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Furnishing a Bedchamber: The Objects

During our interpretive period of the Madisons’ retirement era, John Payne Todd, Dolley Madison’s son from her first marriage, maintained a bedchamber at Montpelier. Previously referred to as “the small bedchamber,” this space has now been furnished and interpreted as Payne’s bedroom and has been opened to visitors since January 2018.

With a wealth of research provided by former Director of Museum Programs, Meg Kennedy, former curator Teresa Teixeira utilized a range of source material to assist her in devising his bedchamber. “Furnishing a Bedchamber: The Objects” delves into the research and history of a few of the objects on display in this room.

To read how furniture, textiles, and props were chosen for John Payne Todd’s room, visit our Project Page, Furnishing the room of John Payne Todd.

Eros, the Loyal Son

The mantle in John Payne Todd’s bedchamber is deep and therefore an appropriate location for a clock. The clock installed on the mantel is ormolu or gilded bronze. The gilding process involved mixing powdered gold with mercury, painting the mixture onto the object, and then firing it in a kiln to evaporate the mercury. The 1852 inventory and appraisal of John Payne Todd’s estate lists a metal clock valued at $10.00.[1]

The Eros clock at Montpelier, LMF2009.7.16 (L) and one of two Delaunoy clocks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (R).

The clock’s classical features emphasize the significant cultural role of enlightenment symbolism in early-nineteenth-century décor. A gilt Eros, son of Aphrodite, kneels atop the clock. The faceplate of the clock reads, Delaunoy [FC]er Eleve de Berguet, indicating the maker of the works. Delaunoy was a student of Berguet, a well-known French clockmaker who worked with Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon.

Two other clocks by the same maker are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.256.4 and 07.225.510.690.)[/vc_column_text]

Argand’s Novel Device

No physical evidence was found for permanently installed light fixtures; as such, we have installed a pair of argand lamps on the mantle. We have compelling documentary evidence regarding the use of argand lamps at Montpelier during Madison’s lifetime. In November 1784, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison from Paris about Argand’s novel device: “There is a new lamp invented here lately which with a very small consumption of oil (of olives) is thought to give a light equal to six or eight candles. The wick is hollow in the middle in the form of a hollow cylinder, & it permits the air to pass up thro’ it. It requires no snuffing. They make shade candlesticks of them at two guineas price, which are excellent for reading & are much used by studious men.[1]

Madison responded the following April, declaring, “I am so pleased with the new invented lamp that I shall not grudge two guineas for one of them[2].” In 1786 Jefferson purchased three “plated reading lamps” in London, possibly manufactured by Birmingham silver manufacturer Matthew Boulton, who partnered with Argand to manufacture his lamps using Sheffield plate. Jefferson sent one of these lamps—which still survives—to Charles Thomson. It is unclear if he also sent a lamp to his friend at Montpelier, but Madison’s earlier letter indicates that he was interested in the technology.

One of two Argand lamps on display in John Payne Todd’s bedchamber, NT 75.24.1-2. 

Argand-style lamps were also called “patent lamps” and they often appear under that name in inventories and letters. James Madison, Sr.’s 1802 inventory includes “1 Patent Lamp.”  After the 1814 fire, Dolley Madison hoped to acquire patent lamps for the President’s House. When a box of “French lamps” were mistakenly delivered to Christopher Hughes, Dolley wrote to Edward Coles, “I am in hopes that the Lamps Mr Hughs speaks of are for me, as I repeatedly wrote to Mr. Lee for such. If you can obtain them, therefore I shall be greatly accommodated.”  While these lamps would have furnished the home in Washington, D.C., the Madisons undoubtedly used Argand lamps at Montpelier as well. Such lamps were often sold in pairs and placed on either side of a mantelpiece in a parlor or dining room.

[1] Inventory and appraisal of John Payne Todd’s Estate, September 28, 1852, Will Book 12:18-20 and loose papers, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Orange County, Virginia.

[2] Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, November 11, 1784, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC., MRD-S 10443

[3] James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, April 27, 1785, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC., MRD-S 10560