Documented by an 1839 label on its slip-seat frame, this chair was used by George Washington during his presidency. The label reads (see illustration):
Were in possession of
GEN. GEORGE WASHINGTON
While residing in Philadelphia as president of
the United States of America and were
purchased at a sale of his effects by
and kept by him until his decease when they became
the property of the present owner
Two chairs from the same set are now in the collection of the White House. Much of the information in the following discussion is contained in an unpublished manuscript in the White House curatorial files.
Extensive research into the commission, use and nineteenth and twentieth-century ownership of this set of chairs indicates that the chairs were in all likelihood purchased by the United States Congress for the official residence of George Washington in New York City in 1789. The chairs were subsequently moved to his second New York residence in 1790 and later in the same year to his Philadelphia residence at 190 High Street. While clearly made in Philadelphia, the chairs appear to be one of the sets of mahogany chairs purchased from the New York City cabinetmaker, Thomas Burling (1747-1831). By the late 1780s, Burling's advertisements announce that he operated an extensive warehouse, suggesting that he retailed furniture made elsewhere. The records of the Congressional purchase of 1789 show that the L463 paid to Thomas Burling accounted for all the mahogany furniture ordered and included six sets of chairs. In 1797, Washington compiled an inventory of both his personal and Government-owned property before removing from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon; a comparison of the purchase records and Washington's inventory of "public" property reveals that the chairs purchased from Burling in New York were present eight years later in Philadelphia.
After Washington's departure, the residence at 190 High Street was occupied by President John Adams until 1800, when the seat of Government moved to the present capitol. Though no record of any sale survives, it is likely that the Adams' sold much of the furniture used during Washington's tenure, including this set of chairs, between 1797 and 1800. By this time, the Chippendale furniture was certainly out of style and according to Representative Samuel Sitgreaves was in a state of disrepair (Congressional Record, March 2, 1797).
During the time when this sale probably took place, Peter Hinkle was a victualler living in the Northern Liberites Township (later called Spring Garden) of Philadelphia County and listed at various addresses on Lawrence and Callowhill Streets from 1796 to his death in 1840. His financial success is evident by his will and inventory, which detail extensive furnishings including four separate sets of chairs. In all likelihood, the second private owner of this set of chairs, William Gardner, was Peter Hinkle's nephew. Hinkle's sister, Mary Magdalena (b. 1771) married Valentine Gardner (d. 1819) and gave birth to a son, William in 1802. This is probably the same William Gardner who is listed as a "skin dresser" in the Philadelphia Directories from 1835 to 1856 in the same neighborhood as Peter Hinkle.
The chair's later ownership is unknown, but the histories of other known chairs from the set bearing the same 1839 label reveal that the set was divided soon after William Gardner's ownership. The Phildelphia dealer, Ferdinand Keller owned two separate pairs of these chairs in the early 19th century, one of which was sold individually by Keller in 1903, reunited by the firm of Israel Sack, Inc. in 1961 and now in the collection of the White House. Their present whereabouts unknown, the second pair was owned by Keller in 1916 and, according to his records, purchased from a descendant of William Gardner, Mrs. T.K. Arnold. In addition to two references to single chairs from the set and barring the possibility of duplicate references, the original set of comprised of at least seven chairs (for the chairs in the collection of the White House, see Parke-Bernet Galleries, The Lansdell K. Christie Collection, October 21, 1972, lot 83; for the pair purchased from Mrs. Arnold, see the Anderson Galleries, New York City, March 18-26, 1926, lot 93; for the single chairs, see Hornor, Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture (Washington D.C., 1935), pl. 360 and Samuel T. Freeman & Co., Philadelphia, March 1-3, 1971, lot 301).