. They consist of oils on canvas, pastels on paper, watercolors on paper, miniatures in oil on ivory, graphite on paper, and a wide variety of unusual media such as oils on clamshell or metal sheets. Subjects consist of portraits, landscapes, miniatures, silhouettes, modern abstract art, school girl art, and folk art. Portraits include 26 works by Micah Williams (1782 – 1837) who was the subject of a major Association retrospective exhibit and catalog in 2013. Seventeen portraits by Middletown artist Harvey Jenkins (1822 – 1908) were given full conservation treatment through two project grants in 2014 and 2016 from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. Other highlights of the art collection include our widely-known Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth painted in 1857 by Emmanuel Leutze, two 18th century portraits by Daniel Hendrickson of Middletown, three portraits of the Conover family by George Henry Durrie, two views of local steamboats by James Bard, a dramatic shipwreck scene at Point Pleasant Beach by Antonio Jacobsen, twenty-three colorful landscape views by self-taught Henry Thomas Gulick of Middletown, and eight works depicting landmarks associated with the Battle of Monmouth by Carrie Bowne Swift of Freehold. Other artists represented in the collection include John Wollaston, Thomas Birch, William Verbryck, Antonio Beguin, Alessandro E. Mario, Ami Phillips, Bass Otis, John Bradley, Robert Street, Milton J. Burns, Joseph Lee, Corwin Knapp Linson, Marshall Simpson, William K. Yorke, David P. Van Brackle, Charles S. Humphreys, George C. Lambdin, James Crawford Thom, George Ford Morris, and a large number of local amateur artists.
Textiles and historic costume items constitute one of the largest categories in the Association’s collection. There are approximately 3,000 textile items altogether, including 118 samplers, 105 quilts and coverlets, and over 2,500 articles of historic costume. The latter, ranging in date from the mid-18th century to the mid-20th, includes garments for men, women and children; military uniforms; hats, bonnets, caps and other headwear; footwear; and accessories such as fabric purses, handbags, and reticules. Of special note are: a nearly complete set of American mid-18th century crewel-embroidered bed hangings from the Hartshorne family, a colorful mid-18th century crewel-embroidered petticoat border that accompanied the bed hangings, a boldly designed appliqué quilt in red, green and yellow made about 1855 for William M. Mount of Farmingdale by his grandmother, a late 18th century printed cotton calico short gown made for Elizabeth Dorn (1760 – 1850, a free black woman of Monmouth County), and a single 18th century woman’s shoe or wedding slipper labeled “Made by John A. Wolfe, No. 24, corner of Crown and Smith-Street, New York” that is believed to be the earliest known labeled American shoe. In fact, the Association’s costume holdings contain seventy-one articles of 18th century origin, nearly all of which came from Monmouth County families with histories of ownership intact.
The Association’s collection of New Jersey-made stoneware, redware and other pottery is one of the most comprehensive in the state. Examples come from the following early potteries: James Morgan, Warne & Letts, Morgan & Van Wickle, Jacob Van Wickle, Nicholas Van Wickle, Bissett, Kemple, Abial Price, Van Schoick & Dunn, Pruden, and others. The Association was very fortunate to acquire a large portion of the documented shard collection of the late Robert J. Sim, who in the 1940s and 1950s carried out pioneering archeological excavations at many of the early pottery sites around central New Jersey. The Sim Collection is one of the most frequently consulted study collections in its museum holdings because of its unique ability to help document design motifs used by the early potters of the area who rarely signed or marked their wares. An ovoid stoneware jar made about 1770 at the Kemple pottery in Ringoes , a large stoneware presentation crock inscribed “For the True Repuplican [sic] of middletown Pint [sic] C S Aug 9 1802” that was made at Warne & Letts for Chrineyonce Schanck of Middletown Point, a stoneware presentation jug decorated in cobalt with a uniformed member of the Matawan Cornet Band playing his instrument made ca. 1890 by William A. Lowe for James Van Schoick at the Dunn, Dunlop & Co. pottery, and a Rockingham ware pitcher in the shape of a bulldog made ca. 1890 at the J. L. Rue Pottery in Matawan are just four examples of the Association’s outstanding holdings of New Jersey pottery.
The Battle of Monmouth was fought between American and British forces on 28 June 1778 in and around Freehold. Artwork, military gear, and other artifacts associated with the battle and the Revolution in general have been a major collecting focus for the Association from the beginning. Some fifty paintings, drawings and prints depict various aspects of the battle, its famous figures such as George Washington and Molly Pitcher, or ancient landmarks located around the battlefield. A larger number of artifacts such as muskets, swords, powder horns, bullet molds, despatch boxes, soldier’s personal items, cannonballs recovered from the battlefield, parts of buildings riddled with musket ball holes, and a section of a tree trunk with a cannonball embedded in it all help to illustrate the wartime experience in central New Jersey. MCHA’s two most important paintings of Battle of Monmouth subjects have already been mentioned. Two other highly significant items should also be highlighted. First is a large cream-colored silk flag with a Union Jack-styled canton that was recovered from the battlefield. Long called British Colonel Henry Monckton’s flag, recent research has revealed it to be an exceptionally rare surviving American regimental flag. This item has been borrowed by the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for display, after full conservation, in their 2017 inaugural exhibition. In addition, a Continental silver-hilted sword also found on the battlefield was believed to have been owned by Col. Monckton, who was the highest ranking British officer killed in the line of duty on that fateful day.
The military collection beyond the Revolution contains hundreds of items from the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, plus military organizations like the National Guard, Grand Army of the Republic, and other veterans groups. It includes uniforms and uniform accessories, firearms and related accessories, edged weapons such as swords or bayonets, equipment carried or used by soldiers, items used to carry personal equipment such as knapsacks or ammunition and supply boxes, ammunition including cannon balls and bullets, field equipment, musical instruments like bugles and drums, and a large assortment of medals, ribbons, badges and awards. The vast majority of these artifacts were used by soldiers from Monmouth County.
Chinese export wares constitute one of the specialty collections of the Association. Items brought back to Monmouth County from China in 1797 by Charles Haight include a beau brummel or man’s dressing table that imitates a European prototype, a pair of large pistol-handled porcelain urns, and hand-painted wallpaper fragments depicting Chinese domestic scenes. In 1956, the Association received from the Winfield Foundation of New York 156 pieces of exceptional Chinese export porcelain made for European and American markets. The gift was part of the famed Helena Woolworth McCann Collection, and the Association ranked sixth out of the twenty-seven institutions in the United States and Canada that shared in its distribution. Of all the recipients, MCHA was the only organization that was not a long-established, leading art museum.
In October 1957, the Association received by bequest from John B. Morris, Jr., of Westport, CT, a very large collection of English pottery and porcelain dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Some 500 pieces remain in our collection today. Virtually all forms were represented in the bequest, such as platters, plates, cups and saucers, bowls, pitchers, tea pots, sugar bowls, cream pitchers, tea caddies, tankards, mugs, coffee pots, and miniatures. Types included salt-glazed wares; creamware; feldspathic stoneware; pearlware; copper, pink and silver luster wares; transfer-printed wares, etc. made in Staffordshire, Castleford, Worcester, Leeds, and elsewhere in England. Items from the Morris collection form the bulk of the ceramics on exhibit in four of the Association’s historic houses. The Morris Collection has been supplemented over the years with additional ceramics suitable for display in the houses. These wares included English and Dutch delft or tin-glazed earthenware, English salt-glazed stoneware, English creamware, etc. English wares were exported in large quantity to America, and are therefore very appropriate for inclusion in its interpreted interior spaces.
Folk art is extensively represented in the Association’s collection. In addition to many of its paintings, portraits and drawings that fall into this category, two exceptional items are a female figure cigar store Indian attributed to noted carver Samuel A. Robb of New York City that retains early paint, and a fully detailed horse and sulky weathervane made of cast iron, molded copper and tin by J. W. Fisk Iron Works, also of New York. Other folk art items include trade signs, decoys, hat and band boxes, painted furniture, locally made baskets, and many other items of wrought iron or wood that the makers have ornamented beyond the necessity of ordinary household objects.
Things made especially for children in the Association’s collection include small-scale 18th and 19th century furniture such as training chairs, high chairs, cradles, tables and chairs, plus sleds, small sleighs, wagons, carriages and rocking horses. Every imaginable type of toy ranging in date from the 18th century to about 1950 includes dolls, games, puzzles, doll houses and furniture, blocks, paper dolls, toy trains, sports equipment, miniature tea sets, tin toys, toy farm and household implements, and school paraphernalia, to name just a few of the larger categories. Items made by New Jersey children include a large collection of cyphering books, some of which are fully illustrated.
With its longstanding emphasis on furnished interpreted spaces in three houses and a tavern dating from the 18th century, the Association has been aggressive in collecting household items suitable for display in them. A full range of such artifacts make the interpreted spaces come alive for visitors, and includes table wares of all sorts, wrought iron kitchen and fireplace utensils, cast iron pots, andirons, wooden dough boxes and keelers, a wide range of lighting devices and candlesticks, knives and forks, pewter spoons, table and serving ceramics such as tin-glazed earthenware from England and the Netherlands as well as American redware plates and platters, pewter serving pieces and plates, personal care items found in bedrooms, storage boxes and trunks, and authentic early bar utensils and liquor bottles. The Association has extended its interest in such collectibles through 19th and 20th century periods as well. Most recently, curatorial staff members have sought to expand holdings in ordinary items that date from the 1920s to the 1950s.
From the earliest years of settlement to the mid-20th century, agriculture served as a principal source of livelihood in Monmouth County. So naturally, the Association’s collection contains many 19th and 20th century items that pertain to farming, such as plows, farmyard implements including forks and rakes and shovels, orchard ladders, product crates and barrels and labels, canning jars and milk bottles, and patented labor-saving inventions, as well as more specialized items like cranberry scoops, clam baskets, bee skeps, animal yokes for cows and pigs, grinding wheels, egg sorters and crates, patent models for farming equipment, asparagus bunchers, and more. Much of this large, diverse collection was featured in a major exhibition at our Freehold museum entitled “Farm: Agriculture in Monmouth County, 1600 – 2013” that opened in November 2013.
Our dual role as a county history organization in addition to a major regional decorative and fine arts museum means that the Association’s collection extends to ephemera and objects pertaining to more localized aspects of life in the area, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. Jersey Shore tourist souvenirs, Asbury Park baby parade trophies, agricultural fair prizes, shore boardwalk wicker push carts, an early printing press from the Monmouth Democrat, miniature carpet looms from a Freehold manufacturer, 1960s desks and furnishings from a now-defunct local private academy, commemorative plates and other items from social and community organizations or memorializing major events, political ephemera, advertising signs from businesses and manufacturers – all illustrate features of daily life and commerce in Monmouth County.