With their seaweed-carved crests, curule bases and brass paw feet, these chairs and those in the following lot are virtually identical to two sets of seating furniture attributed to New York’s most famous cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854). The first, made for New York merchant Nathaniel Prime, is in the collections of Boscobel and like the sets offered here, features half over-upholstered seats. Now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York, the second set has caned seats and was made for Thomas Cornell Pearsall. As discussed by Peter Kenny, these forms illustrate the latest trends in furniture design, which accurately incorporated findings from recent archeological excavations. Based on Roman antecedents, curule-base seating furniture was illustrated and described as “Chairs with Grecian Cross Fronts” in the 1808 Supplement to the London Chair-Makers’ and Cavers’ book of Prices for Workmanship, probably the direct source for curule-base forms made in New York (Peter Kenny, Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (New York, 2011), pp. 118-119, 178-181; Berry B. Tracy, Federal Furniture and Decorative Arts at Boscobel (New York, 1981), p. 41, cats. 11, 12).
According to the notes of Charles Henry Coster (1898-1977), one of the previous family owners of these chairs, this set was made for the Coster side of the family and Charles’ paternal great grandfather, John Gerard Coster (1762/3-1844) stands as a likely first owner. Born in the Netherlands, Coster immigrated with his brother in the late eighteenth century to New York, where he became a successful merchant.