Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Wilson Room Collection, 1493, 1592-1908

Content Description

The Wilson Room Collection is comprised of furnishings, artwork and books, the bulk of which date to the Georgian and Victorian Eras.


Among the more interesting items in the Wilson Collection are two pieces of furniture which have unique historical developments. The first is a dumb-waiter, which according to the 1803 Cabinet Dictionary is "a useful piece of furniture, to serve in some respects the place of a waiter, whence it is so named." Characterized by its three circular trays, increasing in dimension from top to bottom and resting on tripod legs, the dumb-waiter was placed at the corner of a dining table, so as to provide easy access to the food once the servants or waiters had withdrawn. The collection's dumb-waiter (ca. 1870), has a new purpose now: holding smaller items from the Wilson Collection.

Slipper chairs, as we now refer to them, are chairs with high backs, short legs, and low seats. The history of the slipper chair varies according to its country of origin. In 16th century France, it was called a chauffeuse and used by mothers or nurses to care for small children. The low seat provided easy reach for items lying nearby. The English referred to it as a nursing chair in the mid-18th century. In America, the slipper chair was thought to have developed close to the floor so that ladies could more easily adjust their footwear. Another important feature of the slipper chair was its lack of arms, providing a lady, with her voluminous skirts, room to sit down.

The Wilsons bought both the dumbwaiter and slipper chairs in Victoria, British Columbia - one of their favorite shopping places. Twice a year they would go to Victoria, wandering in and out of the numerous antique stores on Fort Street hoping to find just the right treasure to add to their collection.


The Wilson Collection also contains both framed and unframed English art prints. More than 70 prints are framed and exhibited in the Wilson Room. Notable pieces are those by William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). The collection likewise includes a number of unframed prints, including works by Wheatley and Bartlett, along with additional Hogarth engravings.


The Poetical Works of Robert Southey and The Works of William Shakespeare are books in the Wilson Collection that have fore-edge paintings. Fore-edge painting was an almost exclusively English practice of painting a watercolor on the fore-edge of a book. Later, the edges were gilded; when the book was closed the painting did not show until the edges were fanned. This technique was also used to create double fore-edge paintings; a separate scene occured depending upon which direction the leaves were fanned. The scene found on Southey's book is called the "Isle of Wight."

The use of fore-edge painting originated in England during the 17th century and was revived in the latter half of the 18th century by Edwards of Halifax, an English family of bookbinders.

The Wilson Collection also contains a leaf, with colored woodcuts, from the Book of the World, (Libre Chronicarum). This 1493 incunabulum was a rare find that Mr. Wilson discovered buried in an antique store amidst a pile of papers.

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