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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

An Alphabet Of American Antiques
(Part 1 Of 2)



A:-It was difficult to select A!-1 might have chosen Adam Brothers, Robert and James, the great English designers, who really made no furniture, 'but who exerted a great influence upon the styles of furniture in England and America. I thought of acanthus, used often in decorative work on early furniture, or armchair, the descendent of the throne, or andirons. It was a forgotten strain of music from "Wild Roved the Indian Girl, Bright Alfarata" that influenced my choice. It made me think of my grandfather, humming the song in his mellow tenor voice, as he sat on Sunday afternoons turning the pages of his Bible and the almanac. So I selected almanac for A. You may have the great luck to find some old almanacs, as I did, hidden in a box in the garret of a farmhouse, or you may run across an interesting example in a collection of old books. Old almanacs are fascinating to examine. Among the early almanacs published in America were "An Almanack for the Year r639," published in the home of the first president of Harvard College, Henry Dunster, and the "Kalendarium Pennsilvanieuse," brought out in Philadelphia in 1685 by a Quaker printer, William Bradford. Cotton Mather also wrote and published an almanac in 1683. It was called "The Boston Ephemeris, An Almanack for the Year of the Christian Aera." In 1774 Elisha Stimson of Boston I59 brought out an almanac called "The Mathematician's Glory, Astronomy and New England Almanack." "Thomas' New England Almanack; or, the Massachusetts Calendar for 1775" was published in Dedham. "Poor Job's Almanack" was brought out by job Shepherd of Newport, Rhode Island, and in 1728 Benjamin Franklin's brother, James, published the "Poor Robin" Almanac. The best known of all is, of course, "Poor Richard's" which Benjamin Franklin first brought out in 1732. It was published for twenty-five years.

B:-Beds, benches, bookcases-I might have selected any one of them for B. You would have found a description of them interesting, I think, and I hope that sometime you will look up the history of the bed and its outfittings. However, I chose Banister-Back for B. It was a chair of the late seventeenth century, and was made in great quantities by the American craftsmen, and became characteristic of cottage and farmhouse furniture. Native woods-maple, pine, ash, and cedar -were used in the construction of banister-back chairs. They were made in an infinite variety of designs, but all were modelled upon the idea of an open-backed chair with vertical slats. The name was given to the type, as you have no doubt guessed, from the similarity of the slats to the balusters of a stairway. Sometimes the banisters were full turned; again, one side of each was left flat, with the flat side toward the front of the chair. Some banister-back chairs had arms; others had none. The legs and rails were usually well turned, and the posts were surmounted by turned knobs of pleasing designs. It was customary for four banisters to be set between rails which were ornamented by scrolls. Rushes, flags, the barks of the elm and the bass tree were used for making the bottoms.

C IS FOR CUPBOARD, an important piece of furniture in early American homes. During the Jacobean Period in England different types were made. Some of them were brought to America and copied by local craftsmen. One interesting kind was the elaborately carved press cupboard. At first it was called a court or "short" cupboard and set upon a small table-like structure. Later, the table part was enclosed and the upper section had room for the display of the family treasures. Press cupboards were handsome and expensive. The corner cupboard was liked especially in the time of Queen Anne, and was beautifully decorated and ornamented. In the colonies, it was made of native woods and was simple in design and structure. It was known as a "beaufet." Some early American cupboards were chamfered and were painted red inside.

D:-I wish that I had time to mention the bureau bookcases and the secretaries designed by the great English cabinet-makers. I must content myself, however, with just a reference to them. The desks of the early colonists were used to hold the precious family Bible 2nd the prized family papers and a few books. This type was known as a desk-box. The name describes it. It had a cover which raised on hinges, and was supported on a table-structure with turned legs and stretchers. Desk-boxes were also known as "scrutoires" and were named in early wills. At a later period shelves were added for holding books, drawers appeared, and the form now called the "secretary" developed. The English cabinet-makers, especially Sheraton, made the secretary in mahogany. Sometimes the book-case top was omitted, and only the desk with drawers remained. An American craftsman, well-known for the desks he designed, was John Goddard of Rhode Island. Goddard desks have beautiful block fronts.

E IS FOR EASY CHAIR frequently used in bedrooms. Alice Morse Earle tells us that these chairs "were covered with the stuffs of which bed-hangings and window curtains were made such as `Chins,' `callico,' `camblet,' `harrateen'," * At a later period the wing chairs of the time of Queen Anne were copied. Wing chairs were made for the satisfactory disposition of the extreme fulness of the Queen Anne and Georgian skirts. You see, a desire for more refinement and comfort in the ways of living began to appear during these years. Chair-makers of Italy, Spain, France, and Germany had already commenced to cooperate with the upholsterers, and English craftsmen followed the pattern set them by workmen of the Continent. The backs of wing chairs were of sensible height and were upholstered and shaped to conform to the lines of the body in such a manner that shoulders were comfortably supported. The fashionable upholstery materials were woven fabrics, brocades, leathers, and embroideries. These comfortable and homelike chairs had cabriole legs, and were characterized by the marked slant of the backs, the wide seats, and the curved rolls of the arms. The frames were usually of walnut or mahogany.

F: is FOR FIRESCREEN, popular with my lady during the eighteenth century. She ornamented the panels with needlepoint, the work of her own white fingers, in many cases. As the name implies, firescreens were used to keep the heat of the fire from causing discomfort to the persons sitting before it. The embroidered panel was supported between two upright standards and was topped with elaborately carved crestings. Sheraton designed firescreens on poles supported by tripods.

G Is FOR GATE-LEG TABLE which received its name from the fact that an additional leg or "gate" folded back and allowed the leaves to drop when the table was not in use. It belongs to the middle of the seventeenth century and shows the influence of the Jacobean craftsmen. The early types had four legs. Later, the table had six, eight, and occasionally twelve legs. Various types of legs were used, as the ball-turned leg, the urn leg, the egg-and-reel turned leg, and the straight leg. This useful table was fashionable at different periods, but had a tremendous vogue during the time of Charles II. An interesting variation was the "butterfly" table, characterized by a flap with a curve instead of a gate for the support of the drop-leaf.

H IS FOR HARDWARE, made by the craftsmen of early America and characterized by its beauty of line and its sincerity. Of the outfittings of the great fireplace, none are more interesting than the utensils for holding wood-the andirons. Andirons were of various sizes. The largest of all supported the mammoth backlogs which were rolled into the fireplaces and burned from early morning until evening. They were of various shapes. Among the more ornate were "The Hessian Soldier" and the "Dog." The last-named gave the popular title of firedogs to andirons. The poet Whittier describes yet another type in Snowbound.

"The crane and pendent trammels showed, The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed."

They were made of iron, brass and copper. Footscrapers, door-knockers, and hinges and locks have a fascination for the lover of American antiques. The strong strap hinge was the most common of the hinges for hanging doors. It was placed directly on the surface of the door. Often the end was ornamented by flattening or splitting into points, either curved or scrolled. The HL hinge took its name from its characteristic shape. Doors were opened by means of clumsy iron latches. Strong iron and brass locks were necessary for protection in early days. Door-keys were of mammoth size. The name of the door-knocker implies its mission. The fiddle-back knocker was an early type which was distinctive and beautiful. After the year eighteen hundred, the American eagle decorated some door-knockers.

I IS FOR IRON LAMPS AND CANDLESTICKS. We read that a deposit of bog iron was discovered near Boston in 1683. After a smelter was erected, iron articles were made. Among them were "Betty" lamps and "Phoebe" lanaps. In shape they followed the lines of the lamps of Greece and Rome. The oil-holder in a Betty lamp resembled a shallow, oval-shaped dish with a spout an inch or two long from which protruded a wick attached to one side of the dish. When the wick was lighted, it gave out a dull flame and a most disagreeable odor. Some of these iron lamps were fitted out with prongs and hooks to attach them to the logs of the cabin wall, chair backs or nails. Candlesticks for everyday use were made of iron or tin. Late in the seventeenth century appeared the iron tripods with two branching candlesticks that could be pushed up and down. Iron candlesticks were in use on New England farms as late as the early nineteenth century. Often, when not lighted, they hung from nails driven about the fireplace. Matching the candlesticks were trays containing a pair of snuffers to trim the wick, and an extinguisher shaped like a cone to place over the top of the candle when the light was to be put out.

J IS FOR JACOBEAN CHAIRS which were brought over from England and reproduced by American craftsmen. A typical chair of the period was the wainscot chair which was directly descended from the Gothic chairs of the Middle Ages. Made of oak, the standard wood of the seventeenth century, they had great solidity and strength. They were characterized by the rectangular stile and rail construction, the flat relief carving, and the use of paneling. Seats, as well as backs, were usually made of wood. These carved chairs were owned only by people of affluence. The so-called "Winslow Chair" in Pilgrim Hall at Plymouth, Massachusetts, is a wainscot chair. Another characteristic chair of the period was the "Monk's Seat" or chair-table. It could be used as a table, but when the top was tipped back and the piece of furniture was set against the wall-behold a large chair! They were, as you can see, extremely useful in the limited space of the rooms of the early settlers. Round tops were common, but oblong and square tops were seen also.

K Is FOR KITCHEN, the center of early home life in the colonies. Let us listen to the description given by a girl who knew and loved a New England kitchen. Lucy Larcom says, "Primitive ways of doing things had not'wholly ceased during my childhood; they were kept up in the old towns longer than elsewhere. We used tallow candles and oil lamps, and sat by open fireplaces. There was always the tinder-box in some safe corner or other, and the fire was kindled by striking flint and steel upon the tinder. What magic it seemed to me, when I was first allowed to strike that wonderful spark, and light the kitchen fire!

"The fireplace was deep, and there was a `settle' in the chimney corner, where three of us youngest girls could sit together and toast our toes on the andirons (two Continental soldiers in full uniform, marching one after the other) while we looked up the chimney into a square of blue sky, and sometimes caught a snowflake on our foreheads; or sometimes smirched our clean aprons (high-necked and long-sleeved ones known as tiers) against the swinging crane with its sooty pothooks and trammels. The coffee-pot was set for breakfast over hot coals, on a three-legged bit of iron called a `trivet'. Potatoes were roasted in the ashes, and the Thanksgiving turkey in a 'tin-kitchen', the business of turning- the spit being usually delegated to some of us :mall folk, who were only too willing to burn our faces in honor of the annual festival.

"When supper was finished, and the tea-kettle was pushed back on the crane, and the backlog had been reduced to a heap of fiery embers, then was the time for listening to sailor yarns and ghost and witch legends. The wonder seems somehow to have faded out of those tales of eld since the gleam of red-hot coals died away from the hearthstone. The shutting up of the great fireplaces marks an era; tile abdication of shaggy Romance and the enthronement of elegant Commonplace-sometimes, alas! the opposite of elegant-at the New England fireside."


[Continue To Part 2 Of Article]




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