Few suites of American furniture have received more acclaim than the matching pairs of high chest and dressing tables commissioned by Philadelphia merchant Levi Hollingsworth. Born in Maryland in 1739, Hollingsworth moved to Philadelphia by 1760 and became a sucessful merchant. He was a member of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club and Schuylkill fishing club and a founder of the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry. Hollingsworth married Hannah Paschall in 1768 and probably purchased the high chests and dressing tables shortly thereafter.
Hollingsworth was a business associate and patron of the renowned Philadelphia cabinetmaker Thomas Affleck. A Quaker from Aberdeen, Scotland, Affleck was apprenticed to cabinetmaker Alex Rose of Ellen of Edinburgh in 1754. Six years later, Affleck moved to London, where he probably worked as a journeyman before immigrating to Philadelphia in 1763. In July of that year, Thomas Fisher wrote:
Honour'd Father... The bearer Thos. Affleck intended to settle in Philadelphia, & knowing the satisfactoin of being introduced to some acquaintance there shall I just say he is a friend of David Barclay and a person of whose character I have reason to esteem... several others & myself in particular will take it kind [if] thou will render him thy world civility & any advice & assistance that may be necessary.
In 1768, Affleck moved his shop from Union (now Delancy) Street to Second Street below the drawbridge and notified the public that he carried on "the cabinet-making business in all its branches." His patrons were primarily affluent merchants and professionals, such as John and Lambert Cadwalader, Michael Gratz, Levi Hollingsworth, Thomas Mifflin, and James Pemberton, and powerful public officials, such as Governor John Penn.
The furniture documented and associated with Affleck is remarkably diverse and includes the matching pairs of high chests and dressing tables commissioned by Hollingsworth; four firescreens, two card tables, and an easy chair made for John Cadwalader in 1771; a chest-on-chest ordered by David Deschler in 1775; and several marlboro leg tables and chairs made for John Penn and subsequently purchased by the Chew family of Cliveden.
For each of these important commissions, Affleck contracted work from professional carvers. The carving on the Hollingsworth pieces is far more carefully rendered than on the Cadwalader suite and undoubtedly represents the work of one of the London-trained emigres who arrived in Philadelphia during the mid-1760s. Foremost were Hercules Courtenay and John Pollard, both of whom worked for Benjamin Randolph before establishing their own shops. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Pollard carved most of the tablets, appliques, and moldings in the Stamper-Blackwell (Winterthur Museum) and Ringgold (Baltimore Museum of Art) Parlors as well as the celebrated scroll-foot slab table that belonged to John Cadwalader (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Several suites of furniture share details with this seminal work including sets of chairs owned by David Deschler and Charles Thompson, case pieces, chairs and tables commissioned by Richard Edwards and the magnificent high chests and dressing tables commissioned by Levi Hollingsworth.
The floral rosettes and rococo cartouche on this high chest are arguably the finest of their type and represent a refinement of their heavier counterparts popular during the first half of the 1760s. The cut-through acanthus leaves on the cartouche have a light, naturalistic quality reminiscent of the floral garlands from the Stamper-Blackwell and Ringgold Parlors. Only a handful of cut through C-scroll cartouches survive and most have relatively significant losses. By contrast, the cartouche and other carved components of the high chest and its accompanying dressing table are in superb condition.
A chalk cypher on the back of the upper case appears to be a conjoined "TA."
The drawer fronts on both the high chest and dressing table have nail evidence for the attachment of patterns used in laying out the relief-carved shells. The high chest retains much of its original finish. The brasses are period examples that were restored based on precise finish lines and surface impressions from the originals.
The other Hollingsworth high chest is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the matching dressing table is in a private collection. .
This chair is part of a set that belonged to Levi Hollingsworth. In his Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture, William McPherson Hornor wrote:
Among the best chairs traced to a Philadelphia-Chippendale cabinet-shop are those made for Levi Hollingsworth by THOMAS AFFLECK, just before the Revolution. They too are of the cabriole-leg, strap-scrolled pattern; and though closely related to a rich series [of chairs] in workmanship, design, and orientation, they are yet distinctive. These chairs were fabricated for the dwelling at 16 Dock Street, and perhaps for the same bedrooms as the two highboys and matching lowboys, Mr. Hollingsworth and his cabinet-maker and chair-maker were long associated in the mahogany trade; later in real estate transactions.
Other chairs from this set are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Chipstone Foundation, and a private New York collection.
This chair retains its original slipseat and upholstery. A report on the conservation of the needlework and it's nonintrusive upholstery system will accompany this lot.
Because of the local restrictions on visitation to Chipstone, the foundation plans to loan a percentage of its collection to other museums to make the objects more accessable to the public. This new program has changed our collecting and interpretive goals in several significant ways. In recent years, we have endeavored to expand the chronological, geographic, and cultural boundries of our collection by acquiring furniture from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, objects from the southern colonies and colonial back country, and pieces that reflect Continental furnituremaking traditions. Although the Hollingsworth suite is obviously a monumental expression of American artisanry and patronage, sets do not accomplish our mission as well as individual objects that tell different stories. Because our collection includes several examples of Philadelphia furniture in the late baroque and rococo styles as well as objects by most of the tradesman involved with the Hollingsworth pieces, our board elected to deaccession the high chest, dressing table, and chair. To preserve the artistic and historical integrity of the suite, the case pieces are being offered together.
Detail, carved floral rosette
Shell drawer, High Chest-of-Drawers
Shell drawer, Dressing Table
Cornice, High Chest-of-Drawers
Detail, carving on knee
A Silk-on-Silk Needlework Picture
By Mary Flower, Philadelphia, 1768
Mary Flower (1744-1788) used as her source for this needlework a mezzotint entitled the Chase, after James Seymour. The selection of fox hunting as a subject for her work may simply be the result of her affection for her father, Enoch Flower, a well-known rider to the hounds and a member of the Gloucester Foxhunting Club in New Jersey. Located across the river from Philadelphia, this club's membership included John Cadwalader and Levi Hollingsworth.