Completed in 1854, after two years of construction, the Coffin School is an impressive example of Greek Revival-style architecture. Refurbished in the 1980’s, the former school house retains its original details and now houses a spacious lecture/concert hall and exhibition galleries.
The Coffin School collection includes early nineteenth-century portraits of prominent Nantucketers and works illustrating the history of the school. Paintings by accomplished island artist, Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin, a student of renowned American painter Thomas Eakins, complement this collection. Additionally, the Egan Maritime Foundation’s collection of paintings by Rodney J. K. Charman (b.1944) records Nantucket’s rich maritime history from its beginnings in the seventeenth century through the end of the nineteenth century. Selections from both collections are exhibited periodically in the main hall.
The Coffin School
Collection of the Nantucket Historical Association
The Coffin School, ca. 1870
Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin’s Lancasterian School was founded in 1827, at the height of Nantucket’s whaling era, by English Baronet Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin, a descendant of Tristram Coffin, one of the Island’s original settlers.
First situated on Fair Street, a new school was built in its present location on Winter Street after the Great Fire of 1846. In addition to “giving a good English education to youth who are descendants of late Tristram Coffin” (which included almost every child on Nantucket), the school emphasized nautical skills. For that purpose, the Admiral purchased the first training ship in America — the Clio, an 87-foot brig that took Nantucket boys as far as the coast of Brazil.
Around the end of the nineteenth century, the school became a center of manual training and home economics for the Nantucket Public Schools. In recent decades, the school has housed various non-profit organizations and is now the home of the Egan Maritime Foundation.
Sir Isaac Coffin
Collection of the Egan Maritime Foundation
Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin,
oil on canvas, 1808,
by Sir William Beechey