Conceived on a grand scale, richly carved in the latest fashion and surviving with its old surface, this open armchair is a tour de force of eighteenth-century Philadelphia craftsmanship. It is one of a renowned set of chairs attributed to the preeminent cabinetmaker Thomas Affleck (1740-1795) and believed to have been made for John Penn (1729-1795) (fig. 1), the last colonial governor of Pennsylvania (see below for references to other chairs from this set). The set was dispersed among prominent Philadelphia families in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries and this chair, along with one other, is distinguished by its direct descent in the family of Ebenezer Hazard (1744-1817) (fig. 6), America's first Postmaster-General and an avid historian of the founding of the nation.
Such chairs were the height of opulence in their day. Consisting of over thirteen examples, all with arms, the set was a lavish addition to a fashionable household. The monumental form required a considerable amount of fabric for the upholstery, adding greatly to the expense. Described as a "Chair frame for stuffing over back and seat with Marlborough feet, Arm ditto," the frame itself was valued at L2 for a mahogany example in the Prices of Cabinet and Chair Work (Philadelphia, 1772; reproduced in Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley, The 1772 Philadelphia Furniture Price Book (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2005), p. 9). One of the chairs now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art retains much of its original underupholstery, including tacking that indicates the backs were tufted (mate to chair in fig. 3). The same chair bears a fragment of a turquoise wool damask fabric, believed to be from the original show cloth. Labeled by Thomas Chippendale as a "French chair," the form was frequently described in Philadelphia inventories as an "Elbow chair" (Beatrice B. Garvan, catalogue entry, Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976), p. 100).
The attribution to Affleck is based upon William MacPherson Hornor's scholarship and supported by evidence of the chairs' design and construction. In his Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture, Hornor states that Affleck was the primary cabinetmaker responsible for John Penn's furnishings, including this set and another closely related set of open armchairs (William MacPherson Hornor, Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture (Washington D.C., 1935), pp. 73-74, 176, pl. 259 caption). While Hornor's assertion relies upon a now lost manuscripts and a receipt book, Penn and Affleck were most likely on the same ship that arrived in Philadelphia in 1763 and furniture with Penn ownership indicates the work of a craftsman with recent British training. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Affleck trained in Edinburgh where Marlborough-leg furniture was particularly favored. He may have worked in the shop of Alexander Peter, whose furniture made for Dumfries House from 1756 to 1760 bears a close resemblance to later Philadelphia forms attributed to Affleck (Garvan, p. 98). After further training in London, Affleck immigrated to Philadelphia where he was welcomed as a member of the Quaker community. As the popularity of Marlborough-leg furniture in Philadelphia coincided with his arrival, he is credited with introducing this style to the city in the 1760s. The design of the chair is derived from pl. XIX of Chippendale's Director (see fig. 2), another factor supporting the attribution as Affleck's estate included a work of "Shippendale's Designs" and he is the only Philadelphia cabinetmaker of the period known to have personally owned a copy of the publication (Hornor, p. 73; Morrison H. Heckscher, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1985), p. 118). Furthermore, the thin oak frames of the chair back and the open braces supporting the corners of the back and seat frames illustrate British practices that would have been learned by Affleck in Edinburgh and London.
Similar construction and design practices are seen on related furniture attributed to Affleck, several with Penn family associations. Among the furnishings at Benjamin Chew's Germantown estate, Cliveden, are a set of backstools and sofa. Like this set of chairs, they are believed to have been acquired by Chew from John Penn (see below). With the same gothic blind-fretwork on the legs, the sofa may have been made en suite or perhaps made at a slightly different time to match the set represented by the chair offered here (fig. 4). A closely related set of chairs, with known examples now in the collections of Winterthur Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Colonial Williamsburg, differs primarily in the presence of pendant bellflowers on the legs and may have been made for Richard Penn, John's brother (Heckscher, p. 118; Garvan, p. 100). A third set, with saddle seats and molded legs, was made for Joseph Wharton (1707-1776) (see Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Henry Meyer, January 20, 1996, lot 202). All of the above display the same use of open-brace construction.
The carving on the chair's handholds is attributed by Alan Miller to Martin Jugiez (d. 1815), an emigrant carver who had arrived in Philadelphia by 1762, when his partnership with Nicholas Bernard was advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Considered to be "conceptually a sculptor," Jugiez is distinguished from his contemporaries by the three-dimensional quality of his work and his ability to integrate carved details within the overall form. These skills are well evident in the chair's handholds, which display high-relief acanthus carving that accompanies and accentuates the handholds' multi-plane curvature. Illustrating his most exuberant work, a side chair carved by Jugiez has similar passages carved in the full round on its scroll feet (fig. 5) (Luke Beckerdite and Alan Miller, "A Table's Tale: Craft, Art, and Opportunity in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia," American Furniture 2004, Luke Beckerdite, ed. (Milwaukee, 2004), pp. 24, 26-27, figs. 43-45). In partnership with Bernard, Jugiez also carved interior architectural elements for known associates of Governor John Penn, including Samuel Powel III, Penn's next-door neighbor on Third Street and Benjamin Chew. Affleck is also known to have collaborated with Bernard and Jugiez on several other important commissions, including the celebrated hairy-paw fire screens made for John Cadwalader in 1770-1771 (Luke Beckerdite, "Philadelphia carving shops: Part II: Bernard and Jugiez," Antiques (September 1985), pp. 498-505).
The set represented by the chair offered here has long been recorded as owned by John Penn. In 1817, Samuel W. Fisher (1764-1817) gave a pair to the Friend's Hospital and under the heading "rec'd 4th month [April] 1817," was described on the donation list as "Saml W Fisher 2 large Arm chairs formerly ownd by Governor ___Penn" (Donation list, copy in files at Philadelphia Museum of Art). In the 1930s, Hornor claimed that this set was made for Penn, possibly part of a large group of Marlborough-leg furniture made by Affleck and purchased by the Penns between 1766 and 1792/3 (Hornor, pp. 74, 176). As the set does not seem to appear on any of the sales or inventories of Penn furnishings and the closely related sofa was acquired by Benjamin Chew, it is thought that the chairs were included in the sale of Penn's Third Street townhouse to Benjamin Chew in 1771. With a richly carved interior and adjoining the renowned Powel house, Penn's townhouse would have been an appropriate setting for chairs of this grandeur. The residence was valued in 1770 for insurance purposes for L2,000, yet its sale the following year was in the amount of L5,000, suggesting that furnishings were included (Raymond V. Shepherd, Jr., "Cliveden and its Philadelphia Chippendale furniture: A documented history," American Art Journal (November 1976), p. 5; Garvan, pp. 100-101).
The set may have been sold by Chew soon after 1771 or may have been among the "mahogany and windsor chairs" auctioned in 1779 from Chew's Third Street townhouse (auction advertisement cited in Shepherd, pp. 14-15). It is also possible that the chairs remained in Chew's possession and dispersed following the settlement of his estate in 1810. Based on family histories and provenance research, chairs from this set are thought to have been acquired during this period by a number of prominent individuals, including Robert Waln (1765-1836), William West (1724-1782), Samuel W. Fisher (1764-1817), John Morton (1738-1818), Matthew Brooke (1761-1822) and, in the case of this chair, Ebenezer Hazard (1744-1817).
Most if not all of these men had either direct or indirect ties to Philadelphia's emerging insurance industry, particularly the Insurance Company of North America (INA), which was founded in 1792 and the chairs may have been part of a transaction between this company and Chew or his estate. Hazard was the first secretary of the INA; Robert Waln was in business with his cousin Jesse Waln (1750-1806), a founder and one of the first directors of the INA; William West's son-in-law, David Hayfield Conyngham (1750-1831) was in business partnership with John Maxwell Nesbitt, the first president of the INA; the Conyngham family was also closely allied with the Buchanan family whose descendant, Cornelia Lansing Ewing was the wife of Robert E. Brooke and a previous owner of the chair said to have descended from Matthew Brooke; and John Morton dealt with the INA on at least one occasion in 1800. Furthermore, Samuel W. Fisher was the secretary of the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, founded in 1794. Chew himself also had a number of business and familial ties to the INA. He owned shares in the company, his son-in-law Edward Tilghman (1750-1815) served as the company's lawyer, and his protege, Miers Fisher (1748-1819), was one of the company's directors. See John W. Jordan, ed., Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania (New York, 1911), pp. 219-220, 1227; Josiah Granville Leach, Some Account of Captain John Frazier (Philadelphia, 1910), pp. 75-77; Thomas J. Scharf, History of Philadelphia 1609-1884 (Philadelphia, 1884), pp. 2115, 2126); Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, History of Lancaster County (Philadelphia, 1883), p. 997; online guide to the Papers of the Insurance Company of North America, Hoskins Library, Knoxville, TN at www.lib.utk.edu/spcoll/manuscripts/ms1184fa.html; online guide to the Fisher-Warner Family Papers, Friends Historical Library of Swathmore College, http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/friends/ead/5042fiwa.xml).
EBENEZER HAZARD OF PHILADELPHIA AND NEW YORK
Born in Philadelphia, Ebenezer Hazard (fig. 6) was the son of Samuel (1714-1758) and Catharine (Clarkson). At an early age, he attended the school of his uncle, Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley in Nottingham, Maryland and in 1762 graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). During the next fifteen years, he traveled between Philadelphia, England and New York, where he was a bookseller in partnership with Garret Noel. In 1775, he was appointed superintendent of the eastern post and during the Revolutionary War, he traveled throughout the eastern seaboard accompanying the patriot army as a surveyor of post roads and offices. Upon victory, he succeeded Benjamin Franklin and his son-in-law, Richard Bache, as Postmaster General of the United States and soon after married Abigail Arthur (1759-1820) in Philadelphia. Following the seat of Congress, the couple moved to New York and then back to Philadelphia in 1790. In 1792, he became the first secretary of the newly founded Insurance Company of North America and in the same year, built a large house at 145 Arch Street, just above Fourth, where he died in 1817 (Thomas R. Hazard, Recollections of Olden Times: Rowland Robinson of Narragansett and His Unfortunate Daughter (Newport, 1879), pp. 238-247).
As a collector of historical memorabilia and one of the first to write a history of America, Hazard left behind an important legacy to the country. As early as 1779, he began collecting manuscripts and documents. Over the ensuing years, he was a tenacious scholar, frequently traveling to record pertinent documents and corresponding with key figures, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Charles Thomson and Rev. Jeremy Belknap. Entitled Historical Collections, consisting of State Papers and other authentic documents, the results of his endeavors were published in two volumes in 1792 and 1794. Though not a financial success, his work served as a critical reference for leading nineteenth-century historians, including George Bancroft, Washington Irving and Alexis de Tocqueville (George Pilcher, "Ebenezer Hazard and the Promotion of Historical Scholarship in the Early Republic," Pennsylvania History (January 1989), pp. 3-14; Hazard, pp. 240, 245-246).
Along with some of Hazard's historical documents, this chair, along with another from the set, descended directly to the present day in the Vermilye and Smith families. The documents, including letters written by George Washington, Henry Laurens and George Clinton, were sold Christie's New York, Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana (sale 1770), December 5, 2006, lot 316 and others. One of the Penn-Hazard chairs is seen in a family photograph taken in 1891 (fig. 7). The photograph depicts four generations of the Vermilye-Smith family, including Ebenezer Hazard's son-in-law, Reverend Thomas Edward Vermilye (1803-1893), seated in one of these chairs. The chair descended to Edward Leffingwell Smith (1893-1971), the brother of the baby seen in the photograph, and the grandfather of the present owners.
THE GOVERNOR JOHN PENN SET OF OPEN ARMCHAIRS
This chair survives in similar condition as the other known examples from the set. All have lost the knee brackets, with reproductions on some based on the related Penn family set. Most have lost the gadrooning along the lower edge of the skirt and only examples at Winterthur and the Philadelphia Museum of Art retain this detail. There are thirteen known surviving examples:
1 and 2: Descended in the Hazard-Smith-Vermilye families, one offered as lot 96 and the other now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
3 and 4: Descended from John Morton and now at the State Department.
5 and 6: Given to the Friends Hospital by Samuel W. Fisher in 1817 and now at the National Park Service, Independence National Historic Park. 7 and 8: Descended in the Waln-Ryerss family, possibly from Robert Waln, given to Fairmount Park and now on loan at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (fig. 3)
9: Descended in the West and Smith families of Germantown, possibly from William West and now at Winterthur Museum.
10: Descended in the Clymer-Brooke family, possibly from Matthew Brooke (or from the Conyngham family, see above) and now at Bayou Bend.
11. Sold Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords, October 28-29, 2004, lot 239 and now in a private collection.
12. Privately owned, a promised gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
13. Purchased by Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Butterfield and Bonham, The Estate of Edward C. Jameson, Jr., May 5, 2003.
There are two additional references, which may or may not repeat examples from the list above: A privately owned example with replaced legs, referenced in Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords, October 28-29, 2004, p. 64; and an example owned in 1935 by Hon. and Mrs. Roland S. Morris and illustrated in Hornor, pl. 117.