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Alan Miller
Flux in Design and Method in Early Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia Furniture

American Furniture 2014

Full Article
Contents
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    High chest by John Head, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1726. Walnut with white cedar and yellow pine. H. 66 7/8", W. 42 1/8", D. 23 1/4". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Lydia Thompson Morris; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Dressing table by John Head, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1726. Walnut with white cedar and yellow pine. H. 29", W. 33 5/8", D. 21 1/2". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Lydia Thompson Morris; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1745. Walnut with yellow pine. H. 42 1/4", W. 32 3/8" (seat), D. 20 3/4" (seat). (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This armchair was part of a suite that included several side chairs and probably a matching armchair. Several of the side chairs are at Wyck, the Germantown home of Caspar Wistar. During the battle of Germantown, the British used Wyck as a field hospital, and the chaos of that episode is, by family legend, responsible for the rough condition of the side chairs. An armchair from the shop that produced Wistar’s suite is depicted in Thomas Hicks’s painting of a kitchen interior (fig. 68). 

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Peter Cooper, The Southeast Prospect of the City of Philadelphia, ca. 1720. Oil on canvas. 20" x 87". (Courtesy, The Library Company of Philadelphia.) 

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Armchair, Philadelphia vicinity,Pennsylvania, 1715–1730. Maple and ash. H. 48", W. 21 1/2", D. 18 1/4". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Detail of the right rear post of the armchair illustrated in fig. 5. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Pair of side chairs, Philadelphia vicinity, Pennsylvania, 1715–1730. Maple and ash. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection; photo, Pook and Pook.)

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Detail of the left front leg of the dressing table illustrated in fig. 2. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    High chest attributed to John Head, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1719–1732. Red cedar with white cedar and yellow pine. H. 70 7/8", W. 43 3/8", D. 23 5/8". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Detail of the right front leg of the high chest illustrated in fig. 9. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Dressing table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1725. H. 30", W. 34", D. 20 1/2". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) As on the Wistar dressing table (fig. 2), the turnings of the drops echo passages of the legs. 

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    Detail of the left front leg of the dressing table illustrated in fig. 11. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Armchair, Philadelphia or Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1720–1740. Walnut. H. 40 3/8", W. 19 3/4", D. 16". (Courtesy, Primative Hall Foundation; photo, Lazlo Bodo.)

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    Couch, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1715–1725. Maple with oak and unidentified secondary woods. H. 38 1/4", W. 24 1/2", L. 69". (Private collection; photo, Philadelphia Museum of Art.) The bannisters of the back are molded with a sash plane, a creative adaptation by the maker. These tools were among the earliest dedicated sole planes to be used in Philadelphia, as they were essential for making double-hung windows.

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    Couch, probably Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1725–1735. Maple. H. 37", W. 23 1/4", L. 69 1/4". (Courtesy, Wright’s Ferry Mansion.)

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1730. Maple; remnants of original red paint. H. 48". (Courtesy, Philip Bradley Antiques.)

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Windsor armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1745–1765. Maple and tulip poplar with unidentified hardwoods. H. 17", W. 27 1/2",  D. 20". (Courtesy, Philip Bradley Antiques.) Philadelphia Windsor chairs, employing this turning, were successful trade items in coastal shipping and became the archetypal model for the Windsor chair, supplanting the British version.

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    Gateleg table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1720–1725. Walnut with yellow pine. H. 28 1/4", top: 51 5/8" x 41 1/4" (open). (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Turnings similar to those on this table occur on sophisticated Philadelphia work as late as the 1730s and on simple urban and vernacular furniture, particularly Germanic objects, throughout the eighteenth century.

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    Dressing table, probably from the shop of Joseph, George, or Josiah Claypoole, 1725–1745. Walnut with white cedar and yellow pine. H. 29", W. 34 1/2", D. 20 1/4". (Private collection; photo, Christie’s.) The small astragal drops and arches of the front rail are typical of the Claypoole family’s work.

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    Chest-on-stand, possibly from the shop of Joseph Claypoole, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1715–1725. Mahogany with white cedar and yellow pine. H. 25 1/2", W. 18 5/8", D. 9". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    Chest-on-stand, possibly from the shop of Joseph Claypoole, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1715–1725. Mahogany with white cedar, oak, and yellow pine. H. 26", W. 17", D. 9". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    Detail of the left rear leg of the chest-on-stand illustrated in fig. 20. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Detail of the back of the chest-on-stand illustrated in fig. 20. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    Detail of the secret compartment in the center drawer of the chest-on-stand illustrated in fig. 20. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Stand, possibly from the shop of Joseph Claypoole, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1715–1725. Walnut. H. 28 1/2". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Detail of the pillar on the stand illustrated in fig. 25. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    Gateleg table, possibly made by James Bartram, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1725. Walnut and mixed wood inlays with chestnut. H. 30 3/4", top: 70" x 60" (open). (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    Tea table, possibly made by James Bartram, Chester County, Pennsylvania, ca. 1725. Walnut and cherry. H. 27 1/8", Diam. 31 5/8". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Detail of the iron plate under the hexagonal block of the tea table illustrated in fig. 28. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 30
    Figure 30

    Detail of the pillar and hexagonal block of the tea table illustrated in fig. 28. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 31
    Figure 31

    Detail of the pillar of a ca. 1770 Philadelphia candlestand. (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 32
    Figure 32

    Armchair, Ireland, 1730–1745. Mahogany. Dimensions not recorded. (The Knight of Glin and James Peill, Irish Furniture: Woodwork and Carving in Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007], p. 205, fig. 14.)

  • Figure 33
    Figure 33

    Side chair, Ireland, 1730. Walnut. Dimensions not recorded. (The Knight of Glin and James Peill, Irish Furniture: Woodwork and Carving in Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007], p. 73, fig. 87.)

  • Figure 34
    Figure 34

    Side chair, Portugal or Brazil, ca. 1755. Jacardana. H. 52", W. 23", D. 21 1/2". (Courtesy, Carlton Hibbs, LLC.)

  • Figure 35
    Figure 35

    Ganging posts from a walnut board. (Photo, Michelle Williams, Jeffrey Williams Furniture Maker.) These posts are for two reproduction armchairs like those made in the shop that produced the Wistar armchair (fig. 3).

  • Figure 36
    Figure 36

    Sawing the posts of an armchair like the Wistar example (fig. 3). (Photo, Michelle Williams, Jeffrey Williams Furniture Maker.)

  • Figure 37
    Figure 37

    Laminating the posts of an armchair like the Wistar armchair (fig. 3). (Photo, Michelle Williams, Jeffrey Williams Furniture Maker.)

  • Figure 38
    Figure 38

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1750. Walnut with walnut and yellow pine. H. 42", W. 21 1/4", D. 20 3/4". (Chipstone Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The procedural shots left show how the front and side seat rail moldings were cut from the front and sides of the slip seat frame.

  • Figure 39
    Figure 39

    Detail of the seat rail and leg joinery of the armchair illustrated in fig. 3. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 40
    Figure 40

    Wedged through-tenon of an armchair like the Wistar example (fig. 3). (Photo, Michelle Williams, Jeffrey Williams Furniture Maker.)

  • Figure 41
    Figure 41

    Clamping the stiles and crest of an armchair like the Wistar example (fig. 3). (Photo, Michelle Williams, Jeffrey Williams Furniture Maker.)

  • Figure 42
    Figure 42

    Detail showing the shaved crest and right rear stile of the side chair illustrated in fig. 61. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 43
    Figure 43

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1750. Walnut with walnut and yellow pine. Dimensions not recorded. (Courtesy, Caxambas Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 44
    Figure 44

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1750. Walnut with walnut and yellow pine. H. 42 3/4", W. 32 1/4", D. 24". (Courtesy, Dietrich Americana Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 45
    Figure 45

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1750. Walnut with yellow pine. H. 41", W. 16 1/4" (seat), D. 18 1/2" (seat). (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1925; Art Resource, NY.)

  • Figure 46
    Figure 46

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1740–1755. Walnut with walnut and yellow pine. H. 42 1/8", W. 20 1/8", D. 18". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 47
    Figure 47

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1740–1755. Walnut. H. 41". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 48
    Figure 48

    Side chair attributed to Edward Wright, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1749 or 1735–1750. H. 40", W. 19 3/4", D. 20 1/2". (Courtesy, Philip Bradley Antiques; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) A label glued to the inner surface of the back rail states that the chair was “[mad]e by Edward Wright, living between Che[stnu]t and Market street in fourth Street, the _0 day of May 1749 Philadelphia, Pa.” Another label glued to the bottom of the front rail reads, “These chairs were the property of Robert Montgomery, (2nd) of Eglinton, Upper Freehold, Monmouth Co. belonged originally to th 2nd. Elisa Lawrence of Chestnut Grove Monmouth Co. New Jersey from whence they were bought [brought] Jonathan.” Although these notations are not period, they are specific enough to suggest that at least part of the information was taken from an earlier document. It is conceivable that Wright was the master of the shop that produced the Wistar armchair, but it is more likely that he worked as an apprentice there and continued to produce chairs identical to those he learned to make during his training.

  • Figure 49
    Figure 49

    Oblique and rear views of the armchair illustrated in fig. 3. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 50
    Figure 50

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1725–1740. Walnut. Dimensions not recorded. (Courtesy, Caxambas Foundation; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This chair has a solid walnut splat, and none of its components is veneered.

  • Figure 51
    Figure 51

    Settee, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1740. Walnut. H. 45 3/4", W. 56 1/2" (seat), D. 21 1/2" (seat). (Courtesy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1925; Art Resource, NY.)

  • Figure 52
    Figure 52

    Easy chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1740. Walnut with yellow pine. H. 47 1/2", W. 33 3/4", D. 28". (Private collection; photo, Christie’s.)

  • Figure 53
    Figure 53

    Desk-and-bookcase, possibly from the shop of Stephen Armitt, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1740. Mahogany and exotic hardwoods with white cedar, oak, and tulip poplar. H. 94", W. 34 3/4", D. 22". (Courtesy, National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at Stenton; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 54
    Figure 54

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1740. Walnut and walnut veneer with yellow pine. H. 39 1/2", W. 25", D. 20". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 55
    Figure 55

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1745. Walnut and walnut veneer with walnut. H. 40", W. 20 1/2", D. 18 3/4". (Courtesy, Wright’s Ferry Mansion.)

  • Figure 56
    Figure 56

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1745. Walnut and walnut veneer with unidentified secondary woods. H. 40 1/2", W. 19 7/8", D. 19 3/4". (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg.)

  • Figure 57
    Figure 57

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1750. Walnut with walnut and yellow pine. H. 42 1/2", W. 24", D. 18 1/2". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 58
    Figure 58

    Armchair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1740–1750. Walnut with yellow pine. H. 39 1/4", W. 29 1/2" (arms), D. 19 1/2". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 59
    Figure 59

    Rear view of the armchair illustrated in fig. 58. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.) The maker of the armchair must have seen an example from the shop that produced the Logan settee and related seating forms. The very large, solid, and nonlaminated rear stiles mimic those of chairs from the Logan settee shop with considerable skill and understanding, including the inward haunch of the leg under the rear rail. 

  • Figure 60
    Figure 60

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1759. Walnut with yellow pine. H. 42 1/2", W. 20 1/8", D. 21". (Private collection; photo, Sotheby’s.) 

  • Figure 61
    Figure 61

    Side chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1760–1765. Mahogany with yellow pine. H. 40 3/4", W. 20 1/8", D. 19 3/8". (Courtesy, Philadelphia Museum of Art, lent by the Commissioners of Fairmont Park; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 62
    Figure 62

    Detail of the knee carving on the side chair illustrated in fig. 61. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 63
    Figure 63

    Dressing table attributed to the shop of John Head, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730–1740. Mahogany and maple with white cedar and yellow pine. H. 30", W. 33 1/2", D. 20". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) Although very much in the style of John Head, the drawer construction of the dressing table differs from his earlier, documented work. This may reflect the presence of a new craftsman in his workforce when this dressing table was made.

  • Figure 64
    Figure 64

    Pier table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1735–1745. Mahogany with yellow pine and white cedar; clouded limestone. H. 32 5/8", W. 42", D. 23 1/8". (Courtesy, Baltimore Museum of Art; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) 

  • Figure 65
    Figure 65

    Tea table, Rappahannock River valley, Virginia, 1745–1765. Walnut. H. 29", W. 38 3/4", D. 23 5/8". (Private collection; photo, Gavin Ashworth.) This table is one of three nearly identical examples, one of which descended in the Beverly family of Essex County, Virginia.

  • Figure 66
    Figure 66

    Dressing table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1740–1750. Mahogany and mahogany veneer with yellow pine and white cedar. H. 29 1/2", W. 33", D. 20 3/4". (Private collection; photo, Philip Bradley Antiques.)

  • Figure 67
    Figure 67

    Easy chair, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1765–1775. Mahogany with oak and tulip poplar. H. 46", W. 45" (arms), D. 21". (Private collection; photo, Bill Jacobs.) The non-cabriole back-sweeping rear leg remained the standard for Philadelphia chairs through the rococo era. In Britain, cabriole rear-leg use continued along with this leg design. 

  • Figure 68
    Figure 68

    Thomas Hicks, Kitchen Interior, possibly Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1865. Oil on panel. 23" x 18 1/4". (Courtesy, Dietrich American Foundation.)