English Furniture and Early American Colonial Furniture of the Eighteenth CenturyHistory of Early American Colonial Furniture

Development Of The English Walnut Early American Colonial Furniture Oak Chair

In conclusion, it must be borne in mind that anyone can revert, but no one can anticipate, therefore it is the latest detail which is the true guide in estimating the date of any particular piece. This ignores the wide subject of later copying, or actual forgery, but this again is the field of the expert, and is utterly beyond the scope of this, or any other hook.

English and Early Colonial American Mahogany Chairs

Early Georgian to Chippendale Walnut  and Mahogany Overlap

WHILE the transition from oak to walnut in English furniture involves a somewhat drastic change in design, and especially in proportion, the same is not true in early American colonial furniture where mahogany begins to replace walnut, shortly after 1725. As we have seen, in both text and illustration, in the previous chapter, types merge the one into the other, irrespective of wood; in fact, the examples in both timbers actually overlap, the use of the one or the other being optional, in the early years, perhaps dictated by conditions, such as the stocks of walnut or mahogany available at certain times and in different localities. This is true, to a far greater degree, of chairs than of other furniture, as veneering enters into the field of the latter to a far greater degree than of the former, with the hiatus from 1725 to about 1735, when mahogany was used, in the older' solid fashion, for both.

Classifying Styles in Early American Colonial Furniture

CHAIRS from 1725 onward, pursuing the even continuity of development from the Queen Anne right up to the close of the Chippendale period (nearly to 1780) may be resolved into certain sub­classes thus:

  1. The hoop-back, the Queen Anne form persisting.
  2. The pierced back or central splat, this piercing taking the forms of plain vertical divisions, or an elaborate interlacing, in which a representation of the figure 8 largely predominates.
  3. The use of the "paper-scroll," especially in the junctions of the top rail of the back with the side balusters.
  4. The use of the vase-shaped central splat, either solid or pierced in simple fashion.
  5. The lion-mask, on the knees of cabriole legs and on the ends of arms, usually in conjunction with the paw foot.
  6. The cabochon-and-leaf decoration on the knees of cabriole legs.
  7. The wing easy chair which belongs to both the walnut and the mahogany periods, but which is more general in the latter.
  8. The chairs of the Chippendale school, which can again be resolved into classes or styles, thus
    (a) The Gothic.
    (b) The square leg, fretted or plain.
    (c)  The cabriole style.
    (d) The French manner.
    (e) The Chinese manner.

As to Chippendale in Early American Colonial Furniture

IT is' not the place here to consider the work or the style of Thomas Chippendale, as this belongs, properly, to a succeeding chapter. It will be sufficient, for the present purpose, to state, briefly, four propositions

  1. If we admit creation of a definite style by Thomas Chippendale, in his "Gentleman and Cabinetmaker's Director" (1754. 1755, 1762) then this is not one style, but at least four.
  2. The publication of other design hooks, almost contempo­rary, and some prior to 1754, in which practically the same style, or series of styles, are illustrated (to say nothing of many of the tradesmen's business cards of the period, which are frequently in the "Chippendale manner," but certainly never were designed by Chippendale himself) preclude any such claim to originality.
  3. If we accept the "Director" as the designing guide, then very little of the furniture generally styled as "Chippendale" bears any resemblance to any of the patterns in that book.
  4. The accredited furniture which Thomas Chippendale actually made is all in a manner foreign to his style (being in that of Robert Adam as a rule) which does not suggest that, in the "Director," he was preaching a new and individual gospel.

I have preferred, therefore, to speak of the work of the Chippendale School of craftsmen, as such undoubtedly existed, but this must not be held to mean that this school made furniture in the "Director" manner. The subdivisions used here are the cabriole, the Gothic, the Chinese and the square leg, which are sufficiently obvious to require no further explanation.

In the chair work of this school, solid construction was almost the invariable rule, the only exception being in the case of the Chinese designs, where the whole of the back panel and often the arm openings, are filled with fretwork. For greater strength, and to obviate shrinkage, this fretwork was frequently laminated, that is, built up in three or five layers, the grain of the wood, in alternate strata running transversely to the other layers. The same constructional device (which is eminently a sound one) was also used for the fretted galleries or stretchers of small center tables, either of the five-leg or the tripod variety.

With this furniture of the Chippendale and early American colonial furniture school we get a re­version to the older fine tradition of good construction in furniture, which was such a feature of the earlier oak, as we have seen in previous chapters.

It has already been stated, and may be repeated here with advantage, that posterity has created styles in English and early American colonial furniture, by a process of arbitrary segregation. Actually, the Chippendale merges into the Hepplewhite, and the Hepplewhite into the Sheraton, almost insensibly, but the consideration of the two latter styles belongs to succeeding chapters in this hook.

Early American Colonial Furniture Chair

A WORD or two as to the chairs of early American colonial furniture from Pennsylvania and New England, in conclusion. It is possible that the "Director" penetrated into these states shortly after it was published; it is certain that many of the designs were known in Philadelphia as early as 1770. The patterns of the Chippendale chairs were copied in the Quaker City, but there is one peculiar feature which distinguishes the American from the English chair, almost invariably, that is, the stump form of back leg. This is not an economy in manufacture, as these stump cylindrical legs are, actually, more costly to make than those of the English chairs. It is a fashion borrowed from the Queen Anne walnut models from the Midland Counties. The American term "side chair" is the correct one. The place of the dining room chair, when not in use, was against the side wall of the room, in which position the hack legs would not be markedly noticeable. When placed up to the table, it is only, the servants who would see the back view of the chairs, and they did not matter. The back of the early American colonial furniture as the chair was, therefore, left plain, (not to say ugly) of a de­liberate purpose. It was a tradition of the time, in America, especially in the states where negro help was the rule. A similar idea has pertained in all periods, one which is seldom remarked. A chair is the only piece of furniture which is intended to be viewed from all sides, but where the back is left plain of deliberate pur­pose. A Chippendale chair is never carved at the back, nor is a walnut chair veneered. If the covering of the front he of silk, velvet or needlepoint, then a simple and inexpensive material is invariably selected for the outside back. This is one of the little details which is never noticed-perhaps because it is so obvious.


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