Despite the wars that were a feature of parts of the period (War of the Spanish Succession, 1702-14; Seven Years War, 1756-63; War of American Independence, 1775-83; French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1789-1815), this century was a period of sustained growth in wealth. In England the monopoly on colonial trade, the growth of a National Debt and the economy of war all led to this new affluence. Landowners controlled the country, finances and industries and encouraged a market for luxury furnishings, but the general population growth also encouraged development of cities, agriculture and internal trade.
In America, developing cultural and trading conditions combined to make Boston and Philadelphia important furniture-making centres, with Newport, New York and Charleston not far behind. Distinctive regional characteristics continued to develop, often based on the original location of immigrants. However, American colonists also gradually took on the Classical revival principles of order, balance and reason which were manifested in their architecture and furnishings.
Another tradition which was away from the mainstream was the 'folk art' furniture made in centres such as coastal New England which acted as a transmitter of design ideas to the interior. The furniture produced in rural New Hampshire, the Delaware valley, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, Piedmont, Tennessee, Mississippi and Ohio, and by particular groups such as the Pennsylvania Germans, or Norwegian Americans in Wisconsin and Iowa, demonstrates the very particular design and technical vocabulary that each represents. In addition, the Spanish territories in New Mexico continued a different tradition. Simple models of Spanish origin and in traditional form included alacenas (wall cupboards), repisos (shelves), tarmita (stools) and trasteros (cupboards). They were often made in pine and simply decorated with painted motifs or chip carvings.
By the mid-eighteenth century, the need to import furniture into America had declined as increasingly sophisticated designers and makers competed for trade, so that furniture-making was a well established urban craft. The development of an infrastructure of craftsmen and raw material suppliers and wholesalers combined with freedom from guild restrictions and other regulations helped to develop a healthy trade within North America. Examples of well-known craftsmen include Thomas Afleck, William Savery and Benjamin Randolph, all exponents of the Rococo style. In Newport the Townsend-Goddard family dominated furniture-making for well over one hundred years. By the later eighteenth century Samuel McIntyre and John Seymour were among the famous craftsmen.
The eighteenth century saw vast changes in the development of the applied arts and furniture and furnishings to meet the various demands put upon the trade. Often called the 'Golden Age of Furniture', this century included some of the greatest names in English furniture history and witnessed the change from the Baroque (c.1670-1720) to the Rococo (c.1720-1760) and then a Classical revival (c.1760-1800). These three divisions coincide with the major designers and craftsmen of the century. William Kent was the major design influence along with the Gumley family, Benjamin Goodison and Mathias Lock; all representing a high quality interpretation of Baroque/Palladian designs. The second or Rococo period centres on Thomas Chippendale, Ince and Mayhew, Johnson and Manwaring. It was also the age of the pattern book. By the third period, the Classical revival, spurred on by excavations in Italy and the eastern Mediterranean, was the fashionable and popular style. Robert Adam is synonymous with the period but he alone was not responsible for the style. Both Hepplewhite in the 1777-90 period and Sheraton from the 1790s to 1806 were important exponents of the neo-classical style.
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