American Chippendale Furniture

During the various periods taken as a whole we shall find that fine cabinet-making was well distributed through the northern portion of our country, but during the Chippendale régime Philadelphia and its neighbourhood is universally acknowledged to be supreme. f

The reason- isobvious. At this time .Philadelphia was the moSt important city in the Colonies—in population, wealth, andxultivation of taSte.y Its affiliations, social and commercial, were cïosel5oïîfwith the planters of Virginia and with Charleston, then, as now, the moSt exclusive society in our land. In this respect Philadelphia itself is not unfamed. An aristocracy had grown up of cultivated people closely connected by marriage between prominent families and sustained by abundant means. The town was famous for its lawyers, physicians, and scientists. Foreign travel and a lavish home-life were but cuStomarv; yet this life was unpretentious and very. soJULcLy Philadelphia demanded the beSt and, having the money to pay for it, it, as usual, secured what it wished. Prominent among its demands were fine household goods., It is therefore a far cry from simple, naive work to the highly developed furniture that we are now to consider.

As the Philadelphia craftsmen did not adopt the Chippendale Style till about 1760, whereas Chippendale had entered business in 1748 and had published his "Director" in 1754, naturally the whole field of his design, save his latent " French manner," was open to their choice. We shall soon see that the making of this furniture in the Philadelphia neighbourhood did not entirely cease for thirty years, and as any cabinetmaker might select a comparatively late model and five or fifteen years later work from an earlier one, it is not worth while to attempt to fix from their 3yle the dates of American pieces. It is, however, essential to know which of the several Chippendale phases any piece may follow, and this will be indicated as the various illustrations are taken up.

Mahogany was of course the chosen wood for the rendering of this Style; for no other material would have so well answered the demands made upon it for the durability of the elaborate carving of its fine pieces. Walnut was, however, employed to some considerable extent, and occasionally maple, in the simpler articles of furniture.


The earliest phase in England was the development from the Decorated Queen Anne Style—the pre-Chippendale type later adopted by him (Plate 15 A and B.)

It has already been mentioned that between the years 1730 and 1740, firSt the interlaced splat and then the cupid's-bow back were introduced, and Plate n shows a transition chair preserving Queen Anne features but introducing this cupid's-bow back-rail. Though its effects had become discernible earlier, it was in this decade also that, as has been mentioned, French fashion became dominant in England and so remained for many years, French becoming even the fashionable language among the aristocracy. That Gallic ornament the cabochon, surrounded by the acanthus leaf, was then also introduced and became the favourite adornfnent of the knees of furniture. Variations of this are seen in the handsome sofa used by Washington and preserved in Independence Hall, see Plate 23, and the table 25 A. Between 1745 and 1750 the cabochon was more commonly abandoned, the acanthus spreading over the whole knee as in moSt examples here. This change may have been due to Chippendale, though he employed the cabochon occasionally throughout the course of his career, and appropriately and effectively revived it in his late "French manner." During this developing period of say 1730-45 the Queen Anne club foot, the claw-and-ball, and the paw-foot were all in use.

Rather earlier than the interlaced splat even was that with perpendicular piercings. It appeared in England as early as 1725-30. The slightly hollowed top rail seen in the two chairs by the fireplace in the Captain Cook room, Plate 130, was used irj London about 1750-60.

In the central chair, from the Charles Wharton House, in Plate 136 will be noticed a carved rim or beading at the edge of the seat-rail and down the inside of the knees. This is a survival from the Queen Anne Style. It occurs also in a labelled chair by James Gillingham, found not many years ago, and in the labelled lowboy by Thomas Tufft (Plate 44 B) later to be mentioned.

Two backs very closely resembling each other are those in Plate 16. With the laSt of these we reach the

Type Chippendale Chairs


By Courtesy of Charles Woolsey Lyon, Inc., New York City

CHAIR FORMERLY OWNED BY GENERAL ANTHONY WAYNE Loaned by John H. Halford, Esq., to Pennsylvania Museum

B. CHAIR WITH STRAIGHT LEGS AND STRETCHERS By Courtesy of Charles Woolsey Lyon, Inc., New York

Photograph by Mary H. Northend

PHILADELPHIA CHAIR WITH DOUBLE-ARCHED SEAT-RAIL By Courtesy of Dudley L. Pickman, Esq., Boston and Beverly, Mass.

Anthony Beverly Furniture

CHAIR WITH GOTHIC TENDENCIES IN BACK One of the "Six Sample Chairs" By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq.

Famous Chairs

CHAIR WITH GOTHIC BACK One of the "Six Sample Chairs" By Courtesy of Howard Reifsayder, Esq.

ELABORATE WING CHAIR AND DETAILS One of the "six sample chairs" By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq. Photograph by Dillon


Straight leg reintroduced into the furniture world by-Chippendale in the firSt edition of his " Director." It is quite possible that he may have actually made chairs embodying this feature a year or so earlier and that others may have employed it, but this is its firSt appearance in print and it is universally conceded that to him belongs the credit. He used it and the cabriole leg indiscriminately even with his handsomest backs.

Before taking up Chippendale's later Styles it will be well to consider certain points regarding our American workmanship, as these are in themselves illuminating.

So fully did the Philadelphia craftsmen capture the Chippendale spirit and so remarkable was their workmanship that it is admittedly difficult positively to say whether certain chairs are of English or of American make. The expert can usually determine, and he is aided by the knowledge of the following details often but not invariably to be found in oùr own workmanship:

Very occasionally in England during the Queen Anne period back legs were rounded, but if existent, this feature is moSt uncommon there in the Chippendale Style: it is very frequent in Philadelphia chairs and will be seen in Plates 15 B, 16 A, and other examples.

In England the seat-rails were almost invariably narrow: very occasionally indeed after the Queen Anne régime are they cut out at the bottom into a flat arch, and then this arch is slight. In America the seat-rails were wider, and the arch, more deeply cut, was frequent. See Plates 15 and 16 A.

The tçnoning of the side-rails of the seat through the back-supports, or. Stiles, for the gaining of greater Strength, was commonly practised here, and in such cases the ends of the tenons can be discerned at the back. For the same reason these seat-rails were often made heavier here than in England.

In America the shell, so extensively used as an ornament in Queen Anne days, persists into the Chippendale period and will be seen in the illustrations again and again. In England it went quite definitely out of use about 1745 and only occurs sporadically. I remember no English Chippendale chair in which it appears as the sole ornament in the centre of an otherwise plain seat-rail. And such a tremendous example as that in the chair to the right of the fireplace in the Philadelphia Room, Frontispiece, is certainly moSt unusual here, being reminiscent of the huge ornaments so frequent in the so-called "Irish" Chippendale furniture made in the WeSt of England. The claw-and-ball foot in which the ball is not rounded but is flat at the bottom is characteristic of the Philadelphia group and will be seen in many examples here.

There are differences in proportion which are rather subtle but which will be apprehended by the comparison of a number of examples. As Dr. Woodhouse expresses it: "American chairs tend to be smaller in the seat than English chairs, especially narrower at the rear of the seat. American chairs, however, have higher backs than contemporary English pieces."

Chippendale and his followers gave quite various finishes to the ends of his cupid's-bow backs and to some extent this was followed here: One of the beSt known of them is that appearing in Plate 15 C, but in Philadelphia chairs the middle rib frequently projects beyond the other two, as in the same plate figs. A and B. A friend humourously refers to this protuberance as "the Philadelphia peanut."

If none of these particular details occurred one would not be safe in deciding that a chair was not

American, for several of the Philadelphia group of craftsmen during this period came from London and would be likely closely to follow English shop-traditions. Furthermore, considerable furniture was imported—and particularly such smaller pieces as chairs and tables. If an American cabinet-maker were following such an English piece as a model he would be quite likely to follow it exactly, and-especially if the two were to be used together. We might therefore encounter a set of chairs of which some were imported and others of American make.

If two of the above mentioned features occur in one chair it is almost surely of American origin.

A chair regarding which there was formerly considerable difference of opinion is shown in Plate 15 C. The whole back is particularly graceful and its splat contains the French latticed quatre-foil ornament which may have been introduced by Chippendale. The entire back-design is very like these English examples and the chair was sometimes thought to be of English origin. It has however been inspected by several experts who definitely pronounce it American. Its wide and solid deeply arched seat-rails would indicate this. The unsparing use of mahogany in the knees may perhaps also point in this direction. It is a very fine chair.

It is ¿till necessary to use the word "group" when writing of the Philadelphia cabinet-makers. Notwithstanding the fruitful researches of the Staff and associates of the Pennsylvania Museum, they are as yet unable positively to name the maker or makers of the moSt notable furniture. In the natural enthusiasm of a few years ago over the discovery of William Savery, through a labelled piece, the magnificent highboys that we shall view were hastily ascribed to his hand, but six labelled pieces of his work have now been found and, while all are excellent, none show him to have been a maker of really notable furniture. Dr. Woodhouse in a cautious and well-reasoned article in Antiques for May, 1927 shows us that Benjamin Randolph may have been the cabinet-maker of the notable furniture and that Hercules Courtenay may have been the carver. Jefferson Slates that Randolph made the box-desk on which the Declaration of Independence was drafted. Courtenay describes himself in his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, AuguSt 14, 1769, as "Carver and Gilder, from London." He was married the previous year at "Old Swedes," Philadelphia. The names of a number of other Philadelphia craftsmen are known and we shall meet some of them as we proceed. The moSt remarkable pieces of Chippendale furniture were made between 1762 and the outbreak of the Revolution. Indications seem to point to a larger use here of the third edition of the "Director" (1762) than the firSt. The laSt edition contained many additional plates.


The Gothic tradition had been broken by the Renaissance, and in Chippendale's time there was little understanding or appreciation of this great Style. Notwithstanding the cathedrals and churches before their very eyes, to say nothing of the even more. glorious Gothic architecture of France, the "Gothic" of Batty Langley, Walpole, and others was but a traveSty. Remembering, too, the unsuitability of this ecclesiastical Style to modern domestic purposes, it is not surprising that this phase should be the leaSt satisfactory of Chippendale's work. He himself may have felt this, for it was not long persisted in, though he continued to use suggestions of Gothic tracery in the splats of his chairs and with very happy results. Two examples of this use are seen in the American chairs in Plates 18 and 19. There are few specimens of the American following of the more definitely Gothic Chippendale pieces—or as definite as he knew how to make them—and we are not much the poorer.

The "Director" also illustrated the Chinese phase, and here one may speak in greater admiration. Chinoiserie had been "in the air" all through Europe, from the days of Louis Quatorze: it was rampant in the decoration and furniture of his successor, and much of its spirit enters into the Rococo Style itself. It was not to be expected that this oriental art, with all its subtlety, should closely be apprehended by WeStern minds and temperaments, and it is quite as well that an absolute transference was not attempted. Such an endeavour would but have resulted in a baStard produdt. The aim was not faithfully to imitate Chinese art but to use it as suggestion and inspiration for the carrying out of a delightful fancy. Nothing could be more successful than some of the effects obtained in France, through the employment in this way of its lighter and grotesque phases.

While Chippendale as an Englishman was less lighthanded in its employment this resulted in perhaps a greater bottom to his achievement: there was abundant fancy, while a considerable degree of dignity was often conserved. This furniture, with the aid of Chinese wall-paper and accessories, was intended for the constituting of interiors of a Chinese type and its success is evidenced by the persistence of this vogue to-day.

But, furthermore, there are the very fine and dignified chairs and tables Still called "Chinese Chippendale" but which employ so little of the oriental char acter beyond the fascinating fret, the brackets, and the generally rectangular contour that it is better to term it Fretted Furniture. Two fine examples are illustrated here—Plate 22 A with the pierced or open fret and Plate 21 with fret applied. Indeed in the latter case it is carved ornament rather than fret. Such chairs as this may be employed in any room to which other Chippendale furniture would be appropriate.

In the firSt edition of the "Director" Chippendale reserved Rococo ornament, as applied to chairs, mainly for his "Ribband-backs" and the elaborate upholstered chairs he called French—not to be confused with those in his late "French manner"—though we find touches of the Rococo here and there in his other chair designs. Only simple patterns of the firSt Style and none of the second were made here, but there are elaborate chairs of other character—those combining various tendencies. One scarcely knows whether moSt to admire Chippendale's verve, virility, and variety of design or his astonishing ability in combining apparently incongruous elements. And in both respects the Philadelphia cabinet-makers sealed themselves of the tribe of Chippendale! Mr. Pickman's fine example—Plate 17—is generally of the Queen Anne development type but refined, charmingly ornamented, and showing above the rolled-up French foot a definitely Rococo scroll. The double-arched seat-rail with central shell is moSt unusual in England. I know of but one English chair, in the hands of a London dealer, having a quite similar double arch with the shell at the centre, and it is not nearly so well designed.

Two chairs owned by Mr. Reifsnyder—Plates 18 and 19—have Gothic tendencies in their splats and are generally of the Queen Anne development type but with French features introduced.

One of these beautiful chairs—Plate 18—is not quite so Rococo as a glance would indicate—it is Rococo in spirit rather than in the letter. Free and flowing as is its ornament a closer examination shows it ¿till to possess much of the character of the earlier acanthus-leaf decoration. The other chair—Plate 19 —is full of definitely Rococo details. But more Gallic ¿till is the celebrated Cadwalader pier-table now in the Metropolitan Museum—Plate 24. Both of Mr. Reifsnyder's chairs have the lovely rolled-up French foot used in England about 1745-50 (introduced by Chippendale?) and distinctly fashionable between 1760 and 1770. Both have the rounded back leg but in neither do the side rails pierce through the Stiles.

A tradition exists in Philadelphia of six sample chairs, all different and five of them elaborate, and this tradition is discussed by Dr. Woodhouse in the article on Randolph previously referred to {Antiques for May, 1927). Plates 18 and 19 show two of those chairs, and Mr. Reifsnyder is the happy possessor of Still a third—the magnificent wing-chair illustrated in Plate 20. Five of the six chairs have been purchased from the descendants of the Stepson of Benjamin Randolph and presumably they came from his shop. The other remains in the family of original ownership.

Some of these six chairs possess special American characteristics and some do not; and, as it does not seem to have occurred to others, I would suggeSt here that there is no reason apparent why Randolph (or another) should not have possessed six splendid chairs, used as samples, some of which he himself made and some of which he imported.

Of the six the moSt elaborate example is in the possession of Henry W. Erving, Esq., of Hartford, Connecticut, and it is illustrated in the article. It shows none of the American characteristics. After a close Study not only of its design (for which in its various portions there are precedents in the firSt and third editions of the "Director" and in fine existing English chairs) but considering the perfection of ease and swing with which this design is handled I should have been inclined to say that it is an English chair and very probably from the establishment in St. Martin's Lane. I understand, however, that it has been examined by English experts and that they find certain differences in cabinet-work between it and their own practice.

From these magnificent examples of craftsmanship we may turn to the simple but excellent ladder-backs (see Plate ^^ B) with the invention of which type Chippendale is credited. To the writer's mind at leaSt they are much superior as furniture to the beSt Windsors. And their lines agree with those of other pieces, as the spidery, canted lines of Windsors do not.

The roundabout chair persists from the previous period, but now naturally possesses the Chippendale characteristics. The same is true of the big and comfortable wing chair.

The Stool at the foot of the bedstead in Plate 46 is a simple example of the following of Chippendale's "French manner." Sometimes, as here, the knees remained entirely plain—a revival of the unornamented type of Queen Anne—and sometimes it was adorned with the cabochon, a Gallic derivation. In any case the rolled-up Louis XV foot with toe was used.

Chippendale chairs were of course made elsewhere in America than in Philadelphia. The New England examples for the moSt part seem to be simple and some times ¿tiff—the Style as a whole was probably not congenial to its temperament and was not so well apprehended as in Philadelphia. It is quite possible that many of the finer Chippendale pieces found in New England were either brought from Philadelphia or were imported. But John Brinner, to give a New York instance quoted by Mr. Lockwood, advertises in 1762 all sorts of current furniture including "Gothic and Chinese chairs." He was from London and had brought over "six Artificers, well-skilled in the above branches."

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Antique Collecting

Antique Collecting

ABOUT fifty years ago, when the subject of English furniture first began to be studied and to be written about, it was divided conveniently into four distinct types. One writer called his books on the subject The Age of Oak, The Age of Walnut, The Age of Mahogany and The Age of Satinwood. It is not really quite as simple as that, for each of the so-called Ages overlaps the others and it is quite impossible to lagt down strict dates as to when any one timber was introduced or when it finally, if ever, went out of favour.

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  • Katja
    How to making splat back chippendale measured arm?
    4 years ago
  • Rosario
    What is american chippendale?
    1 year ago

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