Chairs And Sofas
( Originally Published 1905 )
WHILE all specimens of antique furniture have an interest all their own, chairs seem to arouse it in a peculiar degree. There is a personal sentiment which they possess, a something which brings one in touch with owners long since dead, that is not shared by such objects as a bureau or a table, no matter how venerable. If one could sit for a brief moment in, say, Will Shakspere's chair, would it not seem possible that inspiration might be derived for a little sonnet? Or if one had for daily companionship the antique chair of Elder William Brewster, now at Plymouth, Massachusetts, would it not be likely that one would imbibe some of the courage which upheld that doughty pioneer?
The oldest piece of cabinet-maker's work known is Queen Hatasu's chair, of the eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty, sixteen hundred years before the 'Christian Era. It is made of, ivory, ebony, and various metals, and is in the British Museum, London. There is another old chair in which one may take a more personal interest, and whose early history is so enveloped in legend and myth that it is impossible to tell where tradition ends and truth begins. This is the Coronation Chair of England, in which all English sovereigns since 1273 have been crowned. The wood has become very solid and hard, but still shows in various places the traces of paint. In 1298 Edward I brought from Scotland the stone upon which all the Scottish kings had been crowned for centuries, and this was inserted in the seat of the English chair. It is a piece of coarse sandstone, twenty-six inches long, seventeen broad, and ten and one-half inches thick. It shows very plainly in the photograph, which also displays to advantage the Gothic character of the chair (Figure 63) .
Sir James Ware, who lived from 1594 to 1666, writing about this same stone which is set in the Coro-nation Chair, says :
" Nor ought we to pass by unmentioned that fatal stone, antiently called liafail, brought into Ireland by the Tuath-de-Danans, and from thence in the reign of Moriertach Mac Erc sent into Argile to his brother Fergus, but which was after-wards inclosed in a wooden chair by King Keneth to serve in the coronation solemnities of the King of Scotland, and de-posited in the Monastery of Scone, from whence it was at length removed to Westminster by Edward I. Wonderful things are reported of this stone, but what credibility they deserve I leave to the judgement of others. In particular fame reports, that in times of heathenism before the birth of Christ, he only was confirmed Monarch of Ireland, under whom, being placed upon it, this stone groaned or spoke, according to the Book of Hoath."
One can imagine what grief it caused to Ireland when this sacred stone, endeared by a thousand superstitious ideas, was removed and taken to England.
If you will hunt among old documents, both in this country and in England, you will find frequent mention of " joint stools." I could give many extracts from old wills which specify these stools, and I show one in Figure 64. The cradle does not properly be-long in this article, but when I reflected how often a weary mother had sat on that same joint stool and rocked that cradle, I let it stay. It must have been in pretty constant operation in some of those pioneer families, where twelve children were an ordinary number, and twenty not very unusual ! Such a cradle and such a stool, no doubt, found their way over in many of the earliest lots of household gear, since, though these patterns were found by 1560, they were made till a century later, and when once part of the house-hold goods of a family, descended till they fairly gave out from excessive wear.
Stools were in common use at table till well into the seventeenth century. In an old play called " The Roaring Girl " (1617), when chairs, stools, and cushions are called for, a chair is called a back-friend, and Sir Adam, who is favoured with one, says, " I thank thee for it, back friends are sometimes good."
Holinshed, who wrote his famous " Chronicles be-fore 1580, has much to say about the increase of luxury both in dress and household furnishings in all classes, and mentions what may be found in even the farmers' homes. He says :
" The furniture of our houses also exceedeth, and is grown in manner even to delicacy; and herein I do not speak of the nobility and gentry only, but likewise of the lowest sort in most places of our south country, that have anything at all to take to. Certes in noblemen's houses it is not rare to see abundance of arras, rich hangings of tapestry, silver vessels, and so much other plate as may furnish sundry cupboards, to the sum oftentimes of a thousand or two pounds at the least ; whereby the value of this and the rest of their stuff doth grow to be almost inestimable. Likewise in the houses of knights, gentlemen, merchantmen, and some other wealthy citizens, it is not geson to behold generally their great provision of tapestry, Turkey work, pewter, brass, fine linen, and thereto costly cupboard of plate, worth five, six, or a thousand pounds, to be deemed by estimation. But as herein all these sorts do far exceed their elders and predecessors, and in neatness and curiosity the merchant all other; so in time past, the costly furniture stayed there ; whereas now it is descended yet lower, even unto the inferior artificers, and many farmers, who by virtue of their old and not of their new leases have for the most part learned to garnish their cupboards with plate, their joined beds with tapestry and silk hangings, and their tables with carpets and fine napery."
Burton, in his " Anatomy of Melancholy " (1621), speaking of luxurious selfishness, says that the great man " sits at table in a soft chair at ease, but he doth not remember in the mean time that a tired waiter stands behind him."
Some of the luxurious chairs of this period are shown in the next three Figures (65, 66, and 67), and are of Italian, Flemish, and English make, and all rejoice in rich carving, the one in Figure 65 being exception-ally beautiful. This type of chair is more common in this country than one would deem possible, unless it is known how many of them were brought here. There is hardly an inventory among the well-to-do who arrived here from 1650 and onwards that does not mention among the commoner chests, stools, and forms at least one chair of this style.
In the inventory of John Oort, one of the husbands of Sarah Bradley, who finally married the notorious Captain Kidd, is the mention of a dozen turkey-work chairs; and Theophilus Eaton, Governor of New Haven Colony, who died in 1657, had in his hall " two high chairs with sett work 20s. 4d. each." These chairs varied in many ways. Sometimes the seat was leather, and the back also. The back might be of carved wood, like the one shown, or leather, cane-work, or set-work, or embroidery. They were made in Spanish, as well as Flemish, English, and Italian style.
The stall seats, " dwarf stalls " they are generally called, are relics from the cathedrals. They are found here sometimes, and are now used as hall chairs. The two shown in Figures 68 and 69 are, as are all the other objects so far shown in this chapter, made of oak. They date to the seventeenth century, and are French in their origin. The posts supporting the arms as well as the legs in the chair in Figure 68 are enriched with fine carving, and the open back gives it a lightness not possessed by the previous one.
The chair shown (Figure 70) is another early specimen, and though it looks decidedly uncomfortable, it was not an uncommon type of chair about the middle of the seventeenth century. The name " wainscot " was often applied to such chairs, since the panelled back was carved in the same patterns that the wainscots were. Many of them are more heavily carved than the one shown here, and, like this one, they are almost always oak.
In connection with such chairs as these it is easy to be seen how very important cushions were. The best workers in tapestries at an early date were the Flemish, and in Carte's " Life of Ormonde " he mentions that " Piers, Earl of Ormonde (died '1539), brought out of Flanders and the neighbouring provinces sundry artificers and manufacturers, whom he employed at Kilkenny in working tapestry, drapery, Turkey car-pets, cushions, and seats." The Turkey carpets referred to were not floor coverings, but table covers. The only things used on floors at this early date were rushes.
In early colonial times houses were small, often not having more than four rooms, and in most of them the hall was the living-room, as well as the place where the best furniture was gathered.
The widow Frances Kilburn had in her hall when she died, in 1650, at Hartford, Connecticut, tables, formes, chairs, stools, benches," all valued at £1. Governor John Haynes, also of Hartford, Connecticut, died in 1653, and in his hall were many articles, among them " 5 leather and 4 flag bottom'd chairs, 1 table and 3 join'd stools." His parlour had " velvet chairs, turkey-wrought chairs and a green cloth car-pet," this latter being a table, not a floor, covering.
There were various other styles of chairs which came into use about the eighteenth century that had certain marked characteristics. A very nice one, with a rush bottom, is given in Figure 71. There are a number of noticeable points about this chair which it is well to study. In the first place it is made of turned wood, except the feet, which are carved. Compare it with the previous figures and you will see the difference. Its front legs are finished in what is known as the " Spanish foot," which always turns out and is ornamented with grooved lines. The back is of the shape so generally called " Queen Anne," but which is, properly speaking, Dutch, and the splat, or centre of the back, is without decoration, which shows its early origin. This form of back grew and was varied in many ways, as will be shown later.
Figure 72 shows chairs with exactly similar backs, but varying legs, one having the ball-and-claw and the other the Dutch foot. These chairs were made in Massachusetts about 1768, and were part of a bride's outfit. They are made of Spanish mahogany, which can always be told by its weight, making such large chairs very clumsy to carry about, but enabling them to resist the wear and tear of more than a century.
An armchair of the same period, with very richly carved legs in low relief, and with the original cover of needlework, is shown in Figure 73.
These chairs were the housekeeper's pride and joy. They were carefully preserved in the " best room," and no child was permitted to sprawl on them; and I am afraid that the goodman, even if he had digged that day and delved, had to rest himself on something less choice.
He could smoke his pipe and take his ease in some chair like the one shown in Figure 74, which is extremely comfortable even today, that is if one fancies a straight-backed chair. No doubt it was constant sitting in such chairs as these which enabled our grandmothers to accomplish their endless household tasks. There was no inducement to lolling; your backbone was called on to fulfil its whole duty!
The comb-back chair (Figure 75) was not much of an improvement on the straight-backed one, but it had a finer appearance. The style of chair on which the comb is placed is known as the " roundabout," and is not particularly comfortable except for men. This is a fine stout example, was made between 1770 and 1775, and has long done duty in a Salem mansion.
Among the ballads by William Thackeray is one entitled " The Cane-bottom'd Chair," which is so little known that I give a portion of it here :
"In tattered old slippers that toast at the bars, And a ragged old jacket perfumed with cigars Away from the world and its toils and its cares, I 've a snug little kingdom up four pair of stairs.
To mount to this realm is a toil, to be sure,
But the fire there is bright and the air rather pure ; And the view I behold on a sunshiny day
Is grand through the chimney-pots over the way
This snug little chamber is cramm'd in all nooks
With worthless old knick-knacks and silly old books, And foolish old odds and foolish old ends,
Crack'd bargains from brokers and keepsakes from friends.
Old armor, prints, pictures, pipes, china, (all crack'd), Old rickety tables, and chairs broken-backed ; A two-penny treasury, wondrous to see ;
What matter ? 't is pleasant to you, friend, and me.
But of all the cheap treasures that garnish my nest, There 's one that I love and I cherish the best : For the finest of couches that 's padded with hair
I never would change thee, my cane-bottom'd chair.
'T is a bandy-legg'd, high-shoulder'd, worm-eaten seat, With a creaking old back, and twist'd old feet; But since the fair morning when Fanny sat there I bless thee and love thee, old cane-bottom'd chair!"
While the chairs shown so far, with perhaps but three exceptions, can well be classed as " simple," there was furniture of such magnificence, made even before the Middle Ages, that one must pause a moment to consider it. Immense prices were paid by the Romans for single pieces of furniture. Cicero did not hesitate to pay a million sesterces ($45,000) for a table, and there is a record of one being carried into Spain in the fifth century by the Goths, which was surrounded by three rows of fine pearls. It must have been of great size, for the record states that it was supported on 365 feet, these feet being of " massy gold."
Coming to more modern times, there was, during the reign of King James (1603-1625), a great fancy for furniture made from solid silver, and this took the style of the period which was known as " Jacobean." Some of this choice furniture is still preserved in the castles for which it was made, and at Knole, the seat of Lord Sackville, may be found some of the most elegant. It would hardly seem of use to show within the limits of a book intended for the practical collector such rich articles as these were it not that some pieces are on sale in this country, and have been exhibited by Tiffany and Co. in New York. A silver chair once in the possession of the late Prince Waldeck is shown in Figure 76.
As the French always excelled the English in the magnificence of their interior furnishings, silver furniture was by no means rare in that country. Louise de Querouaille, who was created Duchess of Ports-mouth by Charles II, brought with her from France a taste for these costly bibelots. She was in favour with the English king for fifteen years, till his death in 1685, and her dressing-room, as described by John Evelyn, was truly regal. He says with reference to his visit to the palace:
" But that which engag'd my curiosity was the rich and splendid furniture of this woman's apartment, now twice or thrice pull'd down and rebuilt to satisfie her prodigal and ex-pensive pleasures, while her Majesty's dos not exceede some gentleman's ladies in furniture and accommodation. . . . Then for Japan cabinets, screens, pendule clocks, greate vases of wrought plate, tables, stands, chimney furniture, sconces, branches, braseras, etc., all of massive silver and out of number, besides some of her Majesty's best paintings."
It is supposed that some of the silver furniture now at Windsor Castle was from this very apartment described by Evelyn. He tells of another dressing-room, this time in one of the great country houses where court fashions were followed as nearly as possible. This extract is dated April 17, 1673, and runs as follows :
" The Countess of Arlington carried us up into her new dressing-room at Goring House, where there was a bed, two glasses, silver jars and vases, cabinets, and other so riche furniture as I had seldom seene ; to this excesse of superfluity were we now arrived, and that not onely at Court, but almost universally, even to wantonesse and profusion."
That Louis XIV possessed much silver furniture is most probable, and that much of it sought the melting-pot is also likely, when his exchequer became depleted from one cause or another. As late as 1691 De Launay, who was silversmith to the king, was turning out silver furniture, and some of it found its way to England, although the Edict of Nantes in 1685 had without doubt sent over skilled Huguenot silver workers among the refugees.
It can be noticed in the example given that the ornamentation is carried to the highest extreme, and all the pieces now remaining are of the same florid style. Cherubs' heads, coats-of-arms, floral forms, and flowing designs were all used, and it is a matter for speculation to the mind of a housekeeper how all this elaboration was kept clean. In order to make the chairs and stools comfortable many splendid wrought cushions were used, and the effect must have been very rich and beautiful, if not very comfortable.
From the silver luxuriance of the chair just shown to the simple homeliness of the one in the next illustration (Figure 77) is a far cry. In the kitchen, even when silver was in the drawing-room, were to be found chairs, straight-backed and rush-bottomed, which were much esteemed, and made comfortable and serviceable seats. When the slats of the back were set in perpendicularly they were known as " banister. backs," and there were many of them made in this country, as there was always somebody in each town who could reseat them. It may interest readers to know that this chair was recently sold for fifteen dollars. I should like to say to owners of like chairs that their value is decreased by being " done over," and it is best to leave them exactly as they are, no matter how bare of paint. Their age is a patent of nobility, and to cover it up is in bad taste.
With elegance in the parlour and ease in the kitchen there came also a desire for something more comfortable in the bedrooms. This want was supplied by a style of chair known as the " wing-cheek," which must have been much in demand in those cold and draughty houses of a century and more ago. With your face to the fire and your back and sides protected by one of these well-stuffed chairs, you might get what comfort you could in those " good old times " we love to talk about with affection, and yet would hate to have return. The chair in Figure 78 is one of these easy-chairs with ball-and-claw feet and an underbrace. When the feet were less ornamental a large ruffle was put on the edge of the chair and hung nearly to the floor.
I have mentioned how the splat; or centrepiece, of the back of chairs gradually took on a great degree of ornament. The two rich mahogany chairs given in Figure 79 show the early steps, when carving was be-ginning to be applied to this portion of the chair as well as to the legs and back. Such chairs as these found their way to many a home in this country to the wealthy Dutch settled in and around New York, up the Hudson, and in Albany and Schenectady, as well as to the homes of the English settlers. The Dutch inventories, which were very particular, mention first in many cases the "feder bed," or the family Bible, and then the chairs. " Armed cheares " and chairs with silver lace, easy-chairs, Russia-leather chairs, and chairs with bull-hide seats figure many times, and show that, while " ye barbarous enemy " may have prowled out-of-doors, there were necessities and luxuries, too, within doors.
By 1750 England led the world in the beauty and worth which she put in her furniture, though in the previous century France had produced furniture of such elegance and beauty that it will never be excelled. Most of it was too fragile and costly for everyday use, and royalty only could afford to own it. The French patterns and designs were copied freely in England, as well as in other countries, till a great man, Thomas Chippendale, arose and, after feeling his way through copied work, founded a style of his own, which we look upon now as the epitome of what is best and most serviceable in fine furniture.
His earliest heavy chairs had the " bandy " or cabriole leg, as it was called, which has been shown in the chairs in several illustrations. He then began to use the straight leg, and put much variety into the backs, carving and piercing them, and having them " ladder backs " (Figure 80), or splats with ornamentation (Figure 81). These are only simple forms of this great man's work, but they show his style admirably. It was Chippendale who first used mahogany to any great extent, and one cause which led to this was that he was primarily a woodcarver, and this close-grained wood gave beautiful effects.
The old method of treatment of wood, which was known as " oil and elbow-grease," had by Chippendale's time become obsolete at least to the trade, and " French Polish," the composition of which was kept a close secret for years, was in use among cabinet-makers. It is rather wonderful to note how far the cabinet-makers of the eighteenth century advanced when it is taken into consideration that they had no encouragement from royalty. The three Georges neither cared nor knew anything about art or design, and Chippendale, a merchant always, took what he found and catered largely to the tastes of his times.
He rather prided himself upon appealing to the tastes of all classes, and among the patrons and subscribers for his book is William Frank, bricklayer, as well as the Duke of Northumberland.
He never used inlay in any form, and if this fact is borne in mind there will be fewer mistakes in assigning to him furniture ornamented in this way. To make up for his restrictions in this line he carved the backs of his most costly chairs with a wealth of ornament, introducing " ribbon-work," as it was called, in the most elaborate patterns and fanciful designs.
As soon as such pieces became the fashion, of course others copied them, and there are hundreds of pieces in this country as well as in England which are called Chippendale, but which never saw the hand of that master or England. The fact that none of the furniture was signed in any way is a sad bar to giving it an authentic history. Pieces which have long been in English families, and where, as in some cases, the bills of sale are still preserved, bring perfectly fabulous sums. During the past few months at the auction sales at Christie's, the best known auction house in London, some pieces of Chippendale's furniture sold for the following prices:
A pair of Chippendale armchairs, ball-and-claw feet, .C47 ($235.00).
Set of six Chippendale horn-backed chairs, £93 ($465.00) .
A Chippendale four-legged stool, £10 6s. ($51.50).
A large Chippendale easy-chair, £14 ($70.00) .
I have given these prices to show the estimation in which furniture by this maker is held in England.
Chippendale began to be well known by 1752, and worked steadily along, but rivals arose in this field, the most worthy of them all being Sheraton. Before his day came the two Adam brothers, Robert and James, who, originally architects, soon began to design furniture for the houses they built, which furniture was made under their direction. Their work was all on classic lines, and so careful and painstaking were they that they even designed the covers for the chairs and sofas, or any other small detail that they considered necessary to carry out the perfection of their scheme. They are not very well known over in America, yet, as there is more or less furniture designed by them, and it is pretty in shape and of a style that appeals to feminine taste, it has been extensively copied and put on the market. Furniture houses that claim to deal only in the antique have great stocks of this class of goods, and I have found it within the last year in half-a-dozen cities, and in every case had its antiquity guaranteed. This was in the face of the fact that I could see the glue still fresh upon it, and symptoms of warping and cracking in every direction. The style of Adam furniture to which I particularly refer are the lovely satinwood sets, the originals of which were made about the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and which are painted with medallions and exquisite groups of figures, by such artists as Angelica Kauffmann and Pergolese, and still further beautified by the most delicate classical ornaments on legs, arms, and rails.
In Figure 82 is given an Adam chair, showing a shape often used, but in this example the beautifully carved woodwork is gilded.
After the Adam brothers came Hepplewhite, whose fame largely rests upon his chairs, settees, and window seats. These latter have arms at the ends daintily carved, and the seats are upholstered. This cabinet-maker had one peculiarity by which his work may be generally recognised; he had a decided preference for a shield-shaped back to his chairs. The necessity for structural excellence never interfered with his plans for having his furniture pleasing to the eye. A good example of his style is shown in Figure 83, and it has its original covering in the striped material which was so often chosen by Hepplewhite for his coverings. He seldom carried the backs of his chairs down to the chair seat, and so, although the chairs are graceful and elegant, they are not strong, the break coming in the two posts that "support the shield. When you observe the style and fine appearance of these chairs you are willing to pardon some defects.
Within the last few months many interesting details with reference to the Hepplewhites have been brought to light through the researches of an English woman,
Miss Constance Simon. The " A. Hepplewhite " who wrote the " Guide," or at least was responsible for it, turns out to be Alice Hepplewhite, the widow of George Hepplewhite, who died in 1786. It is supposed that before his death George Hepplewhite pre-pared many of the designs for the book, which was sufficiently popular to reach a third edition.
Hepplewhite used frequently for the design of his chair backs three feathers, as a compliment to royalty. Wheat ears was another favourite pattern, but they are not particularly pretty or graceful.
For many years there had been a fancy for things in " Chinese taste "; mandarins with umbrellas and pigtails were carved here, there, and everywhere. They sat or stood on mirror frames, on door and window casings, they grinned at you from china cabinets and mantel shelves. What was called " :fretwork " was also immensely popular, and hundreds of designs were made for chair backs, railings, to set glass in, and for any other purpose to which it could be applied.
Fashions in dress have more to do with shapes in furniture than one would deem possible. Immense hoop-skirts could not be comfortably placed in an armchair, so chairs without arms became the mode. Chairs with large seats must have large legs to support them, and large legs must have underbraces, so there we have a reason for many of the styles of the late eighteenth century.
By the time Hepplewhite had come on the scene clothes had shrunk in proportions, and the taste was more for what was elegant and light in decoration. The fashion for satinwood furniture continued, and even mantelpieces were made of it to carry out the scheme of the room. Beside the shield-shaped back which we associate with Hepplewhite although his book gives designs for eighteen chairs with banister backs the legs of his furniture had peculiarities also. The chair shown in Figure 84 shows what is known as the " spade-foot," a curious device for giving an appearance of solidity to an unduly slender leg. It is the little block-like foot in which the leg terminates. He had also the fancy for using dozens of brass-headed nails to tack down furniture covering, or to fasten on fringe, or to put on in a pattern for ornament.
He specifies in his own book of designs for furniture that the proper dimensions for chairs are: " Width in front, 20 inches; depth of seat, 17 inches; height of seat frame, 17 inches; total height, 37 inches." Haircloth, plain, striped, and checkered, was fashionable now, but the best taste demanded that the curtains should match the furniture covering. Hepplewhite laid down many arbitrary rules for what was " proper," and though some of them are absurd, his furniture was deservedly popular. Not only was much imported to America, but our cabinet-makers copied it, and there are numerous chairs which we may safely call " Hepplewhite style," if not Hepplewhite.
The next maker to claim attention is Sheraton, whose work is always admirable. He combined elegance with strength, and much of his fine furniture, or at least that made from his designs, is in use to-day, and has been ever since it was made, over a hundred years ago. I know of one set of Sheraton chairs brought to this country by the ancestors of their present owner about 1780. In these chairs, when they stood in a famous old manor-house near Albany, have sat Washington, Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, and many of the Dutch patroons, those " Lords of the Manor " of which we read in old records. The table that goes with them still holds its own, but the original set of forty-eight chairs has been broken by the division of inheritance, and though both side and armchairs are left with the table, their number is much reduced. These chairs have never needed repair, except to have the leather cover renewed.
In Figure 85 are given one arm and one side chair of what was a very favourite pattern with Sheraton. One will find it diversified in many ways, inlaid with coloured woods, or with slender bands of brass, or with carving, as in the figure, but always agreeable.
Other familiar patterns are shown in Figure 86, and they are, as are all the designs of this maker, admirable. He combined strength with an appearance of lightness, and although some of his ornament is rather florid, it is generally pleasing to look on.
In the lovely and historic old church of St. Michaels, at Charleston, South Carolina, is a large pew called the
Governor's Pew," and instead of having the regular seats, it is furnished with a set of Sheraton chairs. General Washington sat in one of these chairs, Sunday afternoon, May 8, 1791. Lafayette used it later, and since that time many other celebrities have sat there as well.
Another style to which Sheraton was much addicted was painted furniture, in which the background was black and the pattern applied in gold. The seats of such chairs were rush-bottoms.
Quite recently I was shown an arm and a side chair of exquisite curly maple, the wood left its natural colour, and a design painted on it in a charming style. The lady who had bought them considered she had perfect treasures, as indeed she had, and they were worth many times more than the sixteen dollars she paid for them. It was some time after she bought them before they came home, and she talked a great deal about them. Finally they arrived, and she set them out before her husband and said in triumph, " Well, what do you think of my chairs?" Ile looked at them for some moments and then replied, I think they look like thirty cents ! " Which goes to prove that when you select a hobby it is well to have the other members of the family share your enthusiasm.
A pair of what were known as Windsor chairs is shown in Figure 87. They are sturdy old things, and they were very popular during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. You will find them advertised for sale in all the old newspapers of the country, a typical notice being the following:
"Windsor chairs made and sold by William Gautier. High-backed, Low-backed, Sack-backed, and settees, also dining and low chairs."
The Windsor rockers are not so common as the side chairs, and of these latter those are most esteemed which have a little carving on the arms " five fingers," it is called but it is very crude work.
In the next Figure (88) is shown a Windsor chair and a Pembroke table, which are of more than usual interest. They belonged to George Washington, and were in use at Mount Vernon. In the year 1774 there was a sale of the furniture at " Belvoir," the Virginia seat of the Fairfax family, where they had lived with almost feudal magnificence. George Fairfax and his wife went to England to attend to the estate in that country, and never returned to Virginia, so the next year they instructed that their dwelling and its con-tents be sold.
George Washington, Colonel Washington he was at that time, seems to have given more attention to acquiring household possessions than did Madam. There are constant records of his purchases, and he was a large buyer at the " vendue " which took place at Belvoir. He bought mahogany, brass, and copper ware, a toasting-fork, pillows and feather-beds, pewter plates and pickle-pots, china ware, Persian carpets and curtains. From Colonel Fairfax' own room he chose a shaving-table and a desk, and also a mahogany Pembroke table, for which he paid £1 12s.
Could it have been this same table? There is no record of Windsor chairs in this sale, which seems to include every other article of household furniture.
Although Windsor chairs made their appearance over here about 1725 or a few years later, and were made at Philadelphia, it was not until about twenty years later that they became common. The usual colours in which they were painted were black or dark green, and in these colours we are most familiar with them.
Beside the regular makers of furniture many `" handy men " who could use tools eked out a narrow income by making chairs for sale, or made them for use at home. I have such a one, of maple, without any paint on it, and now grown a beautiful brown. It has not a nail in it, the parts being fastened together with wooden pegs. It is somewhat on the Windsor pat-tern, but has two flat ornaments let in the back. One day, in looking over it carefully, I found on the under side, scratched in, " Made by Jarret, 1795." It came from the far South, and I like to think that Jarret made it for a spinning-chair for Mrs. Jarret!
Besides such humble chairs as the one just described may be found others which belonged to those whose names have become household words. In the group of three in Figure 89 is one which belonged to Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is the large leather one at the right, and it does not look particularly comfortable. It is of a nondescript style, with legs at the front of turned wood, and a heavy object to lift.
Of about the same degree of comfort is the next chair, shown in Figure 90, which also belonged to one of our distinguished men. This chair is of mahogany, with a sparing use of good carving, and belonged to Daniel Webster. It is of the familiar pattern which was in vogue from 1820-1850. Both of these chairs are preserved in Salem, Massachusetts.
An even more distinguished relic than either of these chairs already mentioned is one which has been recently sold at auction at Sotheby's in London. This is a chair which belonged to Napoleon, and in which the great emperor passed his last days at St. Helena. The chair is a simple affair (Figure 91) , not much to look at, somewhat on the Sheraton pattern, with a cane seat and light frame. It is said that it was on this throne that the emperor sat when be dictated his memoirs to Las Cases.
It seems as if the chair had been made for the emperor, to fit agreeably his short and somewhat rotund figure. The dimensions are somewhat unusual for a chair of this style, the cane seat being nineteen by sixteen inches broad, while the legs are but seven-teen inches high. This relic is apparently well authenticated, for underneath the seat is this inscription:
" This chair was used by Napoleon Bonaparte, and purchased at the sale of his effects at Longwood, by Andrew Darling, St. Helena, 1821."
After buying the chair, Mr. Darling had a brass plate put upon it, which seems rather conclusive evidence that the chair was the one actually used by Napoleon at St. Helena. The belongings of this great man are sadly dispersed, and it is a pity that they can-not be placed in some National Museum. It makes one almost shiver to see his camp bedstead at a place like Madame Tussaud's.
Following along in somewhat similar lines to the chairs were the forms, settles, and settees, which eventually developed into the sofa.
The rude board settle, examples of which can even yet be found in some conservative old kitchens, was followed by something not much more comfortable, it is true, but a trifle more ornate. They were often rudely carved in Gothic style, or they had wainscot trimmings, and cushions were used to render their uncompromising angles less sharp.
One of these settees is given in Figure 92 and has a simple bandy leg, a panelled back, and is made of oak. Like the old oak wainscoting, it is quite free from polish or finish of any kind, the wood being almost black from age and use. Forms frequently did not have any backs to them, and must have been not very conducive to lingering at table, even when the seats were cushioned. All during the seventeenth century quantities of settees were made of varying pat-terns and woods, some caned like the chair seats, and with openwork wooden backs, and some with rush seats, or stuffed and covered. I do not find many of these in this country, and can hardly account for their disappearance, since they were here with the chairs which matched them. In many old inventories there is mention of settees or couches, though in the latter case it is generally specified that they are covered.
In the inventory of Theophilus Eaton (1657) , Governor of the New Haven Colony, may be found the following list of cushions which he had in his " Hall," which was really one of the most important rooms in his house. I have mentioned this inventory before, since it shows what a man high in office considered ample plenishing for his family. The furniture was:
" A drawing Table and a round Table
A Cubberd & 2 longe formes
A Cubberd cloth & Cushions
4 Setwork Cushions
6 greene Cushions & a greate Chaire with Needleworke."
There were many other chairs and stools, and all of them were covered with set or needlework, and there were the ten cushions in addition.
A very choice example of a settee in Adam brothers style is shown in Figure 93; it has still the remains of its old covering, and the exquisite carving is in good condition. This style of settee was in vogue long before the Adam brothers' day; they only took what they found and improved upon the decoration. This represents three chairs set together, and we find these settees with two, three, or four chair backs, and rarely with five. The carving in the oval at the back is in what was called honeysuckle " pattern, and was used by all the makers in the late eighteenth century. It was a favourite with Hepplewhite, who used it in inlay as well as in carving.
A two chair-back settee is shown in the next figure, and while it is much in the Chippendale style, I should place it a little earlier than that maker, since it has the " Dutch foot," which was so much used during the first half of the eighteenth century. Hogarth, the great painter of London life, who fearlessly held the mirror up to nature when he showed its follies and sins in such sets of drawings as the " Rake's Progress," used such settees in his pictures as this one in Figure 94. Chairs on this style are often called " Hogarth chairs," which is much more appropriate than to call them Chippendale. This settee is of walnut, and the splat shows more ornamentation than is common in this pattern and in this wood.
The next two Figures (95 and 96) might have been made by either Hepplewhite or Sheraton, and it is safest to say that they belong to the last quarter of the eighteenth century than to assign them to any individual maker.
They both show decidedly the French influence and are charming pieces of furniture, the delicate fluting on legs and arms being about their only decoration. Their appearance is still further improved by the appropriate covering, which, though modern, is strictly in keeping with the style of the pieces.
An unusual and beautiful sofa, for which it is hard to assign an exact date, is next shown (Figure 97). This sofa, of splendid Italian workmanship, is part of a gift by Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield Moore, and may be found in Memorial Hall, Philadelphia. It is of oak, the carving on the arms and back being in bold relief. I do not think that there are many sofas in this country of this pattern, yet I know of another very much like this, which has been in a house in Salem, Massachusetts, for many generations. But then Salem, with her fleet of ships touching at every port, had at her command about everything that the world afforded. Although oak was a common wood and one easily worked, it was not so much used in the eighteenth century as it had been previously. Experts on furniture are used to place an approximate date on pieces by noting the wood of which it is made, and first came the oak period, then walnut, then mahogany. Walnut was not an easily worked wood, and the great carvers, like Grinling Gibbons, used something softer, Gib-bons himself preferring limewood. This resembles satinwood in colour, but it has not the beautiful gloss and sheen which is one of the great attractions of satinwood.
Chippendale chose a close-set pine for many of his carvings when gilt was to be used, and some less hard wood than either mahogany or oak was adopted by the Adam brothers for the furniture they designed.
The rest of the sofas given cover a period of perhaps forty years. They are all of mahogany and may be called variations on the Empire style. The earliest one is given in Figure 98, and is curious from the fact that the ends are of solid and slatted wood, while the upholstery is confined to the back and seat. It is of a choice dark mahogany, with carved panels at the tops of the legs. This same style of frame is followed in the sofa in Figure 99, except that more carving was used. This sofa still retains its ancient horsehair covering. These hard uncomfortable articles of furniture were all too common in the first years of the nineteenth century. They were kept in the best room,that damp, dark, musty room, which was opened and aired only on Sundays and holidays. I said that these were common in the opening years of the nineteenth century, and indeed in some parts of the country they have held their own for a hundred years and more. Within the last five years I have sat in more than one room with a haircloth sofa, slippery and chill, and tried to keep warm near an air-tight stove, which keeps your back at the freezing-point while your face is broiling. New England, as conservative as the country for which she was named, preserves her antiques and the customs which go with them more than any other section of the country. Uncomfortable as some of these be, it is pleasant to meet with those who will not sell their birthright for a mess of pottage, and to whom the venerable sofa is a throne of their ancestors.
The pieces shown in Figures 100 and 101 are partly veneered, and both have carving. The two others, in Figures 102 and 103, are solid, also with rich carving. The round cushions which often accompany these sofas are called " squabs," and in two of the sofas you may see that they are stationary ; while in Figure 101 the places are left for them, but they are wanting. Mahogany was originally brought from Jamaica, and though first known in 1595, its use was so slow and gradual that not till 1700 was it used with even the least degree of freedom. By the middle of the century it was very popular, and in the hands of Chippendale acquired an immense vogue. In 1753 more than five hundred thousand feet were sent to London from that island, according to Mr. Frederick Robinson, in his book on " English Furniture," and we know that it was on sale here in the form of planks and logs. This wood is divided in ' the trade into Spanish mahogany and Honduras mahogany, or baywood. It is the Spanish wood which is the solid, heavy, and splendidly coloured kind which we all so ardently admire, susceptible of a high polish, and often showing a beautiful waving curl in the grain, which enhances the value of the wood to such an extent that it is used only in the form of veneers.
According to Mr. Robinson :
" The finest curl and figuring of the grain of woods is found in nearly all cases at that part of the tree where the division of the branches from the trunk commences. The best curl is found at the branching of two arms only, away from the trunk, this being less confused than that caused by the divergence of several arms. A saw-cut made vertically across the tops of the two branching limbs down into the main trunk would exhibit that parting of the ways of the grain which is so valuable for the making of veneers."
The difference of weight between the finest Spanish mahogany and the inferior kinds is very great, a Chippendale-pattern chair in the fine wood being all a woman will care to lift. Tulip and satinwoods were the favourites for the old cabinet-makers to employ in inlaying, and the latter wood comes from a tree which may be found in India, Ceylon, and the West Indies. Tulipwood has the disadvantage of coming only in small pieces, and, besides, is often of such a reddish tone that it has not sufficient contrast to make it showy enough for veneer on mahogany. Lancewood is a modern substitute for satinwood, and the shafts of old vehicles, like the " One Hoss Shay," are eagerly sought for cutting into strips.
With satin, tulip, lance, and " harewood," which is sycamore stained, ebony was in great demand. The strips of this latter wood are often only one thirty-second of an inch in thickness, and serve to mark the strip of light wood with better effect than if omitted.
Besides being used as an inlay, whole articles of ebony were very much in demand, and were often splendidly carved. The Dutch excelled in the use of this wood, and ebony boxes and cabinets were not uncommon, though quite costly. Horace Walpole, a collector of rare and valuable objects of whatever nature, seems to have had a fancy for this rare wood. In his letters is the following paragraph, dated May 30, 1763.
" I believe I am the first man that ever went sixty miles to an auction. As I came for ebony, I have been up to my chin in ebony ; there is literally nothing in the house but ebony ; all the other goods (if there were any, and I trust my Lady Conyers did not sleep upon ebony matrasses) are taken away. There are two tables and eighteen chairs, all made by the Hallet of two hundred years ago. These I intend to have. There are more plebian chairs of the same materials, but I have left commission for only this true black blood."
He speaks with the ring of the true enthusiast, and though he may have been the first man to travel sixty miles to an auction, he is not the last, for men, and women too, cross an ocean now to get a rare and desired bargain.