IN GENERAL this is the period of the primitive furniture mentioned in the foreword, though an abundance of this was made in later years as well, and especially in country districts. Even the older colonies were Still very young, and our ancestors were fighting ¿tern conditions. These matters will be taken up in the next chapter, as the beginning of the new century affords a better Start for a more detailed Study of circumstances.
New civilisations like our own are, however, constantly surprising us by their productions. By the third quarter of the Seventeenth Century excellent furniture was already made in the New England centres, furniture that we may be sure is unquestionably American from the character of oak and other woods employed.
This furniture includes the cumbersome court-cupboards, press-cupboards, and wainscot chairs, few of which are extant and these almoSt wholly in museums or the possession of wealthy collectors. As they very closely followed the English types, which can be seen in any good book on English furniture, it scarcely seems necessary to illustrate them here and more advisable to take up the smaller pieces, which are favourites with collectors.
Some of them date after the close of the period in England. All the Styles—and particularly the early ones—endured longer here, because under existing conditions they were not so quickly routed by new modes. And the remoter settlements naturally trailed the seaports; so that we shall always find pieces of an earlier
Style made after the beginnings of a newer one, the types thus overlapping in point of time.
Native woods were used—oak, maple, pine, fruit-and nut-woods and, during the laSt quarter of the seventeenth century, walnut.
The moSt ornate furniture of these years was the high-backed chair. A very fine pair of them is illustrated in Plate 4. By tradition these particular chairs are said to be English, but one of the moSt experienced cabinet-making antique dealers in this country, has been over them carefully and considers them to be of American origin. According to one account they were brought to America by William Penn on his laSt voyage here in 1699 and presented to his friend Henry Bab-cock. Another says that he made the gift in 1686. Either date would sufficiently correspond, as this type of chair—with the creSting set between the uprights and not above them—appeared in England between 1680 and 1685. I*1 any event such chairs were made here as well as abroad.
This Style derived from French chairs of Louis XIII (1610-43) developed on Dutch lines, and migrated to England. In these we see the oriental fashions of caning and the elaborate creSting of top and Stretcher, which also will be treated in the origins of our furniture in the next chapter. »
After the restoration of the monarchy in England under Charles II (May, 1660—February, 1685) the Stiff, utilitarian furniture of Cromwell was quickly superseded by elaborate pieces, the features of which were derived from many sources, and of these the high-backed chair was among the moSt ornate. The spiral twiSt was firSt employed for the back-uprights but about 1680-85 this gave way to the turned supports seen in the chairs illustrated. Throughout the reign, however, the Restoration chair, as it is often called, preserved the setting of the creating between the uprights of the back: it was only with the incoming of James II (February, 1685—November, 1688) that the inferior, because less Sturdy and durable, practice began of shortening the uprights and dowelling the creating to the tops of the uprights.
Our American fashions followed the English in all these respects. In England the variety of these chairs, enduring through these two reigns and into that of William and Mary, is amazing, and in my "Practical Book of Learning Decoration and Furniture" I have illustrated the twenty main types and given particulars for the differentiation of the chairs of the three reigns.
During the firSt quarter of the eighteenth century the baniSter-back chair made its appearance—see Plate 6 B. This was a Strictly American simplification of, and derivation from the chair we have been considering. In it the Spanish foot or the ball foot with shoe, especially characteristic of the William and Mary period, was employed and it is properly therefore considered in that period, being mentioned here, however, because its main constructive features consist of the turning so characteristic of the latter part of the Stuart period in England and which persisted here for some yeais. It appears in three of the illustrations to this chapter.
From the beginning of the New England settlement there were the Carver chairs with turned members and spindle backs and also the slat-backs. Very clumsy in the early examples, these were gradually refined and improved with advancing years and the slat-backs endured even into the Queen Anne-Early Georgian period. The beSt of these are attractive in their way for simple furnishing but the' point of view humorously expressed by House and Garden in the following may possibly be worth consideration:
Exponents of Early American furniture may protect the idea, but we have a notion that of all ¿lyles it is the one that offers the lea£l comfort. In this iconoclastic thought we have recently been upheld by a young lady who has been ¿laying in a house furnished completely with primitive American pieces of great value and rarity. She was literally obliged to go to bed to get comfortable!
Our forebears wore more clothes than we and they were raised under a harder regime. To them the slatback and the wooden-bottom chair were the veriest epitome of ease. But to our softer generation, schooled to expedl comfort on every muscle, the rigors of some Early American pieces are digressing.
It might be well for us to undertake a more vigorous regime. And yet, whe . we compare our daily hedtic lives with the relatively slow lives lived by the Colonial fathers, we begin to think that they were the ones to have an easy time of it. They may have thought hard chairs comfortable, but could they ¿land up under the ¿Irain of the lives many of us lead—the ¿Irain of noise and rush and fierce business competition? Perhaps they would be the ones who would flee to bed to find comfort and ease and tranquillity.
The chairs used in England under Cromwell appeared here likewise. These had leather-covered seats and backs.
Through all the various ¿lyles from the beginning down to the Direffoire period there were sofas with backs composed of two or more chair-backs and always therefore recognisable as to Style from these. When day-beds occurred they too may easily be placed from their embodying the chara&eri&ic features of the remaining furniture.
Of all articles of furniture the cheft is the moil
A. CARVED OAK CHEST-OF-DRAWERS By Courtesy of Metropolitan Musenm, New York City
Photograph by Dillon
B. SLANT-TOP WALNUT DESK IN TWO PARTS. 1700-17x0 By Courtesy of Howard Reifsnyder, Esq.
A. MAPLE BUTTERFLY TABLE, c. 1700 Probably made in Connecticut
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