Luke Beckerdite

When we established American Furniture in 1993, one of our main concerns was whether we could secure enough articles to sustain the publication on an annual basis. Six volumes and fifty-nine articles later, it appears as though our reservations were unwarranted. New discoveries are always on the horizon, and scholars have continued to build upon and revise existing research.

In this volume, Joan Barzilay Freund and Leigh Keno’s article, “The Making and Marketing of Boston Seating Furniture in the Late Baroque Style,” links their and Alan Miller’s earlier research on Boston Georgian seating with findings by Neil D. Kamil, Roger Gonzales, and Daniel Putnam Brown on Boston and New York leather chairs. During the last four years, the history of Boston’s colonial chairmaking industry largely has been rewritten in American Furniture.[1]

Nancy Goyne Evans’s articles on vernacular seating furniture have appeared in three previous volumes. Here she analyzes and reproduces nearly all of the images in the Christian Nestell Drawing Book. As Evans’s work reveals, we have only begun to explore and publish the many account books, day books, drawing books, and other important documents that survive in public and private collections.[2]

No scholar has done more to further our understanding of seventeenth-century American furniture than Robert F. Trent. In this volume, he and Karin Goldstein reexamine Plymouth County chairs in the “Tinkham” tradition. Building on research by Benno M. Forman and Robert Blair St. George, Trent and Goldstein identify Dutch and Boston influences in the tradition and suggest that Tinkham chairs are the products of several shops rather than the work of a single individual.[3]

The rediscovery and exposition of seventeenth-century woodworking technology has been a major focus of research by Trent, Peter Follansbee, and John D. Alexander. Follansbee’s research on the unique Waldo family armchair, which he discusses in his article, involved both archival work and bench work. Information he gleaned from reproducing the chair supports Trent’s earlier attribution of the piece to John Elderkin and sheds light on the divergence and intersection of the carpenters’ and joiners’ trades in seventeenth-century New England.[4]

Like the Waldo armchair, the desk-and-bookcase illustrated at the beginning of the article by Brock Jobe and Clark Pearce has long been recognized as a monumental achievement in New England furnituremaking; however, its origin and authorship have remained elusive. Building on earlier research by Charles Montgomery and William Short, Jobe and Pearce have identified forty objects from the same shop and attributed them to Massachusetts cabinetmaker Nathan Lombard. Their work also points to related groups of objects and stylistic influences that remain to be discovered.[5]

The Randolph labeled chairs discussed in Philip Zimmerman’s article show how attributions and opinions change as new information comes to light. Once considered benchmark pieces of Philadelphia rococo furniture, the chairs were removed from view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, after their authenticity was questioned in 1972. Zimmerman’s analysis reveals that the chairs are period examples with modern modifications and suggests how objective and subjective perceptions can influence our conclusions about material culture.[6]

Much has been written about the influence of immigrant Germanic artisans on eighteenth-century Pennsylvania furniture, but little is known about the impact of nineteenth-century Germanic tradesmen. Charles Venable’s article, “Germanic Craftsmen and Furniture Design in Philadelphia, 1820–1850,” examines the Continental and American contexts in which these artisans flourished and shows how the structural and stylistic details they introduced “played a vital role in transforming furniture design.”

Interest in American furniture continues to grow at a steady pace. The 1999 volume, which will be a special issue devoted to Rhode Island furniture and its influence in other regions, is already filled, and a number of articles are committed for the year 2000. For information on the 1999 volume and past issues of American Furniture, please contact the Customer Service Department at University Press of New England, 23 South Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire, 03755.

American Furniture 1998

  • [1]

    Leigh Keno, Joan Barzilay Freund, and Alan Miller, “The Very Pink of the Mode: Boston Georgian Chairs, Their Export, and Their Influence,” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1996), pp. 267–307; Neil D. Kamil, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Disappearance and Material Life in Colonial New York,” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite and Bill Hosley (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1995) pp. 191–251; Roger Gonzales and Daniel Putnam Brown, Jr., “Boston and New York Leather Chairs: A Reappraisal,” in Beckerdite, ed., American Furniture 1996, pp. 175–95.

  • [2]

    Nancy Goyne Evans, “Design Transmission in Vernacular Seating Furniture: The Influence of Philadelphia and Baltimore Styles on Chairmaking from the Chesapeake Bay to the ‘West’,” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1993), pp. 75–117; Nancy Goyne Evans, “Identifying and Understanding Repairs and Structural Problems in Windsor Furniture,” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1994), pp. 2–29; Nancy Goyne Evans, “Frog Backs and Turkey Backs: The Nomenclature of Vernacular Seating Furniture, 1740–1850,” in Beckerdite, ed., American Furniture 1996, pp. 17–57; Nancy Goyne Evans, American Windsor Chairs (New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the Winterthur Museum, 1996).

  • [3]

    Benno Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630–1730 (New York: W. W. Norton for the Winterthur Museum, 1988), passim. Robert Blair St. George, “A Plymouth Area Chairmaking Tradition of the Late Seventeenth Century,” Middleborough Antiquarian 19, no. 2 (December 1978): 3–12; Robert Blair St. George, The Wrought Covenant: Source Material for the Study of Craftsmen and Community in Southeastern New England, 1620–1700 (Brockton, Mass.: Brockton Art Center, 1979), pp. 50–51, figs., 46–49.

  • [4]
    See Peter Follansbee and John D. Alexander, “Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: The Savell Shop Tradition,” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1996), pp. 81–105. Robert F. Trent, “The Waldo Chair: A Monument of Early Connecticut Joinery,” in Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 48, no. 4 (Fall 1983): 174–88.
  • [5]
    Charles F. Montgomery, American Furniture, The Federal Period in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (New York: Viking Press, 1966), no. 177, p. 221.
  • [6]
    Edwin J. Hipkiss, Eighteenth-Century American Arts: The M. and M. Karolik Collection (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1941), no. 89, pp. 152–53; and Albert Sack, Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1950), p. 37. John Kirk, American Chairs: Queen Anne and Chippendale (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), pp. 172–74.