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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.