Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Antebellum art

In the years before the Civil War, improvements in printing technology and expanding transportation networks made reproductions of fine art increasingly accessible to American consumers. At the same time, the rise of a growing middle class with an appetite for refinement made art increasingly attractive to American consumers. As a result, most antebellum Springfield homes boasted artistic imagery of some sort, usually in the form of transfer-printed earthenware or a print reproduction of a painting.

Original artwork was much less common within Springfield homes. When people did invest in a painting, it was almost always a portrait. In Colonial times only the wealthiest citizens could afford a portrait, but by the nineteenth century Springfield’s middle and upper classes were served by self-trained local and itinerant portrait artists who advertised “likenesses” at reasonable rates.

After 1845, Springfield portrait artists faced competition from photographers. Daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes were cheaper and faster to produce than painted portraits, and their images were more realistic. Like printed imagery, photographic likenesses were found in most antebellum Springfield homes.