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Furniture - Evidences Of Luxurious Living

( Originally Published 1902 )



BEFORE 1700, New York already numbered among her citizens many rich merchants. As early as 1674, there were ninety-four burghers whose estates were valued at more than a thousand guilders each ; and twenty-two of these estates represented between five and ten thousand guilders. Johannes van Burgh, Jacob Leisler and Johannes de Peyster were each worth about fifteen thousand. The other rich merchants were Cornelis van Ruyven (18,000) ; Jeroninus Ebbing (30,000) ; John Lawrence (40,000) ; Olaf van Cortlandt (45,000) ; Nicholas de Meyer (50,000) ; Cornelis Steenwyck (50,000) ; and Hendrick Philipsen (80,000).

Wealth was rapidly accumulated from the fur and timber trade and from general barter. Twelve years later, Mr. Steenwyck was worth about £16,000, an immense sum in those days. By 1700, there were a good many burghers whose estates amounted to £5,000. John Spratt (16971 with an estate of £3,779 and Col. Lewis Morris (1691) with £4,928, are instances of opulent Britishers.

An examination of the inventories shows that wealth and luxury were not despised. Men came here to make money, and they spent it lavishly on their homes and persons. They went richly and fashionably dressed, and their homes were provided with every comfort, convenience and ornament it was possible to procure. Their wives wore dresses of rich material and had costly jewelry ; their walls were adorned with fine pictures by Dutch masters ; their tables were bright with massive silver ; and their rooms were full of fine furniture of English, Dutch and Oriental manufacture.

Queen Mary is generally credited with setting the taste in England for porcelains and other Eastern wares when she had shelves and cabinets fitted up in Hampton Court on taking up her residence there in 1690. Long before this, howEver, porcelain and lacquer ware were found in New York houses, and sometimes in considerable quantities. As the English element began to predominate, merchants of that nation grew rich in increasing numbers and luxury and fashion became more pronounced. The governors who came here were men of birth, breeding and education, and accustomed to the best that wealth and fashion could give. Bellomont was a friend of King William ; Cornbury was a Royal rake of the first order ; Hunter was a wit and beau ; Burnet was a friend and supporter of the House of Hanover before the accession of George I. ; and all the other governors, including De Lancey, had been accustomed to the best society and familiar with kings' courts.

The picture so often drawn of the goodwife spinning in the kitchen, which forms the general living-room of the house, is there -ore misleading when we are dealing with the wealthy class. The latter lived in fine houses in town with adjoining gardens, stables and offices, or had country-seats not far from the city where they were in easy reach of business. There were very few of them who were not engaged in shipping or foreign trade of some kind. They made money in all sorts of ways ; farming was the least of their activities. In fact, farming on a large scale was not possible, because the area of land around their country-seats was usually comparatively small.

Take, for instance, the country-seat of Alexander Colden, Esq. It is described as " situate on Nassau Island, fronting and commanding a fine view of the harbour and city of New York. It consists of a dwelling-house and about nine acres of excellent land. The house is large and commodious, and the offices numerous and convenient. In the garden and orchard are choice collections of fruits, and of the best Newtown, Spitzenburg and other apple-trees and towards the river on a wharf newly erected are a storehouse and boat house."

The merchants and gentry of New York were always ready for a trade venture that promised profit. It must be confessed also that they were not always over scrupulous. They would traffic with pirates and send supplies to their haunts ; and notwithstanding prohibitions, they would barter firearms and fire-water with the Indians. They did not hesitate to evade the laws of trade, such as customs, when they could safely do so ; and sometimes they were publicly accused of giving aid and comfort to the King's enemies by furnishing the French and Spanish with provisions, arms and munitions of war. Their privateering ventures also prospered ; and the result of this miscellaneous foreign and domestic trade was that the riches, luxuries and elegances of two hemispheres. were landed on the wharves of New York.

The simplest way to gain a clear idea of the interior of the wealthier homes of citizens during the Eighteenth Century is to examine a few of the inventories of men in different stations of life official, mercantile and professional—beginning early in the century.

Let us note for the sake of future comparison the possessions of one Cornelis Jacobs in 1700, who was. worth £1953-19-3. He owned a cedar chest worth £3 ; six leather and six cane chairs, £6 ; three ham-mocks, £2 ; a chest-of-drawers, two stands and a table, 7 ; a walnut table, £1-10-0 ; three looking-glasses, £.3-12-0 ; five pictures, £,2 ; a whitewood bedstead with furniture, including a speckled silk coverlid, £12-7-0 ; a pair of brass andirons and iron frame, £1-4-0 ; 1 pair of andirons and 1 pair of dogs,. £1—10--0 ; 1 cupboard and lignum-vitae punchbowl, £2; a bedstead and furniture, £7-10-0 ; a children's bedstead and furniture, £1-10-0; a table and six old chairs, 10 shillings; a brass lamp, 3 shillings; 1 glass case, three shillings ; two chimney cloths, 10 shillings ; a white muslin cloth for chest of drawers, £10-7-6 ; and a great deal of brassware, pewter, china, earthen-ware and linen.

Mr. Jacobs was a good example of an ordinary Dutchman, for he had a few luxuries. His books were worth no less than £6, and his 295 ounces of wrought plate, £103-8-6. He possessed wrought and unwrought gold equal to £32—5—0; a watch valued at £4 ; two East India small trinkets, £2-10-0 ; a " cokernut " shell tipped with silver, £1 ; a silver-headed sword, £3-10—0 ; two canes, £3; two clasped books, £2—10—0; "a chaine of pearl," £5 ; a feather tippet, £1-4-0 ; a silver box and four buttons,ered bowl," £10—3-0 ; two tortoiseshell combs, £1-10-o; and a great deal of money, some of it Arabian and Spanish. His house, kitchen and ground were valued at L300.

Turning to an English household in Queen Anne's reign, let us see what Col. William Smith of St. George's, Suffolk Co., owned in 1705. He was worth £2589–4–0. To begin with, he had six bedsteads, the handsomest hung with silk and valued at £30, and three, worth £20, furnished with fine calico curtains. He had a " landskip screen," £2-10-0; a handsome chest of drawers of walnut and olive wood, £15, and two other chests of drawers, £2-15-0; one large Japanned looking-glass, £10, and two others £10-15-0; fifty-two chairs, seven of which are large elbow chairs, thirteen leather, and twenty-three cane, altogether £27-1-I ; a number of feather beds and a good deal of household linen ; seven bed quilts, one of which was of silk and worth £8.

He owned five fine twisted rugs valued at £35 seventeen flannel blankets worth £1 each ; silk and other cushions, £3-10-0; three Turkey-work carpets and a blue cloth carpet, X4.; a table, two comb boxes and two powder boxes, £3 ; a "silk twilite" for a table and 8 yards of silk, L4; pictures worth £3–10–0 ; holland muslin and cambric, £35 ; an hour-glass and two cases of knives, £1-4-0; six great black leather trunks, £6 ; another one, and also two large hair and three small hair trunks, £4–10–0; four large cases and bottles, £6; 1 case Venice glasses, £3 ; and books, £40; silver plate, £150; pewter, £20; chinaware, £5 ; and flint glasses, £3-14–0.

Among his miscellaneous articles, we may note a violin, worth £3 ; a fishing-rod, two screws for letters and two pewter standishes ; a silver hilted cane, L3; a blunderbuss and some pistols ; three swords, £8 a Turkey scimiter, £5–10–0; a large compass, two perspective glasses ; an instrument to try pearls, 12 shillings ; a loadstone and a touchstone, £2 and two silk colours and two drums, £15. His wearing apparel was valued at £109 ; and, in addition, he owned two seals, £2 ; 104 silver buttons, £5—10—0 ; a silver watch and gold buttons, £5–10-0 ; eleven embroidered belts, £110 ; two razor cases, and a hone, and sixteen razors, £3.

Colonel Smith was one of the residents who owned a coach, which, with cushions and harness, equaled £40 ; and a number of saddles, valued at £12-10-0, among which was a velvet saddle and a velvet side saddle worth £10.

Judging from this list of articles, even in the days of Queen Anne, when the town was amused or shocked at the pranks of her kinsman, the wild Lord Cornbury, there was considerable wealth and luxury, which had increased very greatly by the time George I. ascended the throne. Four years after the latter event (1718), Captain Giles Shelly of New York had the following household furniture. As he was a very rich man, worth no less than £6812—16–7, it is not surprising to see that he had surrounded himself with every comfort. Among his goods, were five bed-steads. One had red china curtains ; one was a sacking bedstead with blue shalloon curtains ; one, a canopy bedstead with silk muslin curtain and white muslin inside curtain and valance ; another, with a head and tester cloth ; and the last, a sacking-bottom bedstead with a suit of striped muslin curtains lined with calico, a chintz quilt going with the latter.

He had seventy chairs : one red plush elbow, one easy-chair, two elbow chairs, six of Turkey-work, twenty-one of cane, and twenty-seven matted, and twelve of leather. One cane couch was also among his possessions. Then there were thirteen tables : one, a small oval, one a large painted oval and one a large oval ; one clock and case ; one repeating clock ; six looking-glasses, two pairs of sconces, one of which was gilt ; a hanging candlestick ; a pair of brass candlesticks with snuffers ; two trays for tea ; a brass lantern ; "a brass hearth with hooks for shovel and tongs ; " a dressing-box ; two chests-of-drawers ; a chest-of-drawers and looking-glass ; a dog painted on a board ; two warming-pans ; seventy-four pictures, some in black and some in gilt frames, some black prints and " one landskip chimney piece ; " five chests ; three Turkey-carpets ; three pairs muslin curtains and valance ; four calico curtains with valance and chimney cloth; a flowered muslin toilet; a suit of calico curtains ; a red and gold satin carpet ; an embroidered counterpane ; three pair of arras hangings ; " the arras hangings from the Bowery ;" four hand fire-screens a parcel of sand-glasses ; a red rug ; a prospect glass; and many feather beds, handsome brass hearth furniture, and pewter and copper for the kitchen.

He had a case of knives and two silver-handled knives ; a chafing-dish ; a great deal of valuable plate, including a tankard of 24 OZ., two silver chafing-dishes and a pair of silver salts. The china included a red tea-pot, three basons, a sugar-box, twelve images and "six chaney lions." Captain Shelly owned a sword, four small arms and a trumpet. Forty-five beer glasses, a punch-howl and a pipe of canary and some bitter wine show that he was fond of good cheer. Two pairs of tables, men and dice prove that he was fond of games ; two fine coach horses, that he drove about the country in style ; two patch-boxes, that he wore the fashionable mouches upon his cheeks; and a lot of jewelry, that he was fond of pretty trinkets. Among his curios, he had a " deer's foot tipped with gold."

As a contrast to the home of a rich country-gentleman, we may examine the belongings of Governor William Burnet, who died in 1729, worth £4540-4-3. His home in Perth Amboy was luxurious and filled with the most fashionable articles of the day, yet some of it must have belonged to an older period, since certain pieces of furniture are referred to as "much shattered." He owned two eight-day clocks, each valued at £18 ; a scrutoire with glass doors, £20 ; eleven tables, one an oval of black walnut, another, a large one of black walnut, a third, a plain tea-table, a fourth, a japanned tea-table, a fifth, a small round table, a sixth, a card-table much shattered ; and others, a square table, an oval table, and a small square table, and plain tables.

" A fine gilt cabinet and frame much shattered " must have been an unusual piece of furniture for even in its dilapidated condition it is valued at £12.

This was probably one of those handsome cabinets of the Regency, or early Louis XV. style. His looking-glasses and sconces seem to have been hand-some : one is described as large with glass arms; he also had a small dressing-glass. His beds included a " coach bed with chintz curtains," worth £25 ; there was another with red curtains, valued at £10; and a third, an iron bedstead, with chintz curtains, worth £7-10-0. Among other articles, were a writing-desk and stand, a linen-press, a horse for drying clothes, an old chest-of-drawers, a mattress of Russia leather, a brass hearth and dogs, two old checquered canvases to lay under a table, and " a large painted canvas square as the room." The latter was valued at L8.

The Governor's chairs consisted of twenty-four red leather chairs with embowed backs, worth £28—16—0 ; fifteen bass bottomed chairs and a child's chair, eight walnut framed chairs, nine embowed or hollow back chairs with fine bass bottoms, £9 ; seven walnut chairs with fine bass bottoms, £7 ; two bass chairs, four ordinary chairs, and an easy chair covered with silk. He owned four pieces of tapestry valued at £20; " a fine piece of needlework representing a rustick ", £5 ; a fire-screen of tapestry work ; two paper fire-screens ; and two four-leaf screens covered with gilt leather, worth £15.

The silver, china, glass and pewter, were very valuable. He had no less than a dozen silver candle-sticks and "two branches for three lights," amounting, with other plate, to 1172 ounces. Three dozen silver knives and three dozen silver forks in three cases were worth another £72 ; his china and glass, £130—16—0 ; and the pewter was valued at £100—2—6. Governor Burnet seems to have been quite a collector of pictures. He owned 151 Italian prints, 20 " masentinto prints," besides numerous other pictures in black or glazed frames.

Governor Burnet's successor, Governor Montgomerie, lived no less elegantly. He established him-self at Fort George, and prepared in every way to enjoy life, to make friends and to render his rule popular and brilliant. He had eight negro slaves to wait upon him and one to entertain him, a musician, worth double as much as any of the others. The Governor owned sixteen horses, a four-wheeled chaise and harness, a coach with a set of fine harness, two sets of travelling-harness, and a fine suit of embroidered horse-furniture with bridles, bits, etc., etc. His barge with its accoutrements, was worth L25 and he had a small four-oared boat. His wine cellar must have been stocked with choice vintages, since it was valued at £2500, and his library must also have been unusual, for it was estimated at £200.

Naturally, his dwelling was richly appointed. He had a fine yellow camlet bed valued at £15 ; a pair of large sconces with gilded frames, £9 ; walnut framed sconces and branches, £9 ; an eight-day clock, £8 ; a repeating table-clock, £8 ; a large looking-glass with a gilt frame, £4 ; a gilt leather screen, £3 ; twelve leather chairs, £3-12-0 ; six new black-bottomed chairs, £6 ; twelve new-fashioned matted chairs, £4-8-0 ; and six yellow chairs,—thirty-six in all ; a bed with blue china curtains ; four pairs of crimson harrateen window curtains and five pairs of yellow camlet curtains.

Among other articles were a Japanned tea-table, a pair of gilded-frame sconces, a large chimney-glass, and a walnut card-table. Two dozen knives and forks, a complete set of china, Japanned fruit plates, cut glass cruets, water and champagne glasses, and a great deal of silver. His important pictures represented Greenwich Park, a vineyard, some goats, a landscape, sheep-shearing, and a water scene. He had a parrot cage and a " Tycken " umbrella. Some of these articles and some additional ones were offered for sale shortly afterwards.

Passing over a period of ten years, we may gain an idea of a typical rich man's house towards the middle of the century,—that of Rip Van Dam, who had held the office of President of the Council and acting Governor. The house he lived in was worth about £500. It. was of brick and was two stories high. The worth of his household furniture and negro slaves was estimated at from £250 to £300. Among his goods and chattels, he had a Japanned chest-of-drawers, valued at £3 ; a black walnut table, a looking-glass, a desk and bookcase, ten chairs, an elbow chair, (£4) ; a clock, (£9) ; a large table, a chest-of-drawers, twelve leather chairs, twelve black chairs, a mahogany table, a writing-desk, a screen, two sconces, and a backgammon table. He also owned a silver-hilted sword, and twelve gold rings. His negroes came to £50 ; and his silver to £90.

Two interesting chairs, whose style dates from about 1720, appear on page 62. These are walnut with high crown-backs, jar-shaped splats, cabriole legs and hoof feet. The writing-desk was given by Gen. Washington to Gen. Walter Stewart. They are owned by Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin S. Church, of New York.



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