Delicate, sparse and expertly crafted, the carved ornament on this pair of chairs and those in the following lot illustrates the avant garde in furniture design in circa 1770 Philadelphia. The C-scroll as the leitmotif with ancillary leaf-carved ornament represents a departure from the use of an abundance of acanthus-leaf ornament, the prevailing aesthetic for high-end furniture made in the city during the 1760s. This new mode is exemplified by the suite of furniture made for David Deshler with carving attributed to John Pollard (1740-1787) and appears on furniture that, like the chairs offered here, has previously been ascribed to the cabinet shop of Thomas Tufft. A high chest, dressing table, pier table and set of chairs of different design all made for Richard Edwards (1744-1799) of Lumberton, New Jersey were all thought to be listed on a 1775-1776 bill of sale from Tufft to Edwards (figs. 1, 3). As the chairs offered here descended from the same source and bear related knee carving, it was thought that they too were made in Tufft’s shop. However, its existence only known through transcriptions, the bill of sale and its authenticity cannot be confirmed (for the Deshler suite, see Christie’s, New York, Philadelphia Splendor: The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Max R. Zaitz, 22 January 2016, lots 172-174; Carl M. Williams, “Thomas Tufft and his Furniture for Richard Edwards,” The Magazine Antiques (October 1948), pp. 246-247). As discerned by furniture historian Alan Miller and based on execution and tool use, the knee carving on these chairs was rendered by master carver Martin Jugiez (d. 1815). Known for his fluid artistry and sculptural forms, Jugiez stands as one of the most significant furniture craftsmen in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia. For more on Jugiez, see Luke Beckerdite and Alan Miller, "A Table's Tale: Craft, Art, and Opportunity in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia," American Furniture 2004, ed. Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2004), pp. 2-45).
The chairs descended directly to the present owner from Richard Edwards, a Quaker merchant who settled in Lumberton, New Jersey along the Rancocas Creek, a conduit that Edwards used to ship lumber via the Delaware River to Philadelphia. In 1768, he wed Abigail Harrison (b. 1751) and these chairs were probably ordered soon after their marriage. From 1769 to 1789, Edwards appears on Philadelphia tax lists and is variously listed as the owner of a dwelling, distillery and stillhouse in the city. The couple may have lived in Moorestown, New Jersey where a circa 1783 Georgian house still standing at 140 East Main Street is noted to be “the Richard Edwards house.” In 1789, Edwards purchased the Taunton Iron Works in Taunton, New Jersey where he built a grand mansion (Carl M. Williams, “Richard Edwards” in Christie’s, New York, Important Philadelphia Chippendale Furniture from the Edwards-Harrison Family, 28 May 1987, p. 12; Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Records of the Office of the Comptroller General, RG-4; Tax & Exoneration Lists, 1762-1794, available at ancestry.com).
After Richard Edwards’ death in 1799, his furniture was divided between his son, Samuel Harrison Edwards (c.1779-1859) and his daughter, Sarah (Edwards) Collins (1787-1851). The chairs in the present lot and chair V in the following lot descended to Samuel and are currently owned by Richard Edwards’ great-great-great granddaughter, who recalls that there were originally six chairs and that the other three passed down in the Collins’ line. She further notes that her mother saw a pair advertised by a Philadelphia area dealer and was able to purchase the example numbered II in the following lot, which bears a different finish. Two additional chairs from the set have been published and, possibly one of these published examples, a single chair variously marked IIII and VI survives in a private collection (see fig. 2; Joseph K. Kindig III, The Philadelphia Chair 1685-1785 (York, Pennsylvania, 1978), no. 48). Whereas the Edwards high chest, dressing table (fig. 1) and pair of chairs that sold in 1987 descended in the Collins family, the pier table in fig. 3 was also among the furniture inherited by Richard Edwards’ son Samuel and was consigned to auction in 1990 by Samuel Harrison Gardiner, Jr. (1909-1998), the uncle of the consignor of the chairs in the present and following lots.
Christie’s would like to thank Alan Miller for his assistance with the preparation of this essay.