The American Furniture Of The Period

There are two facts to be recognised in connexion with this furniture:

I. It began late and ended late. Anne took the English throne in 1702 and was dead by 1714. The Style continued under the early Georges, but it is doubtful if there was much Queen Anne furniture in America before her death—perhaps we had a few chairs of that ályle before that date.

It was also slow in development. There were always survivals in England, but features from the preceding period were particularly persiálent here. We do not now know whether the álate of mind evidenced by our furniture was conservatism or dislike. As regards the cabriole leg it would appear to have been the latter, for even when the bow-back was adopted in chairs the William and Mary turned leg with Spanish foot often held its own againál the newcomer (Plate 7 A) and the Spanish foot frequently clung to the cabriole leg.

In England this leg appeared in fine proportion very quickly after Anne's accession. The knees were at firál plain, but soon became ornamented with the shell and, much more rarely, the acanthus-leaf. This lead was followed here, but more slowly.

II. Some of these pieces—and especially chairs— look so absolutely Dutch that sometimes we might suspect a direét Hollandish origin: but it is doubtful if we ever need go further than England for the precedent of any American piece of this period. English authorities are perfectly frank as to the origin of the ályle, and it is a simple fact that in furniture London was as Dutch as Amsterdam. The eaálern counties of England, whence came many to the Massachusetts Bay settlements of Boálon and Salem, muál have been especially permeated with this feeling through small shipping plying to and fro between themselves and their neighbours of the Zuider Zee.


One of the cases where from general aspect we might suspect direct Dutch influence is in the maple chair shown in Plate 7 B, and especially because of . its base. Yet I have before me the illustration of an original English chair in the hands of a London dealer with the same square cabriole leg of a like heaviness, the same square feet, and the same recessed Stretchers. The American Stretchers are set rather lower than in the English example, and it is probably this that gives it both an especially Dutch and a more primitive appearance.

It is in seating-furniture that, in all ages, changes are firSt made—probably because of its intimate use.

In the two periods previously reviewed the backreSt, of whatever character it might be, did not join the seat-rail, but was connected with a piece crossing between the back supports, or Stiles. This practice was continued in the transition chair shown in Plate 7 A, but quickly gave way to a sounder construction— especially better for these back-splats composed of one piece of rather springy nature. The splat therefore now joins the seat-rail as in figure B of the same plate. Though these splats considerably varied, almoSt all bear a sufficient resemblance in form to the objects that gave them their names—the vase or fiddle-back, they are called. In some late examples the splats are pierced, this being the beginning of the Style of back taken over by Chippendale and with which we are so familiar.

In the laSt chair of William and Mary it was noted that the back-supports were not turned but moulded; and this treatment persists. Observe the slight ornament at the top of the back in these two chairs and behold what is left of the lofty creSting of Charles II and his successor!

So far, the seats remain Straight in front. In the base of the transition chair all the features of the

Photograph by Dillon


By Courtesy Mary H. Northend By Courtesy Howard Reifsnyder, Esq.

Queen Period Transition


By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq. Photographs by Dillon


A. LOUIS XV FAUTEUIL. FRANCE By Courtesy of Kate Villiers Clive and The Connoisseur, London

B. QUEEN ANNE WALNUT ARM CHAIR, C. 1715 By Courtesy of Abbot McClure, Esq.

The likenesses and differences between the French and the Anglo-Dutch styles will be seen by a comparison of these two fine examples

Dutch Barock Chair
  1. THE LABEL ON ABOVE CHAIR. SEE TEXT By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq. Photographs by Whiteoack
  2. GEORGIAN WING-CHAIR Eagle-Head Knees By Courtesy Metropolitan Museum
  3. QUEEN ANNE TRANSITION TO CHIPPENDALE, C. 1760 Loaned to the Pennsylvania Museum by Mrs. James S. Merritt, Abington, Pa.

By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq. Photographs by Dillon


William Donaldson Furniture

A. WILLIAM & MARY CHATR. QUEEN ANNE DROP-LEAF TABLE By Courtesy Howard Donaldson Eberlein, Esq.

Photograph by Dillon

B. MAPLE TWO-PTECE DESK, 17x5-30 By Courtesy Howard Reifsnyder, Esq.

Photograph by Dillon

B. MAPLE TWO-PTECE DESK, 17x5-30 By Courtesy Howard Reifsnyder, Esq.


Fine examples of Georgian "'Architect's Furniture" By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq. Photographs by Dillon previous period continue—including our old acquaintances the Portuguese bulb and the Spanish foot. In figure B, previously referred to, the Stretchers remain-though they, too, soon are abandoned—but we have the real cabriole leg. It is Still square, rather clumsy, and has a squared club foot, but it is cabriole.

The rounded club foot (see Plate 9 B) came in with Anne and is one of the features of the Style, but was by no means " universal. The claw-and-ball had firSt appeared in England, very infrequently, juSt before the close of the preceding century, and that and the web foot (Plate 8 A) are now also common in legged furniture. Some pointed club feet occur.

By about 1720 or 1725 it is noted by makers that Stretchers are neither necessary nor advisable in the new type, and these follow other discarded elements: the process may even be seen in Plate 9 B which retains but a solitary back-brace.

The particular—and peculiar—form of arm-support in all three arm chairs illustrated here is not without precedent in England. The entirely unbroken headreSt in Plate 9 B is unusual. Seat-rails now became rounded or shaped.

About 1725 the Straight Stiles of the early examples are broken by a "hitch" or sharp inward curve a little above the seat-rail. This is seen in Plates 8 B, 9 B, and 10 A, and it is generally retained until the transition into the Chippendale type, Plate 11 B.

The pair of side chairs in Plate 8 B (there are three of them in the hands of the present owner) illustrate the moSt ornamental type of the period as appearing in America. The shaping of the seat-rails, the fine carving, the excellent use of the Queen Anne shell and . the acanthus leaf upon the knees are all clearly seen in the illustration. The latter feature is infrequent in

American work of this period and not very general in early Queen Anne chairs in England, but it was one of the features giving name to the "cabochon-and-leaf" type taken over and developed—as we shall see —by the Chippendale school.

The covering of the chair to the right in Plate 8 B was worked by members of the well-known Burd family of Philadelphia and was taken from a piece of furniture from their equally famous house, now long since demolished. The chairs themselves came from another old family in the same city.

The arm chair in Plate 10 is a labelled piece by the now celebrated William Savery of Philadelphia, who did not make the Chippendale highboys with Rococo ornament attributed to him a few years ago, but who was, nevertheless, a craftsman of excellence. As will be seen by the reproduction, the upper portion of the label is missing, owing to a repair-piece (also clearly discernible) having been set in the back of the chair at some former period of its exigence. As six labelled Savery pieces, in all, have now been discovered, the label is immediately recognisable. This chair exhibits the fine quality of Philadelphia workmanship.

The mention of the word Rococo in the above paragraph reminds me that it should be said that this Queen Anne-Early Georgian Style muSt not be considered as Rococo—the Rococo Style consists of much more than the cabriole leg. We shall see an abundance of it in the next chapter, but the Queen Anne Style is an extension of the Baroque movement.

The laSt chair appearing here, Plate 11 B, preserves many of the features of the Queen Anne Period, but in its reversion to the Straight seat-rail and back-uprights, and particularly in the development of the "cupid's-bow" top-rail, it has taken on characteristics of the coming Chippendale type. The reason for adding the word "type" to Chippendale's name will be abundantly evident when we reach the next chapter. This chair was part of the wedding furniture of Ann Edwards who married Joseph Russell in 1760 and this date coincides with the introduction of the Chippendale Style into America.

In the fine Georgian wing-chair in the Metropolitan Museum (Plate 11 A) the eagle's-head knee, frequent in those years in England, will be noted. The wing or easy chair was a favourite of the period, the bases having the various types of legs and feet that we have already seen.

It was very late in this period or early in the next that the Windsor chair made its appearance. It is found in infinite variety, and is appropriate to the porch, the kitchen, and the interior of the genuine farm-house. Its use in connexion with the better grade of furniture is a decorative error. And the modern making of it in mahogany is a like anomaly. A chair in every way better adapted to general furnishing will be suggested in the next chapter.

More suitable to general simple furnishing than the Windsors were the plain side and arm chairs with rush seats, fiddle-back, and turned members. Some of them had almoSt Straight legs with club-feet; others were entirely Straight, being turned to the bottom of the legs.

Roundabout chairs were made, with either turned or cabriole legs.


The sofas current in these years naturally followed the chairs in their characteristics. The type is exemplified by a fine sofa now in the Metropolitan Museum, originally purchased by Governor James Logan from a Philadelphia cabinet-maker for his celebrated mansion Stenton in Germantown. It is of walnut, with shell knee, web feet, wing arms, and high entirely upholstered back with waved outline. The covering is of eighteenth century red velvet. Straight topped upholstered backs were also made.

Small sofas in this and other periods were called love-seats.


The writing-table with its noticeably long, under-braced top, illustrated in Plate 8 A, is the survival of a type found in the Stuart period, with the new leg substituted for the Straight, turned, and braced legs then in vogue.

Drop-leaf and dining-tables, all of course with the cabriole leg, were common in this period. I think the example of the former shown in Plate 13 A might be said to be well-shod. It is certainly "of a Dutchness," and attractive in its very quaintness.

Tea-tables now became very frequent—marking an advance in social life. They were both circular and redtangular and were appropriately slender in build, usually having waved aprons of the types shown in the highboy and desk—Plates 12 A and 13 B.


These continued in both the two-piece (Plate 13 B) and one-piece types of the previous period, but with the developed cabriole leg. As the one-piece type was the simpler and more elegant, it became the more frequent as the period progressed and finally survived the other construction.

Very rarely we encounter a secretary-bookcase of this period. They are of the same type as the desks with a cabinet top added.


The viewing of human nature muSt indeed be sport for the gods. We find that a certain condition is not quite ideal and instead of simply remedying it and being done with it, we muSt needs fly to the other extreme. It was discovered that bending to the lower drawer of a cheSt-of-drawers was a bit inconvenient, and so the piece was raised on legs: not satisfied with this it muSt then burgeon out at the top till it reached the towering altitude of the highboy in Plate 12 A. Perhaps the English were less fond of climbing than w,e, or perhaps Step-ladders were fewer: in any event the highboy there dropped back into a cheSt-of-drawers—and they were precisely where they were before! Americans continued to climb till near the end of the next period, but in viewing the Chippendale highboys all else is forgotten in our admiration of their beauty.

But in art no one thing Stands without relation to other things. In considering the height of furniture there is a point we should not forget—that if all furniture were low it would indeed be difficult satisfactorily to furnish a room. Instead of the agreeable variety conferred by pieces high and low, we should, have a rather low line about the four walls with large unbroken spaces above, and if the ceiling were lofty this would be intolerable. Better far that the upper portions of highboys, double-cheSts, secretary-bookcases and cupboards should go unoccupied than that we should be reduced to such a uniformity. Hangings, pidtures, and the like prove a present aid in the filling of blank spaces, but such resources have their limit of employment.

A few cheSts-of-drawers were made here in Georgian years, and in Plate 12 B we have a thoroughly sensible piece of furniture. It contains five graduated drawers (the upper being divided into three) and all are convenient of access. Its bracket feet raise it sufficiently from the floor, yet the total height is not too great. These bracket feet were common in England, but infrequent here before the Chippendale years except in architect's furniture.

This cheSt-of-drawers and the Bible-box on the dressing-table in Plate 6 A were wedding-furniture of Sarah Smedley in 1737. They descended to a Sarah in each of several generations before their purchase by the present owner. It will be noted that though the present handles of the cheSt are of early Style it was originally furnished with knobs. %

The highboy illustrated in Plate 12 A is of the middle period. The earlieSt examples were of the same general form but without the sunburSt ornament. Pendants persisted from the William and Mary period. The present piece is unusual in having a different decoration on the upper central drawer; for the sunburSt was generally repeated. The small knee-caps are of metal and the workmanship is excellent.

About 1725 the scroll or bonnet-top appeared as a result of the architectural influence dominating English wall-furniture from approximately 1720 to 1750. Whether architects designed furniture made by cabinetmakers, or whether the craftsmen adopted architectural features is not known, but architecture became rampant in the product of the time. The scroll-top was copied from door-heads, and the pilaSter was widely employed.

Both these features are seen in the highboy appear ing in Plate 3. Though of the later, more elaborate type it will be noted that the pendants to the apron ¿till persist. The making of flat-top highboys did not cease with the introduction of the scroll-top but persisted through the period.

Lowboys or dressing-tables matched the highboys they were to accompany and so had aprons of various designs, frequently, too, preserving the pendants.

The corner-closets shown in Plate 14 are architectural throughout. In figure B we again see the scroll-top with finials and a modification of the pilaSter.


An excellent bedstead of the Georgian years, with cabriole leg and plain knee, appears in the Concord interior, Plate 3, and another in Plate 46.

Earlier in the century they were quite plain, as they were to be covered by drapery. The poSts were usually rather thin and spike-like, but the lower ones were sometimes fluted or shaped. The headboards were low and very simple. The feet were occasionally blocked.

Later than this—probably 1760—were the handsome bedsteads such as that illustrated in Plate 45, with boldly and carefully executed acanthus-carved knees. A central volute extends upward over the base of the poSt. As draperies were Still in vogue, the upper poSts and headboard remain plain. This type of leg would commonly be termed "Chippendale/' but it was frequent in England before that maSter-craftsman entered business and so should properly be termed of pre-Chippendale Style.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment