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Sign of the Black Horse
about 1771
Original Owner:Originally owned by Ambrose Kirtland , American, 1737 - 1816
Paint on pine board, possibly oak, iron hardware
Primary Dimensions (height x width including hardware): 30 1/4 x 29 3/4in. (76.8 x 75.6cm) Other (height x width of sign only): 47 x 28 3/4in. (119.4 x 73cm)
Credit Line: Collection of Morgan B. Brainard. Gift of Mrs. Morgan B. Brainard
Gallery Copy: Like the sign for Bull’s Inn (1961.63.9), this one displays the simple black horse design popular in the mid-18th century. The earliest New England signs did not use the word “inn” or “tavern,” but some, like this one, included the word “Entertainment,” which at the time meant “hospitable provision for the wants of a guest.” Colonial legislation required that each town provide entertainment for travelers and their horses.
Description: Images: on both sides: profile of riderless black horse, centered on board; white ground; no underlying images. Construction notes: Single board; double, molded horizontal rails; turned posts. Board is set vertically and hand-sawn at top and bottom to create decorative pediment and skirt profiles; board is held by nails between paired, molded rails. Each rail is tenoned into the turned posts and secured by two pins at each joint. Surface notes: The figure of the horse is slightly elevated, but no defining knife cuts are visible, indicating that the relief results from weathering of the background. The lettering, in contrast, is flush with the surface, suggesting that it was added after the background had been substantially weathered. The crowded placement of the lettering also supports the theory that it is a later insertion. The horse appears to have been laid out from a template, while the lettering is painted within scribed guidelines; the "I" in "Entertainment" is, anomalously, a capital with a dot above it.
Historical Note: Original location. Kirtland's house still stands on North Cove at Old Saybrook Point and has been extensively documented. Deed research supports local tradition that it was built by John Burrows between 1712 and 1759. Kirtland acquired the property in 1771, and deeded it in 1794 to his son Daniel (1766-1829). It was seaport tavern, oriented to water traffic but not convenient to any major roads; while many similarly situated inns declined in the nineteenth century, this one experienced a revival of business, becoming a profitable transfer point between steamboats landing at the wharf to its rear and the Connecticut Valley Railway.
Inscription: On side 1: below image "EntertaInment"; on skirt, "177__"; on side 2 (repainted): below image, "EntertaInment"; on skirt, "17".
Object Number: 1961.63.8
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