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  • American Furniture Collecting Guide
American Furniture Collecting Guide
Baltimore

By the early 19th century, Baltimore had become a prosperous urban center as the primary market town for most of the South and a good portion of Pennsylvania. Cabinetmakers made constant use of light wood and painted glass (verre églomisé) often with Classical motifs set into wood. Characteristic of fine Baltimore furniture is satinwood ovals and rectangles set into dark rectangular panels and gilt stenciling.


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A Classical Marbleized, Grained, and Stenciled Pier Table
Decoration attributed to Hugh Finlay (1781-1831), Baltimore, 1820-1825
Sold $46,000, October 8, 1998, lot 71

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A Classical Carved Mahogany Desk-and-Bookcase
Attributed to Anthony H. Jenkins (w. 1832-1857), Baltimore, Circa 1835-1840
Sold $9,200, October 14, 1999, lot 220


Boston

Boston was New England's dominant city in the 17th and 18th centuries, and considered a fashionable city that produced high quality furniture in great quantity. Home to an immense number of craftsmen between 1725-1760, Boston was the primary port for the import of British goods. By 1740, Boston's economy faltered and its population began a gradual decline. Newport, Rhode Island and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became major urban centers as Boston wavered. Regional characteristics include delicacy, lean proportions, and restrained form and ornament.

During the Federal period, John and Thomas Seymour were Boston's outstanding furniture makers. Their use of tambour doors, light-wood banding, turned and carved legs, and delicate inlaid ivory urns demonstrates the quality and stylishness of their cabinetmaking.


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A Federal Inlaid Mahogany Secretary-Desk
Attributed to John Seymour & Son, Boston, 1794-1809
Sold $255,500, June 17, 1997, lot 417


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A Federal Inlaid Mahogany Serpentine-Front Chest-of-Drawers
Boston, 1780-1800
Sold $85,000, October 8, 1998, lot 41


Connecticut

Produced in a number of local styles by craftsmen of coastal and river towns for their local markets, Connecticut furniture features traits shared with Massachusetts, New York, and Newport. The furniture was characteristically crisp, with a sharp edged quality. As a result of working with hard, native cherrywood, Connecticut furniture was very quirky and magnificent in its own right. A distinctive Connecticut style never developed, as there was no principal urban center. Two talented cabinetmakers, Eliphalet and Aaron Chapin of the East Windsor area, produced chairs in the Philadelphia style. Eliphalet's training in Philadelphia is evident in the chairs he produced with interlaced and pierced splats, stump rear legs, flattened arched seatrails, two-part vertical quarter-round glue blocks, and thru-tenon construction. Two of the most prolific centers, Norwich and Colchester, are in New London county and are in close proximity to Newport. Both were greatly influenced by Newport, extending into their form of the block-and-shell motif.


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A Queen Anne Carved Cherrywood High Chest-of-Drawers
Probably Colchester, Connecticut, 1750-1780
Sold $387,500, June 18, 1998, lot 137


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A Pair of Chippendale Carved Cherrywood Side Chairs
Attributed to Eliphalet Chapin (1741-1807), and Aaron Chapin (1753-1835), East Windsor, Connecticut, 1780-1790
Sold $96,000, January 18, 1997, lot 207


Newport, Rhode Island

By the mid-1740s Newport emerged as a leading trade center for the colonies. It became as important a seaport as Boston had been until its commercial decline. There was an increase in production of expensive furniture as wealthy merchants required fashionable objects for their homes. Approximately twenty years before the Revolution, Newport had as many cabinetmakers as Boston. A school of cabinetmaking developed to meet the needs of Newport's newfound wealth primarily led by members of the Townsend and Goddard dynasty of cabinetmaking. Their interpretation of the Queen Anne style, established in the 1740s, was very delicate and angular with slipper feet. By the next decade their work became more massive with serpentine front objects and padded disc feet.

The Goddard-Townsend school reinterpreted the Boston blockfront, emerging as a remarkable Newport version. Usually fashioned from one piece of wood with alternately raised and recessed panels surmounted by carved and concave shells, these pieces are masterpieces of Newport design. In addition, the Goddard-Townsend school executed cabriole leg furniture with distinctive stylized foliate carving. Their tables had stop-fluted Marlborough legs, and their delicate stands and firescreens had tiny rat-paw feet.

British occupation ended Newport's prosperity in 1776-1779, and its mercantile economy never recovered after the war. Peace in 1783 marked the beginning of a decade during which the Townsends and Goddards produced some of their finest work.


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The Nicholas Brown Chippendale Mahogany Block-and-Shell Carved Desk-and-Bookcase
Townsend-Goddard School, Newport, 1760-1770
Sold $12,100,000, June 3, 1989, lot 100
World auction record for any piece of American furniture


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The Sarah Slocum Chippendale Mahogany Block-and-Shell Carved Chest-of-Drawers
Labeled by John Townsend (1732-1809), Newport, dated 1792
Sold $4,732,500, June 18, 1998, lot 151
World auction record for a chest-of-drawers


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A Federal Inlaid Mahogany Sideboard
School of Thomas Howard, Jr. (1744-1833), Pawtuxet and Providence, Rhode Island, 1808
Sold $200,500, January 21, 2000, lot 173


New York

New York City did not experience rapid growth until the Federal period. By then it had the same number of craftsmen as Newport had during the mid-18th century. Prior to the Federal period, due to a lesser economy, New York was not a stylistic leader, but instead was influenced by other urban centers.

The taste of 18th century New York was for solid, well-made, relatively unadorned furniture. The five-legged serpentine-front card tables were considered some of the greatest objects produced in the Chippendale style in New York. The chairs had pierced splats and were very heavy in appearance.

The chests were solid and handsome with a combination of ball-and-claw front feet and thick bracket back feet. New York craftsmen followed English practice, which give its furniture a broad and heavy appearance. This strong English influence was a clear reflection of the dominance of loyalists in the city.

The Dutch also influenced furniture design and the New York flat-topped chest-on-chest reflects the influence of the Dutch kasten.


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The Verplanck Family Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chair
New York City, 1760-1780
Sold $387,500, October 8, 1997, lot 58


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A Classical Carved and Caned Mahogany Settee
Attributed to the Shop of Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854), New York City, 1815-1825
Sold $167,500, June 17, 1997, lot 429


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Two Classical Carved and Parcel-Gilt Rosewood Card Tables
Labelled by Charles Honoré Lannuier (1779-1819), New York City, circa 1815
Sold $1,220,000, January 18, 2002, lot 401 and 402
World auction record for 19th century American furniture


Philadelphia

Many of the most splendid examples of Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture from the colonies were produced in Philadelphia. By 1750 Philadelphia had become the most prosperous city in the English-speaking world after London. Its Queen Anne interpretation was reflected in chairs with curved stiles and splats, balloon-shaped seats, and cabriole legs with padded disc feet. Tea tables were also produced with columns and ball-and-claw feet, and chests were not adorned except for the high quality of the grain of walnut.

In the decades preceding the Revolution, Philadelphia produced its most impressive furniture. The objects reflected a prosperous urban center. The most impressive form in Philadelphia during the Chippendale period was the high chest with its very architectural form embellished with the exuberant rococo carving. Characteristics exhibited in Philadelphia seating are stump rear legs, thru-tenon side rails, flowing naturalistic carving, ball-and-claw feet, pierced splats, and shell-carved drawers on case pieces.


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The Waln-Large Family Queen Anne Carved Walnut Armchair
Philadelphia, 1740-1760
Sold $1,982,500, October 14, 1999, lot 185
World auction record for an American armchair


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The Hollingsworth Family Chippendale Carved Walnut High Chest-of-Drawers, Matching Dressing Table, and Side Chair
Thomas Affleck (1740-1795), Philadelphia, 1765-1775
Sold $2,972,500, January 16, 1998, lot 501
World auction record for a suite of Philadelphia furniture


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A Chippendale Carved Mahogany Tea Table
Philadelphia, 1760-1780
Sold $2,422,500, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eddy Nicholson, January 27 and 28, 1995, lot 1081
World auction record for an American tea table


Salem

Salem was one of the celebrated ports in the world for more than a generation following the Revolution. Merchants in Salem and neighboring towns grew prosperous from their foreign ventures, which was reflected in the furnishings of their homes. Samuel McIntire, one of Salem's most prolific cabinetmakers, was known for his carvings of swags, eagles, star-punching, and stippled background.


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A Federal Carved Mahogany Settee
Carving attributed to Samuel McIntire (1757-1811), Salem, Massachusetts, 1795-1810
Sold $64,625, January 18, 2002, lot 430


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A Federal Carved and Veneered Mahogany Gentleman's Breakfront Secretary Bookcase
Salem, Massachusetts, circa 1800
Sold $96,000, October 27, 1995, lot 217


South

Southern furniture of the late colonial period is characteristically English in design and proportion. The settlement patterns in the South were different than those in the North, as they were established around a plantation economy. There has been extensive recent scholarship on Southern furniture, which until the early 20th century was thought to have been non-existent.

A rare example of a South Carolina armchair illustrated here demonstrates Continental European influence reflecting the heritage of its earliest settlers. One third of the joiners documented in 17th century South Carolina were Huguenots.


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A Turned and Joined Cherrywood and Ash Armchair
Coastal South Carolina, 1680-1700
Sold $288,500, October 8, 1998, lot 36


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The Bennett Family Queen Anne Walnut Dressing Table
Charleston, South Carolina, Circa 1750
Sold $101,500, June 19, 1996, lot 124