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Furniture - Walls, Pictures And Looking Glasses

( Originally Published 1902 )



AT the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, the walls of houses were usually panelled, painted or whitewashed. In the homes of the rich, tapestry and gilt leather hangings were found. When Kalm visited New York in 1748, he noticed that the rooms were wainscotted ; that the woodwork was generally painted a bluish grey ; and that the people seemed to be-slightly acquainted with hangings. Two years later, wall-paper was imported in such quantities that we may feel safe in assuming it was as generally employed here as in England. In 1749, Isaac Ware noted that " Paper has in a great measure taken the place of sculpture." Furthermore, he says : "The decoration of the inside of rooms may be reduced to three kinds : first, those in which the wall itself is. properly finished, for elegance, that is where the materials of its last covering are of the finest kind, and is wrought into ornaments, plain or uncovered ; secondly, where the walls are covered with wainscot ; and thirdly, where they are hung; this last article comprehending paper, silk, tapestry and every other decoration of this kind."

He might just as well have written this after an examination of interiors in New York. In the middle of the century, these three forms of finishing walls were found, but the latter was growing in popularity. In 1749, Stephen Callow " hangs Rooms with Paper or Stuff in the newest Fashion ;" James Huthwaite also " hangs Rooms with Paper and other Things," in 1750 ; and, in 1756, John Hickey " stamps or prints paper in the English manner and hangs it so as to harbour no worms."

Among the varieties of paper that are imported, we find stained paper for hangings, 1750 ; flowered paper, 1751; stamped paper for living-rooms, 1754 ; stucco pa-per for ceilings, 1760 ; gilt leather, 1760 ; and gilt paper hangings, 1765. There was also a paper with landscape views, and paper composed of pictures of the Seasons, or shepherdesses, or emblematical figures, framed in the rococo style of Louis XV. Another style, towards the end of our period, was drawn from the Classic ornamentation that the Adam brothers had made fashionable in England. A specimen of the latter appears on this page.

Generally speaking, walls were hung with pictures painted on glass, mezzotints, and engravings. Occasionally portraits were found, and in many of the houses of New York were oils that to-day would be priceless. In the inventories, quite often, a " land-skip," a sea-piece, a "small winter," a "break of day," a "bunch of grapes," " a cobbler," "a plucked cock torn," an " Abraham and Hagar," a " sea strand," a "ship," "ye city of Amsterdam," suggest good Dutch art, not specially valued in that day, but commanding fancy figures now.

The fashionable pictures came from England. It may be worth while to examine the importations, remembering that Duyckinck, Rivington and Garret Noel and Company, were the chief dealers. The Success brought pictures on glass with gilt frames, in 1749, in which year, G. Duyckinck had " a very good assortment of Glass Pictures, Paintings on Glass, Prospective History Pieces, Sea and Landskips, a large assortment of large Entry and Stair-case Pieces ready framed, Maps of the World and in four parts, London, all on Rollers ready for hanging, Prints of divers sorts, Prints ready coloured for japanning, also a very good assortment of Limner's and Japanese colours with gold leaf and Japanner's gold dust, Silver leaf and Silver dust."

The Neptune brought in pictures burnt on glass in 1750 ; " metzotintoes burnt on glass" in 1750 ; "a large assortment of maps, metzotinto and copper plate prints," in 1757 ; mezzotints, Japanned, prospect and common prints, and "pictures of India birds and many fancies," 1759. The Jupiter brought India pictures in 1759 ; " pictures of the present King and Queen, Mr. Pitt, the Marquis of Granby ; and the never-to-be forgotten Gen. Wolfe, who sold his life dear to the French on the Plains of Abraham at Quebec the 13th of September," 1762. The Westmoreland brought " portraits of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Seckes, Rev. Mr. Sterne, Lady Waldegrave and her child, Garrick in tragedy and comedy, metsotinto prints of Garrick and Mrs. Cibber in Jaffer and Belvidera, six very fine prints of Kew Gardens," in 1764.

John J. Roosevelt imported from England and sold at his store in Maiden Lane in 1772, " an elegant variety of pictures, one print in particular (with a very handsome frame of glass) of Regulus opposing the entreaties of the Roman Senate, importuning him not to return to Carthage. Price ,4-14. This piece, the death of Gen. Wolfe and several others were copied from the original paintings of the celebrated Mr. West of Philadelphia." We also find advertisements that are occasionally illuminating, such as one for 1759, as follows :

" Lately published in England and to be sold by Garret Noel and Company, near the Meal Market, the celebrated Mr. Strange's very elegant Prints, consisting of Le Retour du Marche, a Cupid, a Magdalena, a Cleopatra, a Headpiece from the Painting of Guido Rheni, a Virgin Martyr from ditto, Liberality and Modesty from ditto, Apollo Rewarding Merit and Punishing Arrogance, Caesar putting away Pompey, and Charles Prince of Wales, James Duke of York, and Princess Mary, Children of Charles I.". These surprising Pieces are bound up in Boards to preserve them, but may be taken out and put in Frames. Likewise, the Heads of Illustrious Per-sons of great Britain, on 180 Copper Plates, engraved by Mr. Houbraken and Mr. Virtue, with their Lives and Characters by Thomas Birch, D. D., Secretary to the Royal Society. Done upon Imperial Paper and Curiously Bound. N. B. Gentlemen of Taste that are willing to purchase either of these much esteemed curiosities are desired to apply in time, as there are but very few Copies to dispose of."

Another, dating from 1760, gives a good idea of popular subjects. James Rivington of Hanover Square, had " just imported a very fine collection of Pictures of various sorts, consisting of the Heads of all the principal persons who daily distinguish them-selves by their Virtues at Home or Victories abroad ; of very elegant Views, Landscapes, Maps and Charts, Horses, Birds, Hunting-Pieces, Prospects of Lon-don, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Peterborough, elegant Buildings in Poland, Prussia, the East Indies, Madrid, Lisbon, Bristol, Edinburgh, Rome, Palmyra and Athens ; a complete Sett of the celebrated Beauties of Hampton Court, the Harlot's Progress, Hemkirk's Humorous Pictures, Monamy's famous Sea Pieces, Pictures for Watches, Copies to teach to Write the Round Text, the large and Small Round Hands, Black Lines, Letter Files, etc."

The feature of the room that struck Madame Knight most forcibly, when she visited New York in 1707, was the impressive fireplace with its deep hearth framed with tiles. This was generally about five feet square, and behind the fireplace was a large cast-iron and ornamented back. Sometimes they were plain, but more frequently were decorated with, perhaps, the arms of the owner, or figures, flowers, or conventional device. In 1751, we read : " Stolen out of a house rebuilding on Bever Street a small Iron Chimney back with the figure of a Parrot in a Ring on it."

Peter Curtenius had " some plain and figured chimney backs" in 1769.

The mantel-piece was frequently carved, as in the accompanying example owned by the New York Historical Society. It came from the Beekman House.

Tiles gave a very gay appearance to the chimney-piece. They were almost always in strong colours and the pictures were scriptural, historical, or landscape views. They were in white, green, yellow, red, blue, or purple. Marble chimney-pieces and marble hearths were also to be met with, and sometimes these were finished with a brass border. James Byers, brass founder, in South Street, said in 1768, that he could make "brass mouldings to cover the edges of marble or tiled fire-places." Once in a while, some one liked to ornament his chimney-piece, like his ceiling, with stucco-work, which Mr. Bernard Lintot was able to supply in 1760.

From the above, it will be seen that the great logs burning and crackling in their frame-work of carving, gay tiles and brass andirons and fender contributed not a little to the charm of rooms.

Although the wood fire was universal all through the period, coals also were used. "Very good sea-coal " was advertised by Nicholas Bayard as early as 1744, in which year " the newly invented Pennsylvania fire-places " were attracting some householders, and a little before that date Franklin had invented his famous stove; and Christopher Sauer, his German device. Steel hearths and stove grates came in about 1751, and in 1752 Rip Van Dam had for sale " a large iron hearth plate with brass feet and handles." Cast-iron stoves, round and square, were also in use.

" Dutch and English fashion stoves" and "brass mounted grates with shovel and tongs" appeared in 1767 ; and " elegant grates, or Bath stoves, for burning coals" in 1768. Now that coals were used, the poker became a necessary addition to the equipment of the hearth. " A copper furnace and grate" was advertised in 1751.

It was not until the middle of the century that carpets became general. The word had long been used as a covering for tables, and even as late as 1771 we find an advertisement of "bedside and table carpets," showing that it was still associated with a piece of furniture. Painted canvas and haircloth were used for a long time. The latter was particularly admired for staircases and entries. It must have been the same as that used for upholstering, since Bernard Lintot imported from London in 1764 " haircloth for chair seats and staircases." Haircloth for stairs had been popular since 1750. From about 1757, "rich, beautiful Turkey fashion carpets," as well as Persian, Scotch and Wilton, were imported in great profusion, and in 1771, Axminster appeared. The carpet was kept down on the stairs by means of brass rods.

In a period in which Chippendale and his school flourished, it is not to be wondered at that the chimney-piece, the mirror, the cornice, the bracket, the sconce and the girandole should have been of the utmost importance. At the beginning of the century, the Dutch style of carving was in vogue ; and under the Georges, the carving, naturally e n o u g h, con-formed to the tastes that had been formed by Grin-ling Gibbons and his school. Hence it is safe to believe that New York had long sup-ported good carvers. During the Georgian age, they flocked here in great numbers ; and we find many cabinet-makers who were also carvers, like Chippendale. One of these was John Brinner. He advertised himself as a "Cabinet and chairmaker from London," establishing himself at the Sign of the Chair, opposite Flatten Barrack Hill in the Broad-Way, his announcement reading :

" Every article in the Cabinet, Chair-Making, Carving and Gilding Business, is enacted on the most reasonable Terms, with the Utmost Neatness and Punctuality. He carves all sorts of Architectural, Gothic and Chinese Chimney Pieces, Glass and Picture Frames, Slab Frames, Girondels, Chandeliers, and all kinds of Mouldings and Frontispieces, etc., etc. Desk and Book Cases, Library Book Cases, Writing and Reading-Tables, Study Tables, China Shelves and Cases, Commode and Plain Chest of Drawers, Gothic and Chinese Chairs; all sorts of plain or ornamental Chairs, Sofa Beds, Sofa Settees, Couch and Easy Chairs, Frames, all kinds of Field Bedsteads. N. B. He has brought over from London six Artificers, well skill'd in the above branches."

In an age of carving and gilding, the mirror received its share of attention. No one who studies the newspapers carefully can fail to note how important it was to discard an old-fashioned frame, or even shape, for the newest style of looking-glass that Lon-don had adopted. Towards the end of 1730, we read :

" James Foddy, Citizen and Glass-seller of London, who arrived here the latter end of last June, and brought with him a parcel of very fine Looking-glasses of all Sorts, and likewise appeared several times in this Paper, to acquaint the Publick that he undertook to alter and amend Old Looking-glasses; but he not meeting with suitable Encouragement, is shortly destined for the West Indies. All Persons therefore who are inclin'd to have their Glasses repair'd, or buy new, may apply to the said James Foddy at Mr. Verplanck's in New York."

By 1735, there were some new styles. Mr. Duyckinck informed the public that he had

" Looking-glasses new silvered and the Frames plaine Japan'd or Flowered, also all sorts of Picktures made and sold, all manner of painting work done. Likewise Looking-glasses and all sorts of painting Coullers and Oyl sold at reasonable Rates by Girardus Duyckinck, at the Sign of the Two Cupids, near the Old Slip Market.

"N. B. Where you may have ready Money for old Looking-Glasses."

Looking-glasses, of course, included the large glass that so frequently ornamented the chimney-piece, the tall pier-glass whose place was between the windows, and the concave and convex mirrors with sconces for candles that were hung upon the walls. Frequently the frames of these were richly carved and gilded, and from the candlesticks hung glittering drops of glass, known as girandoles. Mahogany and black walnut were also used for frames, and a mahogany or walnut frame, brightened with gilt edges and adorned with some carved and gilded ornament, was also popular. One of the latter appears on page 96 ; and another on page 324. The former is ornamented with a gilded bird,—one of Chippendale's favourite designs. This belongs to Mrs. F. H. Bosworth. The second, now belonging to Mrs. Wilmot Townsend Cox, was originally owned by Rutger Bleecker.

In 1769, one Minshall, carver and gilder, from London, lived in Dock Street, opposite Bolton and Sigell's Tavern, where he had "carved frames for glasses, picture frames, tables, chairs, girondoles, chimney - pieces, brackets, candlestands, clock and watch cases, bed and window cornicing. He makes Paper ornaments for Ceilings and Stair-cases in the present mode." In the same year Nicholas Bernard, carver, advertised :

" A neat assortment of Looking-glasses in the most elegant and newest Fashions, with carved, and carved and gilt frames, do. pediments and plain mahogany and walnut, also Dressing-glasses, Girondelles, Chimney-Pieces, Figures of Plaster of Paris, and Paper Machine for Ceilings; the King's Coat-of-Arms neatly carved, fit for Church or public Building."

In 1775, the above Minshall, who for some time had had a Looking-Glass Store, removed it from Smith Street to Hanover Square (opposite Mr. Goelet's Sign of the Golden Key), and told his customers that he had "an elegant assortment of looking-glasses in oval and square ornamental frames." He also had some in mahogany frames and " the greatest variety of girandoles ever imported to this city." He had "an elegant assortment of frames without glass'' and " any Lady or Gentleman that have glass in old-fashioned frames may have them cut to ovals, or put in any pattern that pleases them best." The frames could be finished " white, or green and white, purple, or any other colour that suits the furniture of the room, or gilt in oil or burnished gold equal to the best imported." An Apprentice was wanted " to learn the above art of Carving and Gilding ; none need apply but those who have a lad of sober and promising genius and are willing to give a premium."

The following partial list of importations may be of interest to illustrate the large general demand for mirrors : Gilt and plain looking-glasses and sconces of sundry sizes, in 1745 ; "a parcel of very fine large and small looking-glasses," 1747 ; japanned dressing-glasses, 1748 ; new fashion sconces and looking-glasses, 1749 ; looking-glass sconces, 175o ; gilt and plain looking-glasses of sundry sizes, 1751 ; a choice assortment of very handsome looking-glasses, sconces and pier glasses of all sizes, 1752 ; a neat assortment of sconces gilt and carved in the newest fashions, 1753 ; ladies fine dressing gilt looking-glasses and small pocket ditto, 1755; "peer" and sconce looking-glasses, 1757 ; newest fashioned looking-glasses from London, 1757 ; a variety of sconces with branches in walnut frames with gilt edges, 1757 ; neat dressing-glasses for ladies with gilt frames, 1757 ; a raree-show of looking-glasses, 1758 ; a few handsome sconces, 1758 ; looking-glasses, pier and sconce, plain and gilt frames, 1758 ; camp looking-glasses, 1759 ; walnut framed looking-glasses, 1 759 ; a good assortment of small black walnut frame and japanned looking-glasses, 1758 ; a large and neat assortment of dressing-sconces and looking-glasses, 1759 ; a very fine assortment of looking-glasses and sconces, their frames in the most genteel and richest taste, 1760 ; a quantity of Indian and Guinea looking-glasses, 1761

French pocket looking-glasses, 1761 ; looking-glasses framed in the newest taste L8 to L30 a piece, 1761 a new and large assortment of looking-glasses, sconces and dressing-glasses, 1761 ; looking-glasses from 2 to 6 feet, 1764 ; " the largest and most curious collection of plain and ornamented looking-glasses and pictures ever imported to America," 1764; convex and con-cave mirrors, 1764 ; two carved white-framed sconce glasses, 1 764 ; handsome pier glass and two sconces with gilt frame, 1768 ; large pier glass in an elegant carved frame, 1769 ; looking-glasses from 2 shillings to £10, 1771 ; painted frame looking-glasses, 1773 oval sconces with gilt frames, 1773 ; oval glasses, pier glasses and sconces in burnished gold, glass bordered, mahogany and black walnut frames with gilt ornaments of all sizes, likewise elegant girandoles, 1774.

People prized these articles very highly, as will be seen from the following advertisement in 1775 :

"Stolen in the night of the 5th inst. out of the house of Robert Murray, at Inklinbergh, a Looking-Glass, three feet and a half long and twenty inches broad, set in a mahogany frame with a narrow gilt edge. Whoever brings the said glass to the owner, shall have Forty Shillings as a reward: and if the thief be taken and convicted, a further sum of Eight Pounds by Robert Murray."

A square or round lantern always hung in the hall or entry, and sometimes a second one was repeated at the landing. There were also glass lamps and chamber lamps, and lamps for sick persons.



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