Latest Event Updates

Silver Sneak Peek

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As I’m sure you’ve heard, the All That Glitters Silver exhibit has been open at the Tinker Swiss Cottage since August 9. Curious as to what is on display in our red and yellow rooms? Here’s a sneak peek!!

The Manny Reaper

We know that John Manny created and produced a new harvester aptly named the Manny Reaper. Curious about this latest and greatest technological innovation in the farming community and its competition with McCormick? We have some answers for you!


John Manny’s new harvester even won many silver trophies. However, they do look a bit different from what we know as trophies today. Here’s a sneak peak at one of the many trophies on display:



The Cleaning Process

We’ve spent a lot of time this summer preparing the Tinker’s pieces for display. Curious as to how we polished these silver pieces or how to polish your own silver? We’ve got the yellow room set up to show you the stages of tarnish, how to shine them up, and what materials are best to use on your silver.

On top of our display, one of our staff members may be polishing up more pieces in the yellow room while you’re visiting. If you happen to catch us in there, feel free to stop and ask us about the piece we’re cleaning or to get more information about the cleaning process!



Personal Items

Of course the exhibit wouldn’t be quite the same without some of the Tinker’s personal items. In the red room you’ll find a lot of neat pieces the family used on a daily basis, such as ivory handled knives, a mirror, a hair brush, and – my personal favorite – the early stages of the spork!

Before you leave make sure to check out the infamous “Gifted Tea Set” inside of the display case!


That’s all the sneak-peeking we’ve got for you today! We can’t wait to see you soon at one of our tours. Remember, we’re open Tuesday through Sunday at 1pm and 3pm, and we hope you enjoy the exhibit as much as we do!!



All That Glitters: A Silver Showcase

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What is more stunning than a table full of  silver pieces? 

Silver pieces can be very simple or exceptionally intricate with engravings and etchings. The new exhibit, All That Glitters, showcases the many and varied pieces belonging to the Tinker, Manny and Dorr families.

The Tinker  family collection boasts silver tea sets, trays, and flatware that are all delicately  designed and  decorated. Each piece has a story to tell. The collection also showcases the many  trophies and medals awarded to the Manny Reaper Mower.

Various aspects of silver will be explored in this exhibit, including silver fabrication and decorative techniques, and the social role of silver objects in Victorian America.

Periodically throughout of the exhibit, staff will be on site during tour times actively working on cleaning the current collection. Feel free to stop by and ask questions you may have about your collections and treasures!

The All That Glitters exhibit will be on display from August 9, 2016 until December 18, 2016.  The exhibit will be housed in the Red Room and is a part of the general admission tour. Please visit during our tour times Tuesday through Sunday at 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM.

Robert Tinker, Mayor of Rockford

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Robert Tinker

When visiting the Tinker Swiss Cottage visitors delve into the history of the Tinker and Dorr families. We learn about the architecture, the pieces of art in the home, and the gardens surrounding it. We also get acquainted with some of the family members who once lived in the cottage, with a heavy focus on Robert Tinker. Yet, we only briefly mention that Robert was once the Mayor of Rockford – an honor which only few have received. During tours many visitors ask when Robert served and what he accomplished.

At the age of 39 Robert Tinker was elected as one of the youngest mayors of Rockford, serving from 1875 until 1876. He did not seek the position out; rather, his friends circulated the idea and pushed for Robert to accept. On April 3 of 1875 Robert officially accepted their call and announced his decision in the Rockford Journal. On April 12 the election was held, Robert was announced mayor, and his small office was flooded by his close friends and supporters. By April 14 Robert’s success had officially circulated throughout Rockford, and he wrote in his diary that there was a “Band + 2 or 300 [people] at the Cottage in evening.” Clearly, the Tinkers had a lot to celebrate.

During his year in office, Robert continued to play an active role with the Manny Reaper Works and presided as the president of the Chicago, Rockford, and Northern Illinois Railroad. With such a busy schedule and very little pay from the city many wonder how Robert managed to still thrive in his elected position. Truly, it was the citizen’s confidence in his abilities and judgments that continued to push Robert to do his best. Under his administration Robert assisted in acquiring both a public library and an opera house. He also deliberated on the new law banning wandering cows and the debate on the new water works. Robert contributed to the layout of the railroad through town and on widening and lighting up the streets. In the years following his mayoral term Robert continued to play an active role in the Rockford community by serving on numerous boards, including as a founding board member of the Rockford Park District.


Gail Ravitts. Robert Tinker’s World. Rockford, IL: Gail Ravitts, 2016.

Marge Bevers. Cedar Street: Early Families and Businesses. Rockford, IL: 2009.

Rockford Journal. Rockford, IL: 1875-1876.

Rockford Weekly Gazette. Rockford, IL: 1875-1876.

Rockford Weekly Register-Gazette. Rockford, IL: 1875-1876.


The Beauty of Bobbin Lace

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On Sunday April 3rd, we were happy to conduct an introduction to bobbin lace workshop with instructor Sylvie Nguyen. Sylvie, a life-long educator (secondary through adult education) has had a life-long interests in textiles and art, and has worked intensively with bobbin lace for 15 years. She recently did continuing advanced study in Amsterdam, Dutch National Teacher Proficiency Course of Torchon Lace and brought in several examples of her own handiwork!

After a brief introduction to bobbin lace, our participants jumped right in and begin creating their very own masterpieces!

Sylvie was an amazing instructor and those who joined us begin a new skill!  We are looking forward to hosting another workshop in the future, so keep your eyes on our calendar of events!

Saving Our Silver- one piece at a time!

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On March 5, 2016 Tinker hosted our first CPR for Your Silver Workshop!

The workshop was an interactive discussion and hands-on demonstration on how to properly clean your silver pieces using  simple techniques and  materials.

We had some amazing pieces come in and our participants did a GREAT job!!

Check out our action shots and some AMAZING before and after results!

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2016-03-04 02.17.22-12016-03-04 02.19.232016-03-04 02.17.51silver pieces

Are You Curious?: Tinker’s Cabinet of Curiosity Opens

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What is a cabinet of curiosity anyway?

From the Renaissance to the 19th century, the cabinet of curiosities showcased the hobby that was collecting.  During the Victorian era, people who were interested in science and the natural world would have a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ in their homes. These cabinets could either be a physical a piece of furniture—like a bookcase or shelf, or they may just be a simple box filled with many small drawers or stacking trays.

Victorians had a desire to collect, observe and acquire  objects that seemed inaccessible and it became a wide-spread phenomenon.  The previous generations of wealthy society   members started this trend as they, “were hoarding things—strange things—into  obsessive personal collections” ( Mueller, 785). The objects contained in the cabinets of curiosity were meant to stir up a sense of curiosity and awe in the spectator.

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The growth of public exhibitions boomed under the Victorians. Exhibiting spaces were crowded by curious spectators wanting to get a glimpse of the unusual, the rare, or the bizarre. The collections exhibited often displayed scientific and natural objects alongside the unique and unclassified. The mixtures of objects in these collections pushed the on the boundary of scientific classification systems. Victorians sought out  objects for their cabinets of curiosity based on the objects rarity, foreign origin, and any example that broke the rules of scientific classification.

Any natural specimens could become a part of these cabinets. Robert Tinker has such a cabinet. It resides in the upper left corner cabinet in the Library. Guests are not allowed to truly view the wonderful objects inside, due to the low balcony on the second floor of the library. Therefore, we have decided to open the cabinet and display all the wonders it holds! The collection contains : seashells, fossils, mineral specimens, preserved animals,and even cultural objects from all over the world.

Cabinet 1- full view
Cabinet of Curiosity located in Upper Library

The Tinker’s Cabinet of Curiosities exhibit will be on display from February 2, 2016 until June 30, 2016. The exhibit will be housed in the Red Room and is a part of the general admission tour. Please visit during tour times Tuesday through Sunday at 1:00PM and 3:00 PM.

*Mueller, William. “Mathematical Wunderkammern.”The American Mathematical Monthly 108.9 (2001): 785.




Things that go bump in the night…

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As a historic home, we receive several questions everyday. From “ How much did this home cost to build?” to “What wood is in the floors?” to general statements like “I wish I could live here!“, all of these come throughout our daily guided tours.

However, these questions turn a bit macabre as October and the Halloween season comes creeping in.

“Have you seen anything? “, “Have you heard anything strange before?”“Is the house haunted?!”

This much is certain, as a home that just celebrated our 150th anniversary, we have a lot of history. We have a lot of stories to share. That is why we have paranormal tours.

Join us every Friday in October for scintillating tales from paranormal experts. Each tour brings a new author or investigative group to Tinker to share their knowledge and experience in the paranormal field. Many of these speakers have investigated the Cottage and will share their stories throughout the night. Audio clips, video footage and pictures of investigations inside the Cottage and at many other haunted locations are showcased.

Then comes the best part- a tour of Tinker Swiss Cottage and a chance to have your own paranormal encounter! Tour all three floors of the historic house as you listen to stories of Victorian mourning culture, family history and (of course) personal experiences and paranormal encounters that have taken place over the past 70 years.

You are welcome and encouraged to bring your own equipment (cameras, audio recorders, emf).  The first tour is October 2nd, with many to follow. Each tour brings a new guest paranormal expert that is sure to leave you in the “spirit”!

So don’t forget to join us for our 2015 paranormal events!

  2nd: Paranormal Tour,  with Steve Litteral 7-10 pm 
9th: Paranormal Tour with Sylvia Schultz , 7- 10 pm
16th: Paranormal Tour with Kathi Kresol of Haunted Rockford, 7-10 pm
23rd: Paranormal Tour , 7-10 pm
30th: Paranormal Tour, 7-10 pm with Wisconsin and Illinois Paranormal investigation Team (WIPIT) 

Exploring Rockford’s Roots by Thinking Outside the Box

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All too often, we forget the beauty, history and culture that is in our own backyards. We frequently think of visiting these cultural treasures but regretfully do not. Lack of time or money seem to get in the way. Therefore, it is the job of institutions to connect with the communities that surround them. The biggest question is how? How do to provide access to these resources? How to create a memorable interaction? How do make a rewarding experience? Most importantly, how to make it affordable?

In 2013, a collaboration between organizations, museums and restaurants was born out of a desire to answer these questions and connect Rockford back to its history. Rockford was born on the Southwest side. Germanicus Kent, Thatcher Blake and Lewis Lemon arrived on the Kent Creek in 1834 and begin Rockford’s story. Today, South West Ideas For Today and Tomorrow (SWIFTT) along with Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens, Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden and the Ethnic Heritage Museum will partner to offer tours for citizens and visitors to “Explore Rockford’s Roots.”

On May 31, these southwest Rockford attractions will open their doors to the public and offer food coupons that may be redeemed at eight area eating establishments. Admission is free to the three destinations, and patrons will receive coupons worth up to $8 each for lunch or dinner at participating restaurants: Zammuto’s, La Chiquita, Delicias Bakery, Las Palmas, Luichi’s Hot Dogs, Chiquita Food Market, Mi Ranchito Restaurant and Guanajuato.

We invite you to come and explore any or all of these locations:

 Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens, 411 Kent St., was built in 1865 by former Rockford mayor Robert H. Tinker. It was modeled after a chalet-type architecture he saw on a trip to Switzerland. Tour this historic house museum and park. Guided tours of the first floor are given every 20 minutes from 1- 3 pm. Limit of 15 people per tour. The museum is not accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Animals are not permitted inside the buildings.  Info: (815) 964-2424 or

• Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 2715 S. Main St. Enjoy the beauty of spring on 155 acres as the flowers are blooming. A former tree nursery, Klehm has a century of horticultural development and features a combination of plants native to the Midwest and from around the world. Friendly dogs on leashes are welcome. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (Memorial Day – Labor Day). All buildings and paved garden paths and trails are accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Info: (815) 965-8146 or

 The Ethnic Heritage Museum, 1129 S. Main St., celebrates the cultures and heritage of southwest Rockford, the place where Rockford began. It houses six galleries: African-American, Hispanic, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian and Polish. Special exhibits are featured throughout the year. The museum is open Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Info: (815) 962-7402 or

Rockford’s creativity happens all year long, but it being highlighted this May through Rockford Lutheran School’s Out of the Box movement. This collaboration is only one of many happening in Rockford. As a participant, we are proud to see many organizations think out of the box every day. We celebrate these partnerships and their continuous effort to promote variety and depth in the creative opportunities given in our community. For more information on Out of the Box events and activities, visit the calendar of events at

Wonderland revisits Tinker!

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A very merry unbirthday to me! To who?
To me!     Oh you!
A very merry unbirthday to you!
Who me?    Yes, you!

Who doesn’t love the 1951 classic Walt Disney movie, Alice in Wonderland? (I know I do!) Ever want to attend that magical, endless tea party? Drink tea all afternoon? Eat sweets and savories to your heart’s content? Do you want to meet Alice or the Mad Hatter? Or perhaps her Majesty the Queen of Hearts?

Celebrate with us as Wonderland invades Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens !Join us as these three characters come to life at our Alice in Wonderland Tea on June 6th at 11:30 am. Speak with Alice, joke with the Mad Hatter and by all means…DO NOT offend the Queen!

It is fun for the entire family! Come and spend the afternoon as you enjoy endless amounts of tea, treats and merriment. Enjoy three delectable courses of scones, various kid approved sandwiches, along with an array of desserts to compliment your tea.

The Queen of hearts herself will be in attendance and she demands that everyone plays croquet or it will be OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!

Tickets are:Adult $20
Children 4-12 are $10
Children three and under are free

Contact Tinker at 815-964-2424 and reserve your space before Wonderland goes away!

Dance in the Victorian Era

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Dance in the Victorian Era
Laura Baker
February 28, 2015

Though the North and South were divided on many issues, dancing was not one of them. The same dances were enjoyed on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and united everyone regardless of which side they were on.
It was in the ballroom that Victorian society was on its best behavior, and etiquette at the Victorian ball was thoroughly mastered. Victorians drew upon dancing to flirt, court, and simply associate as upper class society.

This hands-on lecture looks at the Victorians and their passion for dance. Key discussions will focus on etiquette in the ballroom and how Victorian “Contra” dancing is both similar and differs from the way people dance today. Then lecture participants will learn short Victorian dance choreographies, such as the most popular Virginia Reel, and have the opportunity to experience vintage dancing first-hand.

The dances taught in this lecture are suitable to all skill levels and most ages, with the majority of dancing nothing more than fast walking in a pattern. Each dance is instructed by walking through the steps before dancing them to traditional music.

Domestic Servants in the 19th Century

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Domestic Servants in the 19th Century
Erika Holst
February 21, 2015

Having live-in domestic servants seems like the height of luxury today, but in the nineteenth century, “hired girls” were common in middle-class households in Illinois.

In a society without electricity and running water, household chores were onerous, and in the nineteenth century, a wave of immigrants made labor cheap and plentiful. The result was a society that grew increasingly stratified as the century wore on and the social hierarchy became more entrenched. In domestic servant situations, working-class men and women lived and worked side-by-side with their employers yet were considered second-class citizens, often leading to tense relationships.

Who were these individuals?
What were their duties?
What was their experience like within the household?
What were their employers’ experiences living and working intimately with a cross-section of society that they might never have encountered otherwise?
How did the nature of domestic service evolve as the century progressed?

This presentation will address these questions and more. The audience will be invited to handle period artifacts associated with domestic service.

POW of Camp Douglas

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POW of the Civil War at Camp Douglas
David Keller
February 14, 2015

Opened in 1861, Camp Douglas was a Union training and reception facility for over 40,000 Union soldiers in Chicago.  Camp Douglas became a prison camp, housing over 30,000 Confederate prisoners, from 1862 until it was demolished in 1865.  Containing over 200 buildings on 60 acres, Camp Douglas was the most significant Civil War facility in Northern Illinois.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum

411 Kent Street

Rockford, IL 61102

Victorian Miniature Shoe Lecture

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Victorian Miniature Shoes
Mary and Terry Anderson
February 7, 2015

Why miniature shoes?  How did they become collectible?  What part did they play in society ? How do these shoes relate to artifacts in the Tinker collection? Join Mary as she discusses the reason for Victorian miniatures shoes while showing physical examples and photographs of her personal collection. Terry will show how this collection of miniature shoes overlaps with a collection of his.   Collector or not, you might find this interesting. You might even “catch the bug”.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum

411 Kent Street

Rockford, IL 61102

Spotlight on Tinker Volunteers

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Since the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum opened it’s doors in 1943, our volunteers have been the heartbeat of the museum! Throughout the years, volunteers have cleaned, cared, advocated, researched, guided, gardened, and most of all loved this museum.  Although volunteer roles have changed and professional staff have taken over some of these roles (guess who does the cleaning now?), volunteers are still a huge part of what we do at Tinker! From our wonderful docents (tour guides) who lead guests through the Cottage, to our cashiers in the museum store and our fabulous gardeners who tend to our grounds, volunteers still are essential. We would love to thank each and everyone for their service to the museum! We can not say it enough !!!!!

So why not meet one or two of these special people?


Michelle Meyers was selected as the 2014 recipient of the Ruth Lunde Volunteer of the Year award. Michelle has dedicated herself to serve over 100+ volunteer hours at Tinker as a cashier, docent, special events volunteer and as a researcher. This year, she has conducted a variety of research for the Cottage, finding a few unusual anomalies about the past that has provoked more research about the family.  Michelle has helped with many school groups and special tours of the Cottage allowing the staff to count on her when in a pinch! She says that she driven to volunteer because,” is deeply in love with the house and the the man who created it.”


Gail Zahm was a recipient of the 2014 Illinois Association of Museums Silver Service Award for her 42 years of volunteer work at the museum. The Silver Service Awards will be given to recognize volunteers with at least 25 long years of faithful service at an institution.

Gail began her volunteer career in the fall of 1972; she volunteered to take a shift in the parlor during a Junior League event in the Cottage. Before the year was out, Gail was the treasurer of the board. She would faithfully serve on the board throughout the next 25 years.  Gail has continued to volunteer as a Docent, guiding visitors on tours of the Cottage and donating over 4,000+ volunteer hours!

When asked why she dedicated so much of her time to volunteer at Tinker, Gail’s answer was simple. As a teacher by vocation, Gail said, “Being a Docent is like teaching. When I guide first time visitors and tell them the story of the cottage and its part in the community history, they get excited. That is the reward, pure and simple.”

Want to know more about volunteering at Tinker? Click below!

Christmas in America

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It’s hard to believe that there was a time in the United States when Christmas wasn’t celebrated, but it is true. As recently as 150 years ago, many Christmas traditions were declared illegal in many parts of the United States (Massachusetts set a fin for anyone observing the holiday, Connecticut had a law prohibiting the baking of mincemeat pies…crazy, right). It wasn’t until 1836 that states began to legalize Christmas, starting with Alabama and by 1894, the United States ruled Christmas as a legal holiday.

Now for a bit of history on the holiday. It is true that the holiday is named after Jesus Christ. In the 16th century many people began to use an “X” as a shorthand version of the word Christmas. This was done because the word Christ in Greek is Xristos, even though many Christians at the time didn’t know the Greek version and saw it as an insult.

The real St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century Turkey and did provide presents for children. The most shocking part of him isn’t his life, but his death. After he died, his bones were stolen from Turkey and brought to Italy. It was said that they would give off a sweet-smelling, oily wax that had amazing health benefits. The oily wax produced from the bones would then be rubbed on the sick and the lame to help heal them. Interesting, right? Also a bit strange.