Robert and Maria Bartow had a house to furnish.
In 1842, when the couple moved into their brand-new residence on Robert Bartow’s ancestral Pelham Bay estate, they had probably purchased some furnishings for the superb Greek Revival interiors from shops in New York City. A house needs many things, and it is tempting to picture Mr. and Mrs. Bartow selecting carpets, draperies, furniture, and decorative objects. Did they always agree? We will probably never know. In any case, the only documentation that remains of the family’s furniture is the simple list of items enumerated on Mrs. Bartow’s estate inventory dated July 21, 1881. So, it is up to us to imagine how the mansion was originally furnished, and we are constantly trying to better interpret the period rooms.
A few months ago, David M. Goldman generously gave us a pair of gilded pier mirrors bearing the label of the New York maker Hosea Dugliss (1793–1867) and dating to about 1835–45, during which time the Bartow mansion was being completed. The mirrors reflect the most advanced design trends of the day, adding elements of the imminent Rococo Revival period to the classical aesthetic that had been popular for many years. Bartow-Pell Curatorial Committee Chair and decorative arts expert Carswell Rush Berlin notes that this transitional style can be seen in the C-scrolled corners of our mirrors as well as in other contemporary sources, such as the lavish curvilinear embellishments on chairs in Furniture with Candelabra and Interior Decoration (1838) by the British designer Richard Bridgens (1785–1846). These handsome mirrors now hang in the north parlor.
Bartow-Pell’s mirrors are very similar to a labeled pier mirror in the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute that was made by Dugliss’s contemporary and competitor Isaac Platt (1793–1875). These designs also relate to two examples in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that are attributed to Platt. Dugliss and Platt—whose shops were just a few blocks apart—were among the looking glass and frame makers and gilders working during the first half of the 19th century in what is today lower Manhattan. In fact, Carswell Berlin has found that both mirror makers and andiron makers seem to have gravitated to the area between Park Row and the East River.
Who was Hosea Dugliss and what do we know about him? Dugliss was born on Christmas Day 1793, in Birmingham, England, which was a well-known metalwork center. He first appears in New York City directories in 1820 at 5 Park Row, where it splits off from Broadway south of City Hall. By 1825, he was listed in a “looking glass store” at number 11 Park Row. (It should be noted that Park Row as it appears in the city directories and Chatham Row as it appears on Dugliss’s label are one and the same street.) He remained at this address for the remainder of his career (until about 1850). By 1854, he is listed only at his home address, 232 East Broadway, as “late [recent] looking glass.” (As a “manufacturer” of looking glasses, Dugliss also made frames.)
The British-born Dugliss joined a number of ambitious émigré craftsmen in 19th-century New York City, where he became a very successful entrepreneur with a good head for business. In fact, his moneymaking ventures went well beyond the manufacture of looking glasses and frames. Like some other merchants with spare capital—such as the furniture-maker Duncan Phyfe—Dugliss was able to invest substantially in real estate. One of his properties was a six-story building on the corner of Ann Street and Theatre Alley, which in 1836 housed a couple of booksellers, a bindery, a tailor, a print colorer, a jeweler, and a printer. An article published on November 12, 1836, in Horace Greeley’s weekly journal the New-Yorker (not to be confused with today’s New Yorker magazine) names Dugliss as the owner and reports the details of a damaging fire in the building (which was attributed to a furnace in the fifth-floor bindery). In the 1860 census (when he was 66 years old), his profession is given as “gentleman” (a man of good breeding with no occupation), and the value of his real estate was $10,000. At the height of his career, and as proof of his hard-earned standing in society, Dugliss commissioned Samuel Lovett Waldo (1783–1861)—whose work included many prominent sitters—to paint his portrait.
Hosea Dugliss married Mary Ann Silvester in April 1828 at the Vandewater Street Church (Presbyterian) in New York City (she was apparently his second wife), and they became the parents of a large family of children. Mary Ann was born in New York in 1808 and died in 1864. Hosea died a few years later at the age of 73 and was buried on April 30, 1867, in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
As a historic house, Bartow-Pell is always working to refine the museum’s collection and to acquire objects that improve our interpretation. Now, Hosea Dugliss’s pier mirrors add a new page to the story.
Margaret Highland, BPMM Historian