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Furniture In The William And Mary Style
( Article orginally published July 1959 )
William and Mary came to the throne of England in 1689. It is doubtful, however, if furniture in the baroque style bearing their names -- a direct importation into England from Holland -- reached the Colonies until shortly before 1700.
How it reached them even at that date is a matter of speculation, but doubtless some furniture in this style was brought over by new settlers, then copied by Colonial joiners ready for any new idea that would add to the beauty and comfort of their productions. Many artisans from Europe arrived at this time in all the Colonies, and they, too, brought with them knowledge of the new fashion.
Although the William and Mary style had considerable effect upon tne furniture made in the Colonies, it was, after all, short-lived. In many ways it was a transitional style between the heavy and elaborate Jacobean and the beautiful Queen Anne.
Some of the William and Mary furniture was made of oak, so popular in the preceding periods, but the Colonial workmen were finding walnut, maple, pine, apple-wood, sycamore, and other native woods much easier to use. So this new-style furniture was not only less heavy and bulky because of its design but also because of its construction from lighter-weight wood.
Inlay, often called marquetry, became an important feature of decoration during these years. Frequently it took the form of elaborate floral patterns, or the very popular seaweed design. Veneering was also fashionable.
At about this time the banisterback chair, both with and without arms, replaced somewhat the caneback chair. Some of the furniture was painted and gilded. The upholstered wing chair made its appearance. And there were many more day beds and settees, either upholstered or with loose cushions.
Outstanding characteristics of the William and Mary furniture are the turned legs with inverted cups or in a trumpet shape; and the serpentine shaped stretcher. Drop handles were commonly used. The double-arched back was usual on cabinets and settees.
Chair backs were high, and rounded at the top with carving. The cockle shell and acanthus leaf were both popular for this purpose. In addition to the banister-back chair there were other chairs, some caned and some upholstered.
Chair legs were square, spiral-turned, or octagonal with hoof, claw, ball, or bun feet. Toward the end of the period the cabriole leg came in, the Spanish scroll was introduced, and block feet were used on chests. Most of these new features showed how great the Dutch influence was in England at this time.
From the Orient, by way of Holland, came the knowledge of lacquering, which became the vogue in England and continued with decreasing popularity until the end of the eighteenth century. This fad spread to the Colonies, and some of the work done before 1735 was very good.
Lacquered furniture was never as popular in America, however, as it was in England. In Boston, as early as 1700, David Mason was advertising his ability to execute this form of decoration as well as gilding, painting, and varnishing.
Highboys appeared about 1700 and rapidly became a favorite of the Colonial craftsmen. The greater number were made with six trumpet-shaped legs, with ball feet, and flat cymacurved stretchers. Occasionally the spiral-turned legs were used.
Often we find a matching lowboy accompanying the highboy. The gateleg table also arrived. Higher bedsteads were introduced at this time. However their frames were generally hidden beneath canopies and hangings of satin or silk.
Although Queen Anne came to the throne of England in 1702, it is doubtful whether any of the so-called Queen Anne furniture appeared in the Colonies much before her death in 1714. Even then the acceptance and development of this new style proceeded slowly.
Many of today's collectors of American-made furniture are apt to prefer the Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, or Sheraton styles to the William and Mary. Nevertheless, others search eagerly for worthwhile examples of this interesting style.