Elizabeth Whiting Phelps’ Engraved “Button Box”


Nestled in the Georgian style window seat in the northeast bedchamber, Elizabeth Whiting “Betsy” Phelps’ “button box,” similar to a sewing kit, is out on display. It was made between 1750 and 1800 and gifted to Elizabeth sometime before she married Dan Huntington in 1801. Elizabeth participated in the local sewing society and also taught  the practical skill to her daughters. As she mentions in a letter to her son Edward in 1841, “Bethia, who is sewing at my side, sends her love to you…” Today, visitors can see a sampler sewn by Bethia on display in the house.

The small wooden box is made in the Shaker style which can be recognized by the single strips of wood with tapered ends that form the sides of the cover and box. The Shaker community emigrated to North America in the 1770s and carried their tenets of humility and honesty into their craftsmanship. They developed a style that did not “deceive” through ornamentation and veneers, but revealed nails, seams, and sites of attachment with a focus on proportion and simplicity. 

It is likely the Huntington family continued to use the button box for several succeeding generations. Hanging out from the lid, two spools connect to silk thread stored inside. Engraving on the spools indicate that the thread sourced from Belding Corticelli Richardson, a popular high-quality manufacturing company whose precursors held an early factory in Northampton, MA, but did not establish this title until the 1920s. Such personalized objects would have held a particular value within the family collections.


“Belding Brothers & Company, Silk Manufacturers — Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library.” Accessed July 1, 2019, https://www.belding.michlibrary.org/about-us/our-history/belding-brothers-company-silk-manufacturers.html.

Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington, “Elizabeth Huntington to Frederic Dan Huntington, Mar. 29th, 1845,” Global Valley, accessed July 2, 2019, https://www.ats.amherst.edu/globalvalley/items/show/79.

Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington, “Elizabeth Huntington to Edward Huntington, Dec. 13th, 1841,” Global Valley, accessed July 2, 2019, https://www.ats.amherst.edu/globalvalley/items/show/34.

Vincent, Author: Nicholas C. “Shaker Furniture | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed June 30, 2019. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shak/hd_shak.htm.