Wallace Nutting – Photographer, Entrepreneur (House Mover)
"America with its abundant materials everywhere for dwellings that might outlast the ages will fail disgracefully unless she can learn that the monuments which are nearer than any other to feeding the heart and enshrining history are old dwellings." – Wallace Nutting
Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) whose collectable hand tinted prints grace many a flea market and auction house throughout America purchased a farm in City Mills/Norfolk, MA in 1878. Unfortunately the farm turned out not to be a success and Mr. Nutting left Norfolk after owning it for only a year. There are also stories however that he purchased sevral Norfolk dwellings due to their outstanding architecture, dis-assembled them and moved them to Connecticut where apparently they may have been rebuilt..
Nutting has been dubbed the “Martha Stewart of 1915” for his promotion of whole-house design and country living and his ability to build a multifaceted business upon his name. He was a Congregational minister who stepped down from the pulpit in 1904 suffering from neurasthenia, a Victorian condition caused by the stress of modern life – sound familiar to today's residents of Norfolk as well doesn't it!? He began taking photographs as a kind of therapy and transformed his new hobby into a second career. He hired a staff of women to hand-platinum color tint his nostalgic photographic prints that depict domestic colonial home interiors, often featuring vignettes of women by the hearth or at work, as well as idyllic pastoral landscapes scenes of the New England countryside.
In 1912, Nutting moved to a larger house in Framingham, MA and began buying historic structures to use as settings for his photographs, restoring them and decorating them with period furnishings. To promote sales of his photographs and furniture, Nutting purchased and restored five colonial buildings in Connecticut and Massachusetts that he advertised as “The Wallace Nutting Chain of Colonial Picture Houses.” The homes provided settings for many of his photographs as well as sales rooms demonstrating the beauty of decorating a home with his reproduction rugs, chairs, desks, chests, and other objects.
By 1915, he had a catalog of 1000 images for sale out of a total of 50,000 negatives. By the 1920s, Wallace Nutting was both a household name and a trademarked brand. He understood America's early consumer culture and the combined power of photography, writing, and personal promotion – copyrighting over 800 photos with the Library of Congress. Nutting sold more than five million photographs through catalogue sales, traveling salesmen, and department stores, making over $1000 per day. He promoted them by writing books, giving speeches, and hiring a Madison Avenue advertising agency.
He began collecting American antiques for the homes and bought pieces from the 17th century including a carved 1685 Sunflower chest in oak, pine, and maple which he found in Wethersfield, CT. He also bought 18th century pieces and amassed a huge collection of chests of drawers, Windsor chairs, cupboards, boxes, bookcases, cabinets, and more. He recognized the potential for producing copies of his unique American antiques.
In 1917, Wallace Nutting opened a furniture factory in Saugus, MA to make reproductions of his antiques collection. He started with Windsor chairs and sold them by the thousands, expensive even in their day. These, too, were sold by catalogue. In addition, he purchased over 600 period domestic utensils made of wood, pewter, and wrought iron. In 1925, he sold his collection of American antiques for $200,000 to J. P. Morgan Jr., who donated it to his hometown museum Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.
In 1928, Nutting wrote the book "Furniture Treasury" illustrated with pictures of his own collection as well as other's, the first widely circulated reference book on American antiques. Nutting's business faltered during the Depression, and by 1932 the market for reproductions had plummeted. He donated his furniture, tools, and plans to Berea College in Kentucky upon his wife's death.
Wallace Nutting was ingenious about promoting his various products, building brand recognition and advertising the idea of “Old America” to a modern audience.