Furniture - Cabinet Makers And Vendue Sales
( Originally Published 1902 )
THE people of New York had every opportunity to furnish their homes handsomely. Ships brought each week the newest articles in furniture and ornament from London. Any one who had the means and took pride in living in the best taste could easily keep up with European fashions. The cabinet-makers and upholsterers were a numerous race. New artisans were constantly arriving. They had learned their trade from English cabinet-makers and were ready to make up " gentlemen's goods " at the shortest notice in accordance with the latest fashions.
Some of these cabinet-makers were undoubtedly experts ; for instance, Mr. John Brinner, whose advertisement appears on page 97, was a master carver. He brought with him six artisans of ability. Any one who is familiar with Chippendale's Gentleman's and Cabinet-Maker's Directory, cannot fail to recognize the style of furniture that Mr. Brinner was able to make. We find him mentioning nearly every article that appears in Chippendale's book of de-signs, even to cases and shelves for china, furniture in Gothic and Chinese taste and the heavily draped field bedsteads.
We also find Mr. Joseph Cox making " ribband back," Gothic, and rail-back chairs, French elbow, easy and corner chairs, canopy, festoon, and field-beds, burgairs, china-shelves and other articles that only a master-hand could produce.
By noting the advertisements of almost any cabinet-makers and upholsterers we can readily understand the kind of articles they made. For example, in 1750, we read :
" James Huthwaite and Stephen Callow, upholsterers from London living in the Bridge Street, near the Long Bridge makes all sorts of Beds, Settees, Chairs and Coaches after the newest Fashion ; likewise stuffs Riding chairs and hangs Rooms with Paper and other things."
Stephen Callow " made Beds, Chairs, Settees, Suffoys, couches, and likewise hangs Rooms with stuff or Paper." In 1753, he advertises :
" Stephen Callow, upholsterer from London (near Oswego Market), makes all sorts of beds, chairs, settees, sofas, etc., and hangs rooms with paper or stuffs in the neatest manner. He has a choice assortment of paper hangings and upholsterers' goods at reasonable rates."
Other cabinet-makers dating from 1754 to 1767 included Robert Wallace, in Beaver Street ; Thomas Griggs, near the Gentlemen's Coffee House ; John Parsons, between the New and Fly Markets near his late master Joshua Delaplain ; Gilbert Ash, in Wall Street ; and Charles Shipman, near the Old Slip. These artisans made chairs, easy-chairs, close-stool chairs, settees, couches, all sorts of cabinets, scrutoires, desks, bookcases, chests-of-drawers, and tables of all kinds,—square, round, oval, plain, " scallopt," or " quadrile." Mr. Brinner, of whom we have already spoken, who arrived in 1762, evidently did more elaborate work. It is quite interesting to note, however, that there were numbers of workmen who did nothing but carve, and among these was Samuel Dwight, carver, who lived between the Ferry Stairs and Bur-ling Slip and did "all kinds of work for cabinetmakers,"--that is to say, he carved the furniture that they made.
In 1773, Willett and Pearsey, cabinet and chair-makers, were at the Sign of the Clothes Press, nearly opposite the Oswego Market, at the upper end of Maiden Lane, "where cabinet and chair work of every kind is punctually performed with the greatest neatness and care." They offered "three elegant desks and bookcases, chest-upon-chest of drawers, one Lady's dressing-chest and bookcase, three desks and one pair of card-tables, two sets of chairs, three dining-tables, five breakfast tables, one clock-case furnished with a good plain eight day clock, sundry stands, etc."
In 1775, Samuel Prince, cabinet-maker, at the Sign of the Chest-of-Drawers, in William Street, near the North Church in New York, made and sold all sorts of cabinet-work in the neatest manner and on the lowest terms. Orders for the West Indies and elsewhere were " compleated on the shortest notice." He had on hand for sale "a parcel of the most elegant furniture made of mahogany of the very best quality, such as chest-of-drawers, chestupon-chest, cloath-presses, desks, desks and bookcases of different sorts, chairs of many different and new patterns, beuro tables, dining-tables, card-tables, breakfast-tables, tea-tables and many other sorts of cabinet work very cheap."
The two most fashionable upholsterers were George Richey and Joseph Cox. The former had a. shop in 1759 opposite the Merchants' Coffee House, but in 1770 he was at The Sign of the Crown and Tossel opposite the Old Slip Pump. During these years he kept up with the latest London fashions and made beds, chairs and easy-chairs, couch-beds, settees, sofas, and French chairs. He festooned window-curtains " according to the latest style, as practised in London," and was always receiving from abroad paper-hangings "in the newest taste." In 1770, he made mattresses fit for sea or land and " lines and tassels to answer furniture of any colour, at the shortest notice."
Joseph Cox was also from London and had The Royal Bed for his sign. This hung out in Dock Street and afterwards in Wall Street. He made exactly the same articles as his rival, and in 1771, put up " all sorts of Tapestry, Velvet, Silk and paper-hangings in the neatest manner." He kept a fine assortment of " lines and tossels for beds and window curtains of different colours ; " and, in 1773, offered "lines and a few very handsome balance tossels for hall Ian-thorns," as well as a "large assortment of bed laces, amongst which is some white cotton bed lace of a new manufactory and white fringes for ditto." In this year he advertised that he " makes all sorts of canopy, festoon, field and tent beadsteads and furniture ; also every sort of drapery, window curtains, likewise sopha, settees, couches, burgairs, French elbow, easy and corner chairs ; back stools, mewses, ribband back, Gothic and rail back chairs ; ladies' and gentlemen's desk and book-cases, cabinets, chest-ofdrawers, commode dressing and toilet-tables, writing, reading sideboard, card and night ditto ; clothes presses and chests, china shelves, ecoinures, fire screens, voiders, brackets for lustres and busts, with every other article in the business."
Two styles of chairs that were fashionable through-out the period appear on page 81. These are designs that Chippendale was fond of making, and there is every reason to suppose that the New York cabinet-makers produced them in large numbers.
Apart from the efforts of the cabinet-makers and upholsterers, the merchants and importers to supply the New Yorkers with fashionable furniture and other luxuries and comforts, there was still another means by which the homes of the period could be richly stocked with choice articles. Many opportunities were afforded by the public vendue, or auction. Households broke up then as suddenly as now ; death sometimes removed the head of the family, but more often the British officers and those in authority were transferred to other stations and preferred to sell their household effects rather than to carry them home or move them.
Many English residents who came to America as an experiment wearied of their experiences, and be-fore returning home sold out the contents of the house that they had taken such pains to furnish. When one remembers the custom that English people have of taking such a vast number of belongings into the wilds, it will not require much imagination to believe that when they came to New York (a comparatively easy journey), they did not hesitate to transport a ship-load of articles. Of course the Governor surrounded himself with every luxury, and at the beginning of our period, upon the death of Gov. Montgomerie, we find all his goods offered for sale at public vendue at Fort George. It may be interesting to see what kind of things he considered necessary to his comfort and pleasure, and what handsome articles New Yorkers were able to secure as early as 1731. The list reads :
" A fine new yellow Camblet Bed lined with silk and laced which came from London with Captain Downing with the Bed-ding. One fine Field Bedstead and Curtains. Some blew Cloth lately come from London for Liveries; and some white Drap cloth with proper Trimming. Some broad Gold Lace. A very fine Medicine Chest with great variety of valuable Medicines. A parcel of Sweetmeat and Jelly Glasses. A Case with Twelve Knives and Twelve Forks with silver handles guilded. Some good Barbados Rum. A considerable Quantity of Cytorn Water. A Flack with fine Jessamine Oyl. A fine Jack with Chain and Pullies, etc. A large fixt Copper Boyling Pot. A large Iron Fireplace. Iron Bar and Doors for a Cop-per. A large lined Fire Skreen. And several other Things. All to be seen at the Fort.
"And also at the same Time and Place there will be sold One Gold Watch of Mr. Tompkins make and one silver Watch. Two Demi-Peak Saddles, one with blew Cloth Laced with gold and the other Plain Furniture. One Pair of fine Pistols. A fine Fuzee mounted with Silver and one long Fowling-Piece."
Some time later we read : "At New York on Thursday, the 1st of June, at three o'clock in the Afternoon will begin to be Sold at Public Auction, a Collection of valuable Books, being the Library of his Excellency John Montgomerie, Esq., late Governour of New York, etc., deceased. A Catalogue of the Books may be seen at the Coffee House in New York with the Conditions of Sale." In August were offered " several fine Saddle Horses, Breeding Mares and Colts, Coach-Horses and Harness, and several other things belonging to the Estate of his late Excellency Governor Montgomerie ;" and on Monday the 2d of October "about Noon, at the Exchange Coffee House will be exposed to Sale at Publick Vendue, a large fine Barge with Awning and Damask Curtains; Two Sets of Oars, Sails, and everything that is necessary for her. She now lies in the Dock and did belong to the late Governour Montgomerie."
The negroes, plate, and furniture of the late Hon. Rip Van Dam, Esq., offered for sale in 1749, show that the choice goods of another governor were scattered among New York houses, while in 1754 at public vendue at the Fort were sold "sundry goods and effects belonging to Sir Danvers Osborne, Bart.," —the ill-fated governor who committed suicide soon after his arrival. These included " beds, bedding, household furniture, kitchen furniture, pewter, turnery, china-ware, a coach and harness, linen, two gold watches, some old hock, etc., etc."
The furniture, plate, coaches and horses belonging to the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Loudoun, also sold at auction at Fort George in 1758, gave the residents another opportunity of securing valuable possessions. Captain George Douglas, Captain Thomas Seymour, Sir Charles Hardy, Captain Plenderleath, Captain Benjamin Davies, and the Hon. Major Carey are among those who sold out their household goods when they were transferred to other stations, or were about to return to England. In addition to his mahogany furniture, Captain Benjamin Davies offered for sale in 1775, "a fine chamber organ and a spinet."
Sometimes there were sales of objects of art. For example, in 1771, the following pictures :
" A large kitchen with dead game, Snyders ; Its companion, do., A storm, capital, Backhousen ; A Calm, Wright ; A conversation, Hemskirk; Its companion; A Landskip, Flemish; A View in Flanders, Brughel; Its companion; A Fruit Piece with a Mackaw, Vander Moulen, together with three pairs of most elegant vases for ladies toilet or dressing-rooms, ornamented in the highest taste."