Goods for Sale!

Cash, Credit, and Trade in Litchfield, 1790-1850

Sewing Case
Donor Unknown
Attributed to Erastus Lord

On April 16, 2010 the Litchfield Historical Society opened its latest exhibition Goods for Sale! Cash, Credit, and Trade in Litchfield, 1790-1850 with a members-only opening reception. The exhibit focused on Litchfield’s economic history during the first half of the nineteenth century. Litchfield’s prominence during the Revolutionary War and established position as the county seat created a flourishing community with an expanding and sophisticated population. Merchants from across Connecticut as well as cities such as New York, Boston, and London flocked to Litchfield to establish shops and businesses. High end furniture, clocks, jewelry, leather goods, musical instruments, and silver were all produced here and the town also attracted traveling artisans such as Ralph Earl and Anson Dickinson during this time period. In addition, prominent merchants imported European and West and East India goods directly to Litchfield. Local consumers were offered the same items that could be purchased in any major city in America.

Papier Mache Table
Attributed to the Litchfield Manufacturing Company
Gift of Mrs. Carlton A. MacDonald, Jr.
This growth, however, was not sustainable. In 1810, Litchfield was the fourth largest town in Connecticut but its population began to decline almost immediately. Communities like Torrington and Winsted became more attractive locations for the state’s growing industrialization efforts, especially after the railroad connected these towns to the larger cities of Waterbury and New Haven in 1849 and bypassed Litchfield. Business practices also began to change as specialized craftsmen or merchants dealing in foreign goods transformed into general goods store owners dealing in both locally made products and imported merchandise. Goods could now be moved more easily and things that had previously required the skill of a craftsman could be mass produced in a factory.

Label, Ream of Foolscap
Whiting, Childs and Co., Litchfield, CT 1835
Gift of James P. Woodruff
The exhibit explored Litchfield’s economic boom and discuss the reasons for the decline, as well as some later efforts to introduce industry into the area. Individual artisans and tradesmen will be highlighted in the exhibit and an array of goods produced or imported into the town will be on display. The practices of purchasing good on credit or through the barter of produce or services will also be featured in the show. Despite the increased sophistication of manufacturing practices and exchange of goods, many shop owners continued to follow these 18th century systems of payment.

The exhibit was on display from April 17 through November 27, 2011.