Ask About Antiques/Dr. Wallace Nutting - Not An Artist But A Lover Of The Beautiful

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.


Wallace Nutting was born in Rockbottom, Massachusetts, on Sunday, November 17, 1861. He was the second child to Albion and Elizabeth Nutting. He had a sister, Edith, who was two years older than he.

His father was a volunteer from Massachusetts Thirty-Ninth Regiment Infantry, and mustered on August 18, 1862, for a three-year hitch when Wallace was nine months old. He fought in Virginia and on October 14, 1864, died in Washington, DC, in service to his country. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His mother was of solid New Hampshire stock. In 1865, after the death of Wallace’s father, and the house he built burned, she moved the family North to Maine to live with her brother.

Wallace started school at age four. At age eleven he attended a private High School and at age twelve was at Augusta (Maine) High School. For three years he worked clerking and keeping books. He entered Phillips Exeter Academy and, in 1883, continued his studies at Harvard University, Hartford Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary. Whitman College conferred Pastor Nutting with a Doctor of Divinity in 1893. In 1938 he was honored with a Doctor of Humanities from Washington and Jefferson College.

Being a Congregational Minister was a way of life. On June 5, 1888 he married Mariet Griswold whose birthplace was Buckland, Massachusetts. They had no children. Wallace Nutting was forced to retire from the pulpit at age forty-three because of poor health. It was the greatest sorrow of his life he said. This becomes evident throughout his life and work. Some of his pictures can be found with scriptural titles. They obviously had a significant meaning to him.

Wallace Nutting started taking pictures in 1899 while on long bicycle rides in the countryside. In 1904 he opened the Wallace Nutting Art Prints Studio on East 23rd Street in New York. After a year he moved his business to a farm in Southbury, CT. In 1912 he moved the photography studio to Framingham, Massachusetts. In the peak of his business he employed about two hundred colorists, only a few of whom were authorized to title and sign his photographs. In fact, Wallace Nutting signed very few of the pictures he sold.

His interest in publishing blossomed when he moved to Framingham, MA. Here also, around 1917, he started to reproduce antique furniture. He listed his first book published as “Windsor Chairs, 1917”, however, his rarest publication, Old New England Pictures is copyrighted 1913.

Wallace Nutting’s mission in making reproduction furniture was to produce the best possible forms of early furniture in the finest manner. His furniture enterprise, by his own admission, lost over $100,000. The furniture he made was so correct in the old manner that on occasion unscrupulous people would artificially age his furniture and sell it as ‘period’ for a hundred times the purchase price. The early furniture was marked with a paper tag that would either fall off or be intentionally removed. In 1922 he sold his photography and furniture business and retired. After two years, seeing the decline of quality in production and the demise of his good name, Wallace Nutting exercised his rights to buy back both businesses to protect the public and his own name. The money needed was realized from the sale of his collection of five antique houses and their contents.

In the 1920s he authored the first edition States Beautiful series. He wrote and illustrated ten books describing his travels to eight states and two foreign countries. He also authored several books on period furniture. He traveled extensively to take pictures, to buy period furniture and to lecture on old American houses.

Wallace Nutting died at his home at 24 Vernon St., Framingham, MA on Saturday, July 19, 1941, at age 79. Today Nutting’s colorized prints and furniture are highly prized by collectors. His prints are especially prized for the insights to the past that they reveal. He was a minister who was reluctant to call himself an artist, but through his colorful hand tinted photographs he taught us all an appreciation of the beautiful. He was truly a remarkable American whose collectable works of art command premium prices today.

Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at buddm4cnsl@comcast.net.