Purely American Types
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The creation of purely American types was a matter of slow but gradual development. That is to say, the household furniture built up upon the old models with which the Pilgrim Fathers were familiar, and those later styles which came over as time went on from Great Britain and the Continent of Europe, were supplemented by purely American types. The conditions of living in America changed rapidly after the colonists had become established, and of course still more so after the Declaration of Independence ; but while the different pieces of furniture were slowly changing and becoming Americanised, so much so that in the details of construction and materials of which they were made and in the ornament with which they were embellished, they were scarcely recognisable as being the same as the furniture from which they sprang. Side by side with these growing developments and altered conditions, which involved changes in construction, there sprang up the need for American furniture of altogether different types, something unknown in the Old World, household goods, however, which had no counterpart in the earlier lives of colonial settlers. It is these purely American styles and types to which collectors sometimes turn their attention. Naturally they are few in number, because the time during which they evolved or sprang into existence was limited, for collectors of the antique must perforce draw the line at late Georgian styles ; or at any rate, early Victorian days, and the periods which represent them in America.
It has been mentioned that the colonial Windsor chair took the fan-back form, a fine example of which is the historic chair used by Thomas Jefferson when drafting the Declaration of Independence. Another distinctly American characteristic is found in the use of American woods, many of which were unsuitable for polishing or finishing in the same way that pertained in other countries. Thus, an American type of finish was created when the colonial furniture maker hit upon the happy plan of staining furniture green, and the painted furniture to which reference has already been made was so distinct a characteristic that it produced an American type. It is true that there were not many independently developed changes, but all will admit that the black and gilt of the so-called American Sheraton was a type without counterpart in other countries.
Rocking-chairs are peculiarly American, and in more recent days they had become an important feature in American furniture.
We can well understand that the old settle was peculiarly suitable to colonial life. An American addition was the ear or wing pieces which protected the occupant from a draught, very necessary in olden time in the days of wood houses and log huts. Some of these settles were made with lockers underneath. In many instances the back of the settle was raised higher and a shelf was added. There are various tables, all more or less a development of earlier forms, but the so-called butterfly table is essentially American.
The kas, or kasse, was derived from the Dutch name for a cupboard. It became an important feature in colonial homes, and among early American furniture some very special types sprang into existence, owing to the exigencies of local conditions. Some of these cupboards were very large. They were distinguished' in old inventories as plain cupboards, great cupboards, and great presses. The materials of which some of them were made were indicated by such names as walnut cupboards, cedar cupboards, and painted cupboards. Thus there were varieties of the kas, in which household goods of various kinds were stored. Sometimes the kas was fitted with shelves, and not infrequently it was fashioned in two parts. There was a long drawer underneath, and a large cupboard with two drawers above. The kas frequently stood on large ball feet, giving it a distinct characteristic. No court or livery cupboards appear to have been used in some of the States, but where there was an absence of the court or livery cupboards the kas was always to be found.