Wainscot Chairs

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I ne second style of chair found prior to 1650 is the oak chair known as the wainscot chaii. Ihe word "wainscot" is derived from the Dutch "wagenschot," literally a wagon partition, referring to the best oak timber, well grained and without knots, such as was used in the best coaches of the period. These chairs were much more massively built than the turned chairs, the construction being the same as was found on the oak chests and cupboards of the period. I he backs were framed and panelled, and all joints were mortised and tenoned, fastened with draw-bore pins, and the legs were heavily underbraced. he seats were of oak slabs and were made more comfortable with cushions, which were frequently mentioned in the inventories i i connection with the chairs, as in Salem, in 1644, "2 cheares & two cushans"; also the following entries refer to these chairs: Plymouth, 1634, "a joyned chair"; 1682, "a chair and cushion"; at New York, 1691, "7 chairs and four old cushions"; at Philadelphia, 1694, "4 framed oak chairs and cushions"; 1695, "large oak arm chair and cushion"; at Providence, 1712, "a great chair and 2 cushions"; 1727, "2 cushons for grate chear"; 1730, "a greate cheiar and quoshen"; at Yorktown, Virginia, 1658, "2 wainscoate chairs"; 1659, "3 wain-scoate chairs." They are also frequently referred to as wooden chairs.

Turned Slat-Hack Chair with cahriole legs, Pennsylvania type, 1725-50-

There is mention of the wainscot chairs in the English inventories in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they were probably more generally used there than here, comparatively few being mentioned in the New England inventories, although a fairly large number are mentioned in those of the South. They are valued at from two to three times as much as the turned chairs, which

Furniture Chair Carving
Carved Oak Wainscot Chair, about 1600.

undoubtedly accounts for this fact. The chairs, when carved, show the same designs as the chests and cupboards of the period.

A massive wainscot chair which is at the Essex Institute, Salem, is shown in Figure 431. The cresting is composed of two S scrolls with foliation between, and three turned finials finish the top. The upper rail of the panel is carved in an arabesque design, and the stiles are in a foliated scroll design and the lower rail is in a double-foliated scroll. The panel is in a design of leaves, flowers, and scrolls, and it will be interesting to compare this panel with the centre panel in the chest shown in Figure 8, for it is the same theme worked out a little differently. On

either side of the stiles are applied carvings and scroll designs. It is rather unusual for the top rail to set inside the stiles; the construction usually is the other way, the stiles setting into the rails.

Figure 432 shows a chaii which tradition says was brought to America in 1660 but belongs to an earlier date. It will be noted that the front feet are not turned but are cut on the square in a turned de-

Figure 432.

Carved Oak Wainscot Chair, first quarter seventeenth century.

Wainscot Chairs

Child's Wainscot Chair, first quarter seventeenth century.

Figure 433 is supposed to have been made at Cheapside, London, in 1614, and to have been used by Governor Winslow in

P'igurc 433.

Oak Wainscot Chair, first quarter seventeenth century.

Carved Oak Wainscot Chair, first quarter seventeenth century.

Child's Wainscot Chair, first quarter seventeenth century.

sign. The upper panel ;s in the fami'iar double-scroll design, and on the lower rail ot the panel is carved a lunette design. The cresting extends over the stiles and is carved in two arched designs in different planes. An applied ornament of wood undoubtedly originally finished the space under the projections of the top rail, as in Figure 437.

Figure 433 is supposed to have been made at Cheapside, London, in 1614, and to have been used by Governor Winslow in

P'igurc 433.

Oak Wainscot Chair, first quarter seventeenth century.

English Colonial Period Wainscot Chair

his council chamber in 1633. The top rail is crested in a scroll design and a grooving on the rails is the only ornament. The skirt is cut on an angle to give the appearance of flaring and is serrated in a design found on many chests and tables of the period, and an applied ornament of wood probably finished the sides under the projecting top rail.

An interesting child's chair from the Holies Collection is shown in Figure 434. The back is low and the top rail is cut in three arches, and four spindles connect these with the rail. The same theme is

Carved Oak Wainscot Chair, about 1650.

repeated in the front below the seat. The stiles extend high above the rail on either side in the manner that was popular in the Italian and Flemish schools.

A wainscot chair of American oak Figure 435. 'n Bolles Collection is shown in

Carved Oak Wainscot chair, about 1650. Figure 435. The panel is arched, with a narrow carved palmated design surrounding it. In each spandrel is a carved circle and a small circle is carved in the centre above the arch. The cresting, the lower edge of the back, and the skirt are all cut in the serrated design shown in Figure 432. This chair has been restored with oak of a different grain in order to clearly show the old parts.

Figure 436 shows another wainscot chair with rather crude carving. The panel is in the familiar double-foliated scroll found on other oak pieces. The top rail sets within the snle and there :s a cres"ng of two scrolls. The surfaces of the stiles are carved in alternate circles and lozenges, and on the rail under the seat is carved a lunette design. 1 hie chair is the property of Mrs. C. S. Mernam, of Meriden, Connecticut.

A rather ornate wainscot chair from the Bulkeley Collection is shown in Figure 437. Across the top is a large double scroll. The panel is in a lozenge

Flemish Carved Oak
Carved Oak Wainscot Chair, about 1650.

Carved Oak W'ainscot Chair, 1650-75.

design with four semicircular projections. Above the panel is carved an entwined lunette design, and the sides of the stile under the top rail are finished with the applied pieces which are missing on the specimens shown in Figures 432 and 433. A very good reeded design finishes the seat rail and is repeated below the top ra:!. /he front legs are rather slender for a wainscot piece, and the turn'ng is of a later period than that on any of the other wainscot pieces shown.

Figure 438 shows a wainscot chaii in the Bolles Collection which was found at Scituate. Massachusetts. It appears to be made of American oak. The carving, however, is of much better quality than is usually found :n this country. The cresting is composed of two grotesque fishes with tails, term'nating each n a leaf and a rosette. Below the cresting is a rectangular panel carved in a well-executed

Another form of wainscot chair is the chair-table. It has all the characteristics of the wainscot chair except that the back is pivoted and swings forward, resting on the arms, forming a table. They were apparently quite common in this country, and the plainer types are still to be found. We find mentioned in a Salem inventory of 1673 "a chair table 7s 6d"; and again, in 1690, and at Yorktown, Virginia, 1666, "1 table chair"; and in 1675, "one new chair table 8s." This chair is practically the same as the famous Theodore Hook chair, although it is not carved.

Famous Furniture Broken Arch1700

Figure 439.

Oak Wainscot Chair-Table, about 1650.

guilloche design, and on the rail below the panel is carved a foliated and flower design. The main panel is recessed by an applied arch in the spandrels of which are carved flowers and leaves, and the panel itself has a charming design of flowers and leaves after the manner of some of the chest panels. The arms are in scroll forms and slightly carved. The graceful front legs and supports of the arms are carved in godrooning and fluting. The legs have been partly cut off, judging from the height of the seat, and were probably finished like the legs of the stool shown in Figure 405. The seat rail is ornamented with reeding.

Figure 439.

Oak Wainscot Chair-Table, about 1650.

Figure 439 shows the finest specimen of a chair-table that has been found in this country. It is in the Bolles Collection. It will be seen that the frame very closely resembles the chairs of the period, except that the rear legs are turned like the front ones instead of being plain. The under sides of the stretchers are serrated and under the seat is a drawer on side runners. The back makes a long rectangular table and the cleats and mouldings on the under side are much better finished than is usual.

Figure 440 shows another unusual chair-table in the same collection. The construction is the same but there is no drawer under the seat; instead the skirt is cut in the well-known double cyma curve. The top when down forms a large square table.

Colonial Table Chair

Figure 440.

Tinned Wainscot Chair-Table, about 1700.

Colonial Table

Figure 441.

Turned Wainscot Chair-Table, 1725-50. 26

Figure 441.

Turned Wainscot Chair-Table, 1725-50. 26

Figure 441 shows a later variety, which is the more common form, with a round top, the chair-seat having a drawer on bottom runners.


The third style, which may be called a modification of the wainscot, is the leather chair, which dates a little later and by some is called Cromwellian, although it appears in the inventories in this country a little earlier than that time. It was really of Italian design, coming to England through Holland during the commonwealth, and very likely reached the Pilgrims, who had come from Holland, earlier than it did England, for we find these chairs first mentioned at Plymouth as early as 1643: "3 leather chairs, 3 small leather chairs £1 10s." We continue to find them mentioned freely until the close of the seventeenth century, as in the inventory of the famous Captain Kidd, at New York, 1692, "two dozen single nailed leather chairs, £1 16s"; and in New York, 1703, "8 leather cheares very old," undoubtedly referring to chairs similar to that shown in Figure 442. The earlier ones had a straight frame without turning with a band of leather stretched across the back and a leather seat, each fastened with large, heavy nails. The later ones had turned frames and were lighter.

Figure 442.

Figure 442 shows an interesting specimen Leather Chair, about 1650.

of a leather chair belonging to Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. The leather in the back is carved while that in the seat is plain. The waving line of the stretcher is suggestive of the carved stretchers of the cane period. This chair originally stood somewhat higher from the floor, but the legs are worn away.

1653 Colonial Clothing Worn

Figure 443 shows two arm-chairs in this early leather style belonging to the Bolles Collection. These chairs stand high from the floor in the usual manner, the feet not having worn off. The front stretcher on each is a plain slab of wood, and on the one to the right the surface is ornamented with an applied foliage design which has disappeared from the other.

Wainscot and leather chairs in general stood much higher from the floor than either the turned ones or those appealing later; in fact, the seats are often as high as twenty or twenty-two inches. They were apparently intended to be used w'jrh footstools, as were the benches, for we lind the follow: ig description in " ;'he Gate of Language Unlocked," before referred to:

"When the table is spread with the table cloth, dishes are set upon it and trenchers 'whether they be round or square' and also a salt sellar.

"Out of the bread basket, loaves (shives) of bread are set on the table, or pieces 'morsels'; and then messes of meat.


Leather Chairs, about 1640.

"The ghests that are bidden are brought (led) in by the feast-maker nto the dining room (.parlour) and when they have washed over a bason out of a ewer and have wiped with a towell; they sit down upon benches or stools set in; order with cushions having foot stools set under them."

These leather chairs must not be confounded with the Spanish leather chairs, which are of later date and totally different style: Boston, 1653, "8 red leather backe chairs and 2 low leather backt stools"; Salem, 1647, "3 red leather chairs"; Boston, 1700, "6 russia leather chairs"; Philadelphia, 1683, "14 russia leather chairs"; 1686, "6 calfe leather chairs"; New York, 1691, "3 doz. russia leather chairs"; and York town, 1668, "6 turkey leather chairs." These are references, no doubt, to the style of chair shown n Figures 442 and 444.

he York County (Virginia) records after 1660 show that a large number of these chairs were in use, one hundred and three of them being mentioned between the years 1657 and 1670; as many as twenty-eight in one inventory in 1667 are spoken of as old. Their values vary from one to ten shillings each.

A little later form of a leather chair is shown in Figure 444. The front legs and stretcher are knob-turned. The chair is smaller and lower than the earlier form. It belongs to the writer.

English Chair 1650

Turkey-Work Chair, about 1650.

Leather Armchair Purity

Figure 444. Leather Chair, about 1650.

Turkey-Work Chair, about 1650.

Figure 444. Leather Chair, about 1650.

Figure 445 shows a chair quite similar to the foregoing which was originally covered with Turkey work. It differs from the preceding type of leather chairs in that the back is considerably higher and there are two knob turnings on each side below the upholstery. The front legs are knob-turned as is also the front stretcher. This chair is the property of the writer.

In the inventories are mentioned both Turkey carpets and Turkey work. Carpets were the imported rugs, and their usefulness seems to have been appreciated by the Dutch who brought them from the East. The Turkey work was made in imitation of the rugs. It was made on coarse canvas or sacking, on which the pattern was drawn, exactly as the hooked rugs were made except that worsted was used in place of cloth cut in strips. We find Turkey-work chairs mentioned in English inventories as early as 1589, the English having received permission, in 1579, from Amurath III to trade with Turkey. In New York we find, in 1677, "12 old urkey chairs £1 4s"; Boston, 1669, "12 turkey work chairs £1 7s

4d"; at Yorktown, Virginia, 1674., "6 Turkey worked chairs £2 2s"; at Salem, 1684, "9 turkey work chairs without backs £2 4s"; "4 turkey work chairs with backs £1 12s"; at Philadelphia, 1687, "12 small turMe carpett chairs 2 of them broken £6"; and "6 turkie work chairs 1 of them broken £1 16s.

1 urkey work and leather were very evidently not the only coverings used for these square-framed chairs, as the following inventory entries wid show: Salem, 1698, "6 old serge chaiis"; New York, 1680, "6 old red cloth chairs"; 1698, "6 chairs with red plush and 6 with green plush"; Philadelphia, 1687, "6 camlett silk fringe low chairs"; 1668, at Yorktown, "6 wrought chaiis"; and, as upholstery was not in use for the turned or wainscot chairs, these entries must refer to the square-framed chairs just described-

Very few of these Turkey-work or leather chairs have survived, although through a period of some thirty years they are frequently mentioned in the inventories both m the North and South, and t is not at all uncommon to find a large number, from one to three dozen, in a single mventory. l"he probable reason is that when the leather or irkey work was worn out the frames were of little use and were broken up or thrown away.

After 1650 chairs became lighter in appearance, the leather chair just described affording the type.

Figure 446 ;ndicates how this effect was secured. The front legs and stretcher resemble quite closely the chair shown n the preceding figure, but the enure frame of the piece is knob-turned. The back is composed of two turned rails and five turned spindles. This chair is in the Bolles Collection.

A very beautiful chair of this period is shown n Figure 447. The form and construction are the same as shown 'n the preceding figure, but the turning

Spiral Turned Chair Leg
Spiral-Turned Arm-Chair, 1650-60.

is all spiral-twisted, giving a rhythm of form which is extremely pleasing. It will be seen that even the rails of the seat arc turned in the same manner, and a wooden seat is sunken into the rail. This chair is also in the Bolles Collection.

The most notable change in this period was the introduction of cane chairs from Holland. Their graceful and beautifully carved frames were in striking contrast to the turned and wainscot pieces then generally in use.

This style of furniture came into general use in England in the reign of

Charles Chair

Charles II (1660), and continued until the Dutch style became dominant in the reign of An lie n 1702.

I'he fact that furniture should be exported from the Low Countries was not strange, for Antwerp seems to have been a great centre for that trade from about 1560 down, and Anderson, i. 1 his "History of Commerce," says that in that city were Germans, Danes, Italians, English, and Portuguese, and the commerce included exchanges with all the civilised countries of Europe. Antwerp was exporting household furniture to Genoa, England, and Spain as early as 1560, and, in fact, was one of the most important places in the commercial world.

So far as this country is concerned, these chairs appear ii the inventories not earlier than the last quarter of the seventeenth century. We find at York town, 1687, "2 old cained chairs 16s," and in New York, (rn 1691, "13 cane chairs broken and out of order," which would idicate at least that at that date the style was not new. At Philadelphia, 1686, "8 cane chairs"; 1687, "8 cane chairs"; Boston, 1732, "1 doz. cane chairs"; Salem, 1734, '"6 cane chairs."

"he style remained in fashion ufttii after 1719, for n that year 'n the Boston News Letter is mention of "line cane chairs just imported from London."

Cane Chair, 1660-80. The chief characteristics of the cane chair in its purity are that the cresling and front stretc her are carved, and usually there are rare exceptions, in the same design. The seat is high from the floor and the backs are tall and stately. The origiral caning is always composed of very narrow double strands runn'ng vertically and horizontally and a single wider strand running diagonally. The holes for the cane are in a straight l:ne on the upper surface, but are bored diagonally, so that on the reverse side they alternate in two parallel lines. The back legs and stiles of the back, which are in one piece, are raked to an angle where the seat joins the back.

Tie wood is beech or walnut, and occasionally, in English specimens, oak. In the later pieces the cane in the back is sometimes replaced by carved strips, but no American example of the type has come under the writer's observation.

It is probable that many of these chairs found in America were imported, for chairs in the same design are found in England, but it is also probable that many of the simpler sort were made here.

There are three well-defined types of the cane chair:

  1. —Those in which the turned stiles of the back terminate in finials with a carved cresting between, as in Figure 448.
  2. —Those in which the carved cresting extends over the stiles of the back which set into them, as in Figure 470.

In these two classes there is inserted between the stiles a frame of cane.

Third.—Those in which the stiles of the back are not turned, but moulded, and appear to carry in a continuous line over the top, as in Figure 475.

Each of these types persisted beyond the time when it was in fashion, and the third can be traced into the Dutch period. In order to show clearly the development of each of these types, we will take them up separately and carry them through to the time each either disappeared or was absorbed in a later style.

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