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The Dunlaps Of New Hampshire - Cabinet Makers

By Ethel Hall Bjerkoe

( Orginally published January 1958 )



Not so long ago, as time goes, collectors of American furniture became aware of the fact that several pieces of unusual and highly decorative furniture had been discovered in New Hampshire. Search revealed that these had come from the workshops of the Dunlap family of Chester and Salisbury. As yet, however, a great deal remains unknown regarding this family of cabinetmakers. We do know that there were Samuel I, Samuel II, and Samuel III as well as John and John, Jr.

It is believed that Samuel I came from Ireland to America and settled in Chester, N. H., where he married Martha Neal in 1741. Presently, it is not believed he was a cabinetmaker. His son, Samuel II, served his apprenticeship to a carpenter in Chester but after his marriage to Nancy Cockran moved to Henniker and in 1797 to Salisbury, where he lived until his death in 1830. In 1783, he helped build the steeple of the First Congregational Church in Concord.

Samuel III was born December 15, 1783. He learned the cabinetmaker's trade and moved to Andover, Me., in 1834 where he lived until his death about 1849. John was born in 1754 and died in 1792; John Jr. was born in 1784 in Bedford, N. H.

P. H. Burroughs made an extensive study of the Dunlap family and his findings were published in the American Collector, June, 1937 (no longer published). Some of his findings, however, differed from data regarding the family in "A History of Salisbury, N. H.," by J. J. Dearborn, 1890. Eventually, it is hoped these differences will be resolved so we may know the correct facts.

Burroughs places John in Bedford. N. H., in 1771 where John Jr. was born in 1784. This could mean that John was responsible for the paneling in the room now at the Henrv Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Del., discussed below. Burroughs also says that John Jr. moved to Antrim, N. H., about 1806 and remained there until his death.

It was Burroughs' conclusion that the finer pieces of maple furniture attributed to the Dunlaps were made by Samuel II and that certain cherry pieces with inlay were made by John Jr.

When Samuel II moved to Salisbury in 1797 he purchased the Elkins property and lived in that house until his death. The house was later moved to Boston, N. H.

At the Winterthur Museum, Delaware, there is a room from the Thomas Chandler house at Bedford, N. H. The woodwork is now in the original brick red and blue found under many coats of paint. The cornice shows a stylized egg-and-dart molding which matches that on a maple high chest of drawers exhibited in the room. The same style of molding is found on many of the pieces of furniture attributed to the Dunlaps. In the Chandler room there is also a maple chair, painted blue, with a carved shell in its cresting similar to those in the pediment of the chest. Here, too, there is a maple desk attributed to one of the Dunlaps, made 1770-1790. This has an unusually large intaglio fan and other characteristic features.

All furniture attributed to the Dunlaps is decidedl,y individualistic. The case furniture - highboys, desks, chest-on-chests - and the chairs, all show an interesting combination of open interlaced pediments, scrolls and peculiar carved intaglio fans. Some of the case pieces have a gallery about the top with a small broken arch above a sunburst or fan, with a similar sunburst or fan at each corner. Between these ornaments there is carved basketry. The apron, which is longer than that used by most cabinetmakers, has a carved central motif in the form of Flemish scrolls, often flanked by an intaglio fan. Legs are generally short, cabriole, with claw-and-ball or bun feet. All Dunlap furniture is described as having a "low center of gravity." This quality is quite unmistakable and is present even in the chairs.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, there are several pieces attributed to the Dunlaps.

Queen Anne Curly Mapel Claw-And-Ball Foot Highboy Attributed To The Dunlaps Of New Hampshire