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Furniture - Beds, Chairs, Tables And Clocks

( Originally Published 1902 )

THE bed was, of course, the most important piece of furniture in the bedroom. Almost invariably, it was a tall and wide four-poster of mahogany, more or less richly carved. But the framework, handsome as it might be, and even if crowned by a carved tester, was comparatively unimportant when the furnishings are remembered. A large feather bed, weighing many pounds and stuffed with the softest feathers, rested upon a simple arrangement of bed-cords, or a " sacking-bottom,"a kind of heavy sail-cloth from which the word " bed-bunt " was probably derived. " Bed-bunts " were imported and were usually 6 X 4 ft. and 9 X 4 ft., which shows the average size of the bed.

The sheeting usually came from Holland, and was known as " ozenbrigs ; " the blankets were " striped," " rose," or " swanskin ;" and the spreads, or " sprees," early in the century were " white cotton bed carpets," but they were supplanted later by "white flowered counterpains." Marseilles quilts came in about 1772. India chintz counterpanes were also used in 1768, and scarlet, blue, flowered, and black figured " drawboys " in 1771. A silk quilt, or a Turkey quilt, was usually folded neatly and laid across the foot of the bed. The bolster and pillows, stuffed with softest feathers, were encased in white linen, and everything about the bed invited repose.

The true glory of the bed, however, was its hangings. Not infrequently, they were very luxurious in texture and rich in colour. A "yellow silk damask bed," a "yellow camlet laced," a. "crimson harrateen," a "green russell," a "crimson moreen," a "flowered russell," a "blue and green flowered russell," or "a green silk and worsted damask," was generally to be met with in the richest homes. Sometimes the curtains were altogether of silk damask ; sometimes, of worsted damask lined with silk ; sometimes a mixture of each ; and sometimes of purely woollen goods.

Occasionally, these curtains were ornamented with " silk bed lace," or fringe, or gimp, or " snail trimming," a kind of braid arranged in symmetrical rolled-up patterns, that was exceedingly popular with the upholsterers of the day, who were called upon to arrange the festoons and rosettes, lines and tassels, according to the latest advices from London. The curtains at the windows always matched the bed-hangings, and gave the room its designation of " the yellow room," "the blue room," "the red room," or " the green room." In summer, these rich hangings were removed, and the beds were draped in white, or supplied with mosquito netting, or " catgut gauze."

In some of the rooms, the beds were simpler, such as, for example, the one seen in the illustration on page 23, showing an excellent bedroom of the period, from the Museum of the New York Colonial Dames at Van Cortlandt. The simpler bedsteads were of maple or walnut, instead of mahogany, and perhaps, indeed, of pine or white-wood, stained or painted. These were hung with coloured calico curtains, like the one referred to, bright-hued or flowered chintz, or figured dimity. Ships were constantly bringing over such varieties of attractive English and India chintzes, and calicoes of such multitudinous colours and patterns, with " lines and tossels to match," that we can readily believe the bedrooms were anything but monotonous in colour and effect, even if the same arrangement of furniture was to be found in every home.

About 1770, a new style of bed and window curtain was introduced from England," copper plate and pencilled furniture " in red and white, blue and white, purple and white, green and white, etc., etc., so called from the pictures that were printed upon it, very similar to those upon the " pencilled china " that came into vogue about the same time. About 1761, mattresses stuffed with hair were offered for sale, but these did not, by any means, supplant in favour the feather bed and " sacking-bottom."

By the side, or at the foot of the bed, stood the bed-steps. At the other side, a small table with a candlestick was always to be found in a comfortable bedroom. In the early part of the century, a strip of carpet, called "a bedside carpet," to distinguish it from the carpet upon the bed (for the word carpet had not lost its first meaning), was placed beside the bed, but as the years advanced, rugs were more plentiful and a carpet frequently covered the entire floor. The bed was often covered with a spread, and the dressing-table with a " toilet " made by the ladies of the house.

The bedstead generally stood opposite the open fireplace, where the logs burned brightly upon brass andirons, guarded by a fender and supplied with shovel, tongs and bellows. A mahogany case-ofdrawers standing upon its high cabriole legs and garnished with brass escutcheons and handles, and a small case-of-drawers, also bright with brass mounts, were conspicuous objects. Above the latter hung a dressing-glass. Perhaps there was also a large chestupon-chest of drawers, or an old mahogany kas, or wardrobe, a " bureau table," a wash-stand, and almost always two or three small tables, upon one of which a set of tea-things stood ready for use. Sometimes were to be seen a " couch and squab " and a " lolling-chair" for further comfort, and very often a "scrutore," or large secretary.

The room was profusely ornamented with china. China vases and curious images decorated the chimney-piece and appeared on the top of the chest-uponchest, or the tall case-of-drawers, provided the latter was not finished with the favourite scroll or " swanneck " sweeps. Even then, in the centre from which they sprang, a small china vase, or other ornament was placed. A screen and a number of chairs completed the furniture. The latter might consist of a set of mahogany, including two arm-chairs, the seats matching the bed and window curtains, or they might be of cheaper wood with plain splat backs and rush seats, ordinary walnut frame and leather-bottom chairs, or of the cabriole leg with ball-and-claw foot and em-bowed back, the seat being of Turkey-work, worsted damask, or hair. Again, the chairs might have cane, or matted seats.

Next in importance to the bed in the up-stairs apartments were the high and low cases-of-drawers, popularly, but erroneously known to-day as the " high boy " and " low boy." These consisted of a series of drawers that stood on a frame composed of spindle-shaped legs connected by a straining-rail or stretcher, as shown in the example from the Museum of the New York Colonial Dames on page 57, or standing on the springing cabriole leg ending in the plain hoof, or the more ornate claw-and-ball foot. The former kind that stood on a frame of six 1 e g s generally had a square top ; the latter variety frequently terminated in a scroll top. In addition to these pieces of furniture, there was the chest-ofdrawers and the chest-upon-chest, of which an ex-ample in French walnut is here rep-resented. This belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Van Horne (the latter a daughter of Frederick Van Cortlandt and Frances Jay), married in 1765. It is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mat-thew Clarkson of New York, having descended to them through the Jay family. The brass escutcheons and handles on these pieces of furniture were important additions, and varied from simple drop-handles to patterns that were quite elaborate.

In the early part of the century, the chairs were of leather (one variety of which is shown on page 54), cane, and matted. The latter was popular about 1700, and was often of the kind represented on the same page. We also find in the early homes elbow chairs and easy chairs covered with red plush, or silk, or damask. About 1725, and onward, the walnut or mahogany chair with the claw-and-ball foot, was constantly used. This chair invariably came in sets, including two chairs with arms. The covers of the seats were of red leather, Turkey-work, silk, silk or worsted damask, the favourite colours being red, green and yellow. Types of these chairs appear on page 71.

In 1760, haircloth for chair-seating was imported. It continued long in fashion. Sometimes it was figured, and sometimes coloured. In 1765, Joseph Cox advertised " a variety of beautiful black horsehair for chair bottoms, such as are in the greatest vogue at home" (home being London) ; in 1771, " figured horsehair for chair bottoms ;" and in 1772, "patterns of horsehair for chair bottoms."

Figured calico, chintz and copper-plate materials were used for furniture coverings and draperies to-wards the end of our period, especially in bedrooms.

With sets of chairs, the double chair, or settee, was often included. This was formed of two chair backs placed side by side and carved or perforated to match the single chairs. The "corner chair" that Joseph Cox made in 1773 was of the variety shown on page 104. This one is ornamented with a double back. The stuffed chair was often in use. Sometimes it was referred to as the " French " chair. The "burgair" chair, also in Cox's list, was an upholstered chair of special design.

The stuffed sofa gained in popularity. It was frequently draped in the most elaborate style with festoons caught in waves and swags, and fastened at regular intervals by a rosette. Sometimes it had a canopy carved in the Gothic or Chinese taste, and sometimes it was made to fit into an alcove and become a kind of couch-bed with curtains that were drawn into their symmetrical position by means of cords and tassels that connected with pullies. Chippendale was especially fond of fringe, cords and tassels for his sofas and beds, and for his ornate pieces recommends gold cords and tassels.

Before the middle of the century, the Windsor chair had become popular. An example is shown to the left of the bed, in the room on page 23. The Windsor chair was of various kinds and was painted in different colours. Many chair-makers devoted their energies solely to this kind of chair. The following advertisement of 1769 gives an idea of the industry :

"A large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs made in the best and neatest manner, and well-painted, viz., Highback'd, low back'd, and Sack backed Chairs and Settees or double seated fit for Piazza or Gardens, Children's Dining and low chairs, etc. To be sold by Jonathan Hampton in Chapel Street, New York, opposite Captain Andrew Law's."

The " scrutore," escritoire, or secretary, was found in both drawing-room and bedroom. It was often a combination bookcase and desk, the upper portion being enclosed by doors with panes of glass. Two specimens appear on pages 291 and 10. The former is said to have come from Holland, but it is similar in character to many that Chippendale included among his designs. This belonged originally to Ryck Suydam (16751741) supervisor of Flatbush, L. I. and is now owned by his descendant, Mrs. Henry Draper of New York. The second is also of mahogany and is of the " Gothic Style " of the day. This belonged to Thomas Barrow, and was brought by him to New York in 1764. It is now owned by a descendant. Another form of desk was a simple chest-of-drawers with a flap which, when let down, formed the table for writing.

In every home was a number of tables ; in many cases, the rooms contained several devoted to different uses. The dining-table was of mahogany. The oak drawing-table had long been out of fashion, and the extension table with its additional leaves had not yet been introduced, so that when more room was desired, tables were added to the central one. These tables all had drop leaves supported upon a movable leg. A good specimen is illustrated on page 75. The straight leg ends in a ball-and-claw foot. This now belongs to Mrs. W. Sherwood Popham of New York. Nearly every house had its card-tables which were usually of walnut or mahogany, like the specimen shown on page 326, or of an older design with cabriole leg and ball-and-claw foot. The tea-table was of the utmost importance : it was of mahogany, painted, or japanned, or of walnut. Almost invariably, it revolved and could be made to tip as well as turn, and sometimes, when not in use, stood in the room in the position of the one shown on page 85. Of the three varieties of tea-tables, the one on page 312 was the older in design, as the " snake-foot " proclaims. The one on page 114 is more delicate in form and not only has the ball-and-claw foot but the acanthus carved upon the tripod legs. The third on page 85, is a more elaborate specimen and its large top is cut out of a solid piece of wood. The first belongs to the Barrow family ; the second, to Mrs. W. W. Shippen of New Fork ; the third, was originally owned by Col. and Mrs. John Cox of Bloomsbury, Trenton, but now belongs to Mrs. Edward Parke Custis Lewis of Hoboken, N. J.

A small mahogany stand, or table, was usually placed by the side of the bed, as shown on page 23. Previous to the advent of Heppelwhite, the sideboard in the dining-room was a long table with square ends. Chippendale, in his book of designs, does not give a single example of the sideboard as we know it to-day, nor is such a piece of furniture found among the plates of Daily, or Ince and Mayhew. The "side-board table " that Chippendale recommends often has its framework richly carved in Gothic, or Chinese style. Therefore, when we are told that so many tables were in the dining-room, we are not wrong if we call one of them " a sideboard table."

The tea-table was present in every room. The number of articles used in the service of tea was considerable. Mahogany tea-boards (little tables), tea-chests, cannisters, lamps, kettles and nests of kettles, kettles with lamps, tea-tongs, sugar-cleavers, sugar-tongs, spoons, urns, tea-trays, etc., etc., of all varieties appear again and again. The tea-kettle stand was also important, and the tea-tray was of many kinds and sizes. It was frequently of mahogany with a carved rim in the Chinese or Gothic taste ; but hardly less popular was the tray that was painted and japanned. We give two of these : the one on page 321 dates from the beginning of our period ; the second, on page i00, from towards the end. Like the painted and japanned tea-table, it was always a favourite. The former is said to have been brought to America in 1686. It is now in the Museum of the Colonial Dames at Van Cortlandt. The picture upon it is a landscape. The second, is a more beautiful example and is decorated with a charming oil painting after Joseph Vernet. It is now in the Museum for the Art of Decoration at the Cooper Union, New York, Tea-trays and waiters "of the newest fashion with landscapes " were still coming in in 1781.

Japanned-ware was popular throughout the Eighteenth Century. It was not only used for tea-trays, tea-kitchens, tea-tables, cannisters, sugar-boxes, and knife-cases, but for dressing-tables, clock-cases, chairs and every other style of furniture. As early as 1734, we find "eight-day clocks with japan cases" offered for sale by John Bell, and, as late as 1771, Stephen Gueubel of Wall Street announced to the "nobility and gentry that he had " just arrived in this city" and had for sale "a quantity of beautiful furniture elegantly painted and varnished in the Japan taste" and had "some complete toilets." He also undertook to " paint coaches and chairs in the same manner."

In 1772, Jane Wilson in the Fly Market offered a "great variety of beautiful japanned goods with cream coloured grounds and other colours of the newest taste." Her wares included tea-tables, tea-chests with cannisters, tea-trays, bread-baskets and inkstands ; and she also had " some white japanned clock-faces, which have the appearance of enamelled watch-plates." Although there were many watch and clock-makers in New York, the ships constantly brought clocks and clock-cases to New York. The tall clock with its brass dial, frequently embellished with the changes of the moon, and occasionally equipped with machinery for telling the tides, was the favourite. Bracket and pedestal clocks were also in use ; and many clocks were furnished with musical chimes.

Nearly every household owned a tall clock, and in many houses the enormous clothes-press known as the Kas was frequently found. This, of course, was of Dutch origin and corresponded to the more modern wardrobe. Another piece of furniture that the English found when they arrived was the cabinet in which the citizens of New Amsterdam kept their choicest china and other curios.

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