Philip D Zimmerman Visiting Scholar of History
I am a museum and decorative arts consultant, author, researcher, and teacher. My expertise lies in early American decorative arts, material culture, and related areas. In addition to work-related activities, I served as a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission from 2016 to 2023 and was a trustee of Preservation Pennsylvania for many years until 2020.
In 1992, I left full-time museum employment to start my own museum and decorative arts consulting business. The decades since have given me an extraordinary opportunity to engage in several long-term museum projects that drew on and enhanced my museum experiences. My first major client was the New-York Historical Society for whom I worked almost five years as it worked through and out of near bankruptcy and dissolution. While there I served as the institution’s representative to the New York State Attorney General’s Office and, with their approval, negotiated the first “pre-empt” auction of Society collections to occur in this country. As part of the financial stabilization plan, I chaired the staff committee charged with identifying objects valued at about $20 million to be deaccessioned and sold to establish an endowment for care of collections. As the Society slowly worked through its financial difficulties, I also wrote the design concept for visible storage and on-line access for all of that extraordinary institution’s museum collections.
The years since have included several large museum collection-based research projects and many smaller projects and consultancies. I added part-time teaching: American furniture courses in the New York University Appraisal Studies Program (1997-2017) and a material culture introductory course in the Bard Graduate Center for Study of the Decorative Arts (1996-2004). From 2012 to 2018, I taught “Museum Mysteries” courses through the Phillips Museum at Franklin & Marshall College, in addition to consulting.
Another aspect of my consultancies has been buying, selling, brokering, and appraising American furniture and decorative arts. Much of this activity has been tied to my research in one way or another, which has greatly enhanced its interest to me.
Before striking out on my own, I was Senior Curator and Head of the Museum Division at the Winterthur Museum, 1986 to 1991. My duties included management of the curatorial and conservation departments, Advanced Studies for a few years, and service as chair of the Staff Research Committee for all five years. I also chaired the exhibition team charged with developing Winterthur’s first gallery-type installation of permanent collections in a new exhibition building. For that effort, Winterthur received the largest NEH grant awarded that year.
From 1983 to 1986, I was executive director of the Historical Society of York County. Earlier, I was curator and associate curator at the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, N.H. In both places, I was deeply involved with substantial building projects, as I was at Winterthur.
Ph.D., American and New England Studies Program, Boston University, 1985.
M.A., Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, University of Delaware, 1980.
Attingham Summer School, 1977.
B.A., cum laude, major in philosophy, Yale University, 1972.
My current work lies in two long-standing areas of interest. One--early American furniture--has been constant throughout my career. I have a book nearing completion on the furniture and other collections of two important houses (1771 and 1774) owned by the Historic Odessa Foundation in Odessa, Delaware. Each house retains many original furnishings and was actively preserved at a very early date. The resulting connections between objects and interpretive possibilities are extraordinary and have already spawned several smaller publications. Other furniture topics, notably the work of William Savery of Philadelphia, occupy my time and energy.
The other area of interest lies in the extraordinary Indian figurehead carved by William Rush of Philadelphia for the William Penn, built in 1790. This figurehead, still in private hands, is the earliest and most important figurehead by Rush. Moreover, it is among the richest documents of late 18th century dress of Eastern Woodland Indians to survive.
BOOKS AND CATALOGUES
A Storied Past: Collections of Historic Odessa (Odessa, DE: Historic Odessa Foundation, 2023).
Harmony in Wood: Furniture of the Harmony Society (Ambridge, Penn.: Harmonie Associates, 2010).
Delaware Clocks (Dover, Del.: Biggs Museum, 2006).
American Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts from the Watson Collection (Columbus, Ga.: Columbus Museum, 2004).
The Sewell C. Biggs Collection of American Art: A Catalogue, 2 vols. (Dover, Del.: Biggs Museum, 2002), vol. 1, Furniture section and ceramics entries, pp. 13-138, 212-17, 221.
Lions & Eagles & Bulls: Early American Tavern and Inn Signs from The Connecticut Historical Society, co-author, ed. Susan P. Schoelwer, 22-35, 182-242 (Hartford, Conn.: Connecticut Historical Society in Association with Princeton University Press, 2000).
Cadwalader Study, with Mark Anderson and Gregory Landrey (Winterthur, Del.: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1995).
Seeing Things Differently (Winterthur, Del.: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1992).
Turn of the Century Glass: The Murray Collection of Glass, intro. Paul V. Gardner (Manchester, NH: The Currier Gallery of Art, 1983).
New England Meeting House and Church: 1630-1850, with Peter Benes (Boston: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife by the Currier Gallery of Art and Boston University, 1979).
“The Documented Chairs of William Savery,” American Furniture 2021/2022 (Milwaukee, WI: The Chipstone Foundation, 2022), pp. 21-51.
“Finding Early Swedish-American Furniture,” The Timen Stiddem Society Newsletter 73 (Winter/Spring 2020):14-16.
“A Beekman Legacy: 1819 French Tapestry Chairs by John Banks of New York,” American Furniture 2019, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2019), pp. 156-213.
“Early Eighteenth-Century Swedish-American Furniture from Wilmington, Delaware,” American Furniture 2019, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2019), pp. 214-233.
“Dating William Savery’s Furniture Labels and Implications for Furniture History,” American Furniture 2018, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2018), pp. 193-214.
“Breaking the Rules: Philadelphia Blockfront and Bombé Furniture,” Antiques and Fine Arts 18, no. 2 (Summer 2019): 96-103.
“Innovation in the Janvier Furniture Shop of Odessa, Delaware, 1770-1810,” American Furniture 2017, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2017), pp. 144-64.
“Dating Oxbow Furniture,” Antiques and Fine Arts 16, no. 3 (Autumn 2017): 130-137.
“Boston or New York? Revisiting the Apthorp-Family and Related Sets of Queen Anne Chairs,” in New Perspectives on Boston Furniture, 1630-1860, ed. Brock Jobe and Gerald W.R. Ward (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts), in publication.
“Strategies for Recognizing English or American Furniture,” Antiques 183, no. 3 (May/June 2016): 110-13.
“Early Worship in Donegal Presbyterian Church,” Journal of Lancaster County’s Historical Society 117, no. 1 (Winter 2016): 2-25.
“Distinguishing American from English Furniture by Wood Use,” Regional Furniture (2015): 15-23.
“The Donegal Presbyterian Meetinghouse,” Journal of Lancaster County’s Historical Society 115, no. 4 (Summer 2014): 114-31.
Loan Show Exhibit: “Boston or New York: Revisiting the Apthorp Family and Related Sets of Queen Anne Chairs,” Bernard & S. Dean Levy, Inc., January 20-February 3, 2014.
“The Harmony Society and Their Furniture,” Antiques and Fine Art Magazine 11, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 136-41.
“Notes on the Furniture at Boscobel,” Antiques 177, no. 3 (April/May 2010): 154-61.
“The ‘Boston Chairs’ of Mid-Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia,” in American Furniture 2009, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2009), 140- 58.
“Early American Furniture Makers’ Marks,” in American Furniture 2007, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2007), pp. 132-67.
“Living with Antiques: Charming Forge Mansion near Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania,” Antiques 172, no. 3 (September 2007), 94-103.
“Mystery Solved: An Early Philadelphia Federal Side Chair,” Antiques 171, no. 5 (May 2007): 118-25.
“A Grecian Card Table by William Fisk and Thomas Wightman of Boston,” with David Jorgensen, Antiques 169, no. 5 (May 2006): 146-51.
“Living with Antiques: The Watson House and Collection,” Antiques 169, no. 1 (January 2006): 194-203.
“New York Card Tables, 1800-1825,” in American Furniture 2005, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Chipstone Foundation, 2005), pp. 119-45.
“Method in Early American Furniture Identification” in Thomas P. Kugelman and Alice K. Kugelman with Robert Lionetti, Connecticut Valley Furniture: Eliphalet Chapin and His Contemporaries, 1750-1800 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society Museum, 2005), pp. 477-87.
“Early American Furniture in the New Castle Historical Society,” Antiques 167, no. 5 (May 2005): 130-41.
“The Architectural Furniture of Duncan Phyfe, 1830-1845” and catalogue entries, The Richard and Beverly Kelly Collection (Portsmouth, N.H., Northeast Auctions, 2005).
“Congregational Churches” in The Encyclopedia of New England Culture, ed. Burt Feintuch and David H. Watters (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 98-99.
“Early American Tables and Other Furniture at Stenton,” Antiques 165, no. 5 (May 2004): 102-109.
“Forward,” Worlds of Jacob Eichholtz (Lancaster County Historical Society, 2003), pp. xi-xiii.
“Eighteenth-century Chairs at Stenton,” Antiques 163, no. 5 (May 2003): 122-29.
American Art in the Columbus Museum: Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts, ed. Charles T. Butler (Columbus, Ga.: The Columbus Museum, 2003), nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13.
“The American Sofa Table,” in Country Houses and Collections: An Anthology, ed. Geoffrey Beard, 108-10 (N.p.: Attingham Trust, 2002).
“Mahantongo Valley Blanket Chests,” Antiques 162, no. 4 (October 2002): 160-69.
“Eighteenth-century Philadelphia Case Furniture at Stenton,” Antiques 161, no. 5 (May 2002): 94-101.
“Queen Anne and Chippendale Chairs in Delaware,” Antiques 160, no. 3 (September 2001): 330-39.
“Delaware River Valley Chests of Drawers, 1725-1800,” Antiques 159, no. 5 (May 2001): 788-95.
“Early Connecticut Tavern Signs in the Connecticut Historical Society,” Antiques 158, no. 6 (December 2000): 892-99.
“Dating Dunlap-Style Side Chairs,” Antiques 157, no. 5 (May 2000): 796-803.
“The American Sofa Table,” Antiques 155, no. 5 (May 1999): 744-53.
“William Savery,” in American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), vol. 19, pp. 320-21.
“Labeled Randolph Chairs Rediscovered,” American Furniture 1998, ed. Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Chipstone, 1998), pp. 81-98.
“Truth or Consequences: Restoration of Winterthur's Van Pelt High Chest,” Winterthur Portfolio 33, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 59-74.
“The Stratford Bureau Table: A Re-examination,” Antiques 153, no. 5 (May 1998): 740-45.
“The Art and Science of Furniture Connoisseurship,” Antiques 152, no. 1 (July 1997): 96-103.
“The Livingston Family's Best New York Federal Furniture,” Antiques 151, no. 5 (May 1997): 716-23.
“Philadelphia Queen Anne Chairs in the Collections of Wright's Ferry Mansion,” Antiques 149, no. 5 (May 1996): 736-45.
“Financial Stabilization and Deaccessioning at The New-York Historical Society: Background Information,” in The Sourcebook: Museums Educating for the Future, 389-95 (American Association of Museums Annual Meeting, May 21-25, 1995).
“An Important Desk by Richard Walker of Boston,” with Frank M. Levy, Antiques 147, no. 3 (March 1995): 436-41.
“Two Massachusetts Bombé Desk-and-Bookcases,” with Michael S. Podmaniczky, Antiques 145, no. 5 (May 1994): 724-31.
“History Repeats Itself: Another Desk Used by Washington to Sign André's Death Warrant,” Maine Antiques Digest 21, no. 11 (November 1993): 4-D.
“Change and Persistence in Revolutionary America: American Chippendale” and selected catalogue entries in American Furniture with Related Decorative Arts, 1660-1830: The Milwaukee Art Museum and the Layton Art Collection, ed. Gerald W. R. Ward (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1991), pp. 153-58, cat. nos. 59-70, 87-89.
“Priorities in Gilding Conservation from a Curatorial Perspective” in Gilded Wood: Conservation and History, ed. Deborah Bigelow, et al. (Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press, 1991), pp. 231-37.
“Regionalism in American Furniture Studies,” in Perspectives on American Furniture, ed. Gerald W. R. Ward (New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1988), pp 11-38.
"Ecclesiastical Architecture in the Reformed Tradition in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, 1790-1860" (Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1985).
“Workmanship as Evidence: A Model for Object Study,” Winterthur Portfolio 16, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 283-307.
The Lord's Supper in Early New England: The Setting and the Service,” in New England Meeting House and Church: 1630-1850, ed. Peter Benes, Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1979 (Boston: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife by Boston University, 1981), pp. 124-34.
“Furniture of the Monmouth County Historical Association,” with Charles T. Lyle, Antiques 117, no. 1 (January 1980): 186-205.
“A Methodological Study in the Identification of Some Important Philadelphia Chippendale Furniture.” In American Furniture and Its Makers, ed. Ian M. G. Quimby, Winterthur Portfolio 13 (Chicago: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum by the University of Chicago Press, 1979) pp. 193-208.
“Some Notes on Patterns of Farmwork in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Old-Time New England 68, nos. 3-4 (Winter-Spring 1978): 69-74.
Review of Donald L. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III, with an introduction by Dennis Carr, Claggett: Newport’s Illustrious Clockmakers. The New England Quarterly 93, no. 1 (March 2020), pp. 138-41.
Review of Kemble Widmer and Joyce King, In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould. West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 22, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2015): 94-96.
Review of Frank L. Hohmann III, et al., Timeless Masterpiece American Brass Dial Clocks. American Furniture 2009 (Milwaukee: Chipstone, 2009), pp. 169-73.
Review of Gretchen Townsend Buggeln, Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut’s Churches, 1790-1840. Public Historian 26, no. 3 (Summer 2004): 84-86.
Review of Bradford L. Rauschenberg and John Bivins, Jr., The Furniture of Charleston, 1680-1820. Winterthur Portfolio 38, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 257-63.
Review of David B. Warren, et al., American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Studies in the Decorative Arts 10, no. 1 (Fall-Winter 2002-2003): 168-71.
Review of Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680-1758 by Jack Lindsey, et al. American Furniture 2000 (Milwaukee: Chipstone, 2000), pp. 212-16.
Review of Galen Cranz, The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design. American Furniture 1999 (Milwaukee: Chipstone, 1999), pp. 288-93.
Review of Myrna Kaye, There's a Bed in the Piano: The Inside Story of the American Home. American Furniture 1999 (Milwaukee: Chipstone, 1999), pp. 288-93.
Review of Nancy Goyne Evans, American Windsor Furniture: Specialized Forms. Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 24, no. 1 (Summer 1998): 74-76.
Review of Nancy Goyne Evans, American Windsor Furniture. Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 23, no. 1 (Summer 1997): 105-8.
Review of Donald M. Herr, Pewter in Pennsylvania German Churches. Winterthur Portfolio 31, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 79-81.
Review of Philip Zea and Donald Dunlap, The Dunlap Cabinetmakers: A Tradition in Craftsmanship. American Furniture 1995 (Milwaukee: Chipstone, 1995), pp. 273-77.
Review of David L. Barquist, American Tables and Looking Glasses in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University. Winterthur Portfolio 27, no. 4 (Winter 1992): 293-95.
Review of Dell Upton, Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia. Winterthur Portfolio 23, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 81-82.
Review of Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, II, Late Colonial Period: The Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles. Winterthur Portfolio 21, no. 3-4 (Summer-Fall 1986): 307-308.
Review of Oswaldo Rodriques Roque, American Furniture at Chipstone. The Decorative Arts Newsletter 11, no. 3 (September 1985): 16-17.
Review of Patricia E. Kane, 300 Years of American Seating Furniture: Chairs and Beds from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University. The Decorative Arts Newsletter 4, no. 2 (Spring 1978): 8-9.
Review of Philadelphia Furniture and Its Makers ed. John J. Snyder. The Decorative Arts Newsletter 2, no. 1 (Winter 1976): 14-15.