Walking Through Time

The Milford Historical Society’s Native American Claude C. Coffin Collection


The storage closet in which a majority of the Claude C. Coffin collection is stored inside the Bryan-Downs house. Photo courtesy: Aidan Glass, May 8, 2021.

Aidan Glass

     The Milford Historical Society, a small museum consisting of three historical houses, is a local place where people can go to learn about very personal and Milford’s colonial history. However, the society also has access to large swaths of artifacts and collections, one of these collections being the Coffin collection. 

     The Coffin collection was the result of the passion of Claude C. Coffin, a man whose interest in Native American artifacts started at the age of 14, in 1900. Coffin was a machinist by trade, with the collection for which he is today known being more of a hobby or passion project. By the 1940s, Coffin had become more involved in the archaeological field. He wrote multiple articles for the Archaeological Society of Connecticut and took long detailed notes of his excavations, according to the Milford Historical Society. The collection was left to the Society two years prior to Coffin’s death in 1967 after a New Haven museum expressed their intentions to break up the collection and sell it. 

     The collection is reported to span approximately 4,000 artifacts and spans over 10,000 years of history, the Milford Historical Society explains. The collection exemplifies many different styles of tools, from large axes made of dense stone to fine cutting tools made of quartz. The collection also includes important examples of Native American pottery, displaying multiple different styles of pottery from this area. 

     The collection is partially exhibited in a room on the floor of the Bryan-Downs house, which is open to the public. Meanwhile, the remainder of the collection is stored in a closet on the top floor of the house. The artifacts originate mostly from Connecticut, specifically Milford. Those in the collection that were discovered in Milford and the surrounding area are given priority. They were the first to be digitized (the process of photographing and scanning any and all artifacts and documents), according to Chris Bishop, a member of the Board of Directors for the Milford Historical Society.

     The Milford Historical Society has had the collection for a number of years and has displayed it and cataloged it multiple times. Bishop reports the artifacts were first displayed in 1968, and the Coffin collection were displayed again in 1985 in the Bryan-Downs house.

     Bishop states, “The most recent inventory of the entire collection was begun in the late 1980s, though that inventory was never completed. It is possible that a complete inventory has never been done.”

     The collection is not restricted to just the Northeast, as there are a few artifacts that originate from California, Puerto Rico, Arizona, and Oregon.

     Parts of the collection are on display in the Bryan-Downs house. It can be viewed on Saturdays and Sundays, from one in the afternoon to four in the afternoon. The museum opens June 5 and closes October 3.