These elegant chairs, with their boldly turned stretchers and refined proportions may prove to be rare survivals of New Haven area craftsmanship during the early to mid eighteenth century. Their unusual features, such as the rondels on the front seat rails, the angled chamfers at the base of the rear stiles, the use of two pins to secure the splat to both the crest and the shoe, and the notched treatment of the slip seat to accommodate the rear stiles, appear to have few parallels in New England furniture. Little is known of New Haven practices during the Queen Anne era, but along with similarities to other Connecticut-made chairs, their ownership in the city in the late nineteenth century suggests they were produced locally.
The side and rear stretchers of these chairs relate closely to turned elements on a side chair attributed to the New Haven-Madison area owned by Dr. and Mrs. Frank Cogan (John T. Kirk, Connecticut Furniture: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Hartford, 1967), cat. no. 221. The severe taper seen on these chairs is echoed in the stiles of the Cogan chair. Furthermore, all bear plain-turned rear stretchers with semi-spherical ends.
The use of mahogany in Connecticut is unusual, but as New Haven was a port city, cabinet- and chair makers would have had access to shipments of imported lumber. Its use, in combination with white oak for the slip seats, is often seen in high-style chairs made in Boston during this period. White oak, however, was frequently used in nearly every form of seating and case furniture made by joiners and turners in the New Haven colony in the seventeenth century (see Patricia E. Kane, Furniture of the New Haven Colony, The Seventeenth-Century Style (New Haven, 1973).
The elegant proportions of these chairs are not without precedence, and they relate closely to the proportions of a set of side chairs made for Dr. Ezekiel Porter (1707-1775) of Wethersfield. Three of the chairs are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, one chair at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and a fifth chair in the Mabel Brady Garvan collection at Yale University (see Wadsworth Atheneum, The Great River: Art & Society of the Connecticut Valley, 1635-1820 (Hartford, 1985), cat. no. 117 and Patricia E. Kane, 300 Years of American Seating Furniture, Chairs and Beds from the Mabel Brady Garvan and other Collections at Yale University (Boston, 1976), cat. no 58.)
Each chair bears a small jelly label on the underside of the slip seat that indicates their nineteenth-century owners. These individuals have been identified as Harriet Annie Brintnall Punderson (b. 1821), who appears in the 1893-1894 New Haven City directories as living at 338 Whalley Avenue, the address on the jelly labels, and her niece, Laura Punderson (b. 1852) who married Nicholas Kreass.
The Punderson family had deep roots in the New Haven area. John Punderson was one of the first of seven councilors of New Haven colony when it was established in 1638. As these chairs likely descended to Harriet and Laura, the first owners of these chairs were probably their great-grandfathers or great-great-grandfathers, respectively. These were Thomas Punderson (1713-1781), Matthew Gilbert (1711-1785), Joseph Brown (1701-1790) and Buckminster Brintnall (1731-1789), all of New Haven. Thomas Punderson married Mary Miles (b.1719) in 1736. Their son, Samuel Punderson (1756-1826) married Eunice Gilbert (1755-1828) of New Haven; Samuel and Eunice's son, Miles Punderson (1785-1861), who in an 1846 directory was listed as living at 90 Whalley Avenue, was Harriet A.B. Punderson's father and Laura Punderson's grandfather. Miles married Harriet Prudence Brown (1798-1882) of New Haven in 1813; she was the granddaughter of Joseph Brown and Buckminster Brintnall.