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The Old Furniture Book
THE OLD FURNITURE BOOK.
OLD OAK, OLD LEATHER, TURKEY WORK, ETC.
WITH the revival of interest in all "antiques," which is so widely spread at this time, any of us who chance to own an old piece of furniture feel an added degree of affection for it if we can give it an approximate date and assign it to a maker or a country. There is much good old furniture in the United States, chiefly of Spanish, Dutch and English make, though there are constant importations of other makes, notably French, since it is recognized on all sides that Americans are becoming the collectors of the world. Our public museums are gradually filling with works of art presented by broad-minded citizens, while the private galleries are rich and increasing every day. To keep pace with these possessions, furniture from old palaces and manor-houses is being hauled forth and set up again in our New World homes. Indeed, whole interiors have been removed from ancient dwellings, and the superb carvings of other days become the ornaments of modern houses, like the gilded oak panels from the Hotel Montmorency which were built into the Deacon House in Boston, or like Mrs. Gardiner's Venetian carved wood which decorates her palace in the Boston Fens.
Oak panelling, like everything else, passed through various periods and styles. In Queen Elizabeth's time the panels were carried to within about two feet of the cornice; then, after some years, there came a division into lower and upper panelling, the upper beginning at about the height of the back of a chair from the floor. Pictures became more common, and they were frequently let into the upper panelling, and then it was discarded altogether, only the lower half or dado being retained. This, too, after some years, became old-fashioned, and the board known as skirting, or base-board, was all that was left of the handsome sheathing which extended from the floor almost to the ceiling. This old oak panelling was entirely without polish or varnish of any kind, and grew with years and dust almost black in colour. Sometimes it was inlaid with other woods, and often it was made for the rooms where it was placed.. Where the panels are carved, they are generally bought in that state and set in plain framework by the household joiner. If, however, the frame is carved and the panels plain, they were made to suit the taste and purse of the owner of the mansion. Oak panelling took the place of the arras, tapestry hangings, and crude wood-work of earlier times. Of course it was adopted by the rich and luxurious, for it rendered more air-tight the draughty buildings.
The oldest furniture was made of oak, more or less carved, whether of Spanish, Italian, Dutch, or English make. The multiplication of objects which we consider necessary as "furnishings" were pleasingly absent, and chests used as receptacles for clothes or linens, for seats by day and beds by night, with a few beds also of carved oak, and tables, made up the chief articles of domestic use.
Figure 1. Old Oak Bedstead
Even the very word "furniture" itself is of obscure origin and was used formerly, as now, to describe the fittings of houses, churches, and other buildings.
There are a few terms applied to furniture referring either to its decoration or process of manufacture with which it is well to become acquainted. They are given here in the order of their importance.
Veneering is the process of coating common wood with slices of rare and costly woods fastened down with glue by screw presses made to fit the surface to be covered. It was first used in the reign of William and Mary, in the last decade of the seventeenth century. Until that time furniture had been made of solid wood. Veneer of this early period, particularly burr-walnut veneer, was about one sixteenth of an inch thick, and was sometimes applied to oak. Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton used mahogany and satin-wood both solid and for veneers. When used as veneers they were all hand-cut, as they are in all high-class furniture to-day. It was not till the late Georgian period that machinery for cutting veneer was first used, and slices were produced one thirty-second of an inch in thickness. Most of the cheaper kinds of modern furniture are veneered.
Marquetry is veneer of different woods, forming a mosaic of ornamental designs. In the early days of the art, figure subjects, architectural designs, and interiors were often represented in this manner.
Rococo, made up from two French words meaning rock and shells, roequaille et coquaille, is a florid style of ornamentation which was in vogue in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Buhl, or Boulle, is inlaid work with tortoise-shell or metals in arabesques or cartouches. It derived its name from Boule, a French wood-carver who brought it to its highest perfection.
Ormolu refers to designs in brass mounted upon the surface of the wood. This metal was given an exceedingly brilliant colour by the use of less zinc and more copper than is commonly used in the composition of brass, and was sometimes still further made bright by the use of varnish and lacquer.
Baroque. This word, which was derived from the Portuguese baroco, meant originally a large irregular pearl. At first the term was used only by jewellers, but it gradually became technically applied to describe a kind of ornament which became popular on furniture early in the nineteenth century, after the rage for the classic had passed. It consisted of a wealth of ornament lavished in an unmeaning manner merely for display; and scrolls, curves, and designs from leaves were used to cover pieces, making them lack beauty and that grace which comes from pure and simple lines.
Lacquer is coloured or opaque varnish applied to metallic objects as well as wood. The name is obtained from "resin lac," the material which is used as the base of all lacquers. In the East Indies the whole surface of wooden objects, large and small, is covered with bright-coloured lacquers. The Japanese lacquers are the finest that are made. They excel in the variety and exquisite perfection of this style of work, and under their skilful manipulation it becomes one of the choicest forms of decorative art. The most highly prized lacquer is on a gold ground, some specimens of which reached Europe in the time of Louis XV.
Japanning. This style of treating wood and metal derives its name from the fact of its being an imitation of the famous lacquering of Japan, although the latter is prepared with entirely different materials and processes, and is in every way much more durable, brilliant, and beautiful than any European "Japan work." This latter process is done in clear transparent varnishes, or in black or colours, but the black japan is the most common. By japanning a very brilliant polished surface may be secured, which is more durable than ordinary painted or varnished work, It is usually applied to small articles of wood, to clock-faces, papier-mâché, etc.
Joined furniture. All the parts are joined by mortise and tenon, no nails or glue being used. This method prevents the parts from warping or springing, as so much of the modern machine-made furniture does.
Figure 1 shows an ancient carved-oak bed of the time of Queen Elizabeth, with grotesque carvings on the headboard in Renaissance style, which is said to have been introduced into England by Holbein. This bed has an interesting history. It belongs to the Herricks of Beaumanor Park, and came to them from Professor Babington, of St. John's College, Cambridge, England. He inherited it from his father, whose ancestors kept the "Blue Boar" inn at Leicester, where Richard III slept the night before the battle of Bosworth Field, in August, 1485. This has always been called "King Richard's Bed," and many learned antiquaries have waxed eloquent for and against this assumption. Mr. Henry Shaw, author of "Specimens of Early Furniture," published in 1836, says it is a good specimen of the modern four-poster of Elizabeth's time, the more ancient beds being without foot-posts. In fact the earlier beds were mere couches. As more luxury was demanded they grew larger, counterpanes were made of the richest materials. gorgeously embroidered with the arms and badges of their owners, and from their great cost and imperishable character descended from one generation to another. They provided employment, too, for the lady of the castle and her bower maidens, who had no end of leisure which had to be filled in some way, and which dragged along for many a long year, broken only by the chance visit of a wandering hawker or my lord's return from the wars.
Hollingbourne Manor, in Kent, is one of the old mansions still standing Which was built in Queen Elizabeth's time. The manor was Originally owned by Sir Thomas Culpeper, and his initials appear in many places about the house. In the great hall the fireplace has an iron back with the initials "T. C." and the date 1683 wrought in it. The present owner, Mr. Gerald Arbuthnot, has preserved the old-time atmosphere as much as possible, and in connection with home-made tapestry the "needle-room" is especially interesting. In that room the four Ladies Culpeper, daughters of that John, Lord Culpeper, Who was exiled for his devotion to King Charles, spent so much of their time making tapestry that one of the sisters became blind from the effects of her close application. Among the pieces of the handiwork of the four sisters preserved is a magnificent altar-cloth which they presented to the parish church. For two centuries and a half a needle left by the fingers of the worker remained sticking in the corner of the cloth, but it was stolen about two years ago by some one of a party of antiquarians visiting the Manor.
Figure 2. Olive-Wood Chest
In Mr. Shaw's book already quoted are many items concerning these great and handsome beds, which were often the finest pieces of furniture in the castle or manor, and from the safe seclusion of which the king or great lord received the homage of his vassals,
The bed and bedstead were sometimes classed separately, but in many inventories the former word covers the bedstead and all its furnishings. The fittings of the bed were well in keeping with the fine carved wood-work, and were of softest feathers or down. Sheets of linen, and rugs or blankets of fine wool, were covered by a cloth woven of samite, damask, or heavy with gold threads.
Richard, Earl of Arundel, in 1392, left to Philippa, his second wife, —
— "a blue bed marked with my arms and the arms of my late wife, also the hangings of the hall, which were lately made in London, of blue tapestry with red roses, with the arms of my sons, the Earl Marshall, Lord Charlton, and Mons, Willm. Beauchamp; to my son Richard, a standing bed called "Clove"; also a bed of silk embroidered with the arms of Arundel and Warren quarterly; to my dear son Thomas, my blue bed of silk embroidered with greffins; to my daughter Margaret my blue bed."
Not many earls had so great a store of worldly goods. In 1434 Joanne, Lady Bergavenny, devises —
— "a bed of gold swans, with tapettar of green tapestry. with bunches and flowers of diverse colours; and two pair of sheets of Raynes; a pair of fustian, six pairs of other sheets; six pairs of blankets; six mattrasses; six pillows; and with cushions and bancoves that longen with the bed aforesaid."
This was only one bed of six specified by this lady, several being of velvet, silk, and one of "bande kyn," a rich and splendid stuff of gold thread and silk, still farther enriched with embroidery. Before the cloth spread or counterpane the covering was of fur. It was also the fashion in these primitive times to name the beds, like that specified "Clove" in the Earl of Arundel's inventory, sometimes with the names of flowers, sometimes with those of the planets or of birds. The beds Were surmounted with testers or canopies of rich silk edged with fringes, and suspended from the rafters of the room by silk cords. There Were side-curtains also, and much carving on the headboard, while the foot-posts, as we have said, are wanting in the earliest beds, prior to the year 1500. Mr. Shaw goes on to say that there are very few beds still extant which date before Elizabethan times, and that the most ancient he met with was of the time of Henry VIII., and belonged to a clergyman of Blackheath who bought it out of an old manor-house. The posts and back are elaborately carved in Gothic style, but the cornice is missing.
Of Elizabethan times there are several noted beds extant, the finest of them being known as the "Great Bed of Ware" mentioned by Shakespeare in "Twelfth Night." It is seven feet high and ten feet square. There is one in the South Kensington Museum. London, more richly carved than the one we show and having in addition a carved foot-board. This bed is dated 1593.
Figure 3. Old Oak Chest
The curtains and hangings which have in our day become mere ornaments were during the Elizabethan period most necessary. Windows unglazed, and rude walls unplastered, or at best hung with tapestry, permitted drafts to wander through the sleeping-rooms, so that the curtains were closely drawn at night for actual protection. At best in many a castle or dwelling of the wealthy but one bed would be found, and that belonged to the lord and lady, the rest of the family taking their rest on rugs or cushions bestowed on the floor, or on chests or settees, or even on tables.
There are also found, though rarely, oak tables of this period, or perhaps a little later, heavily carved along the sides, and with ponderous turned legs and plain stout braces. These tables, perhaps the earliest approach to a sideboard, are so long that they have six legs, the top seldom being less than twelve feet in length. One we refer to was found recently in an old barn in England, where it had lain since the neighbouring manor-house had been pulled down in 1760. While its condition was good, — that is, needing no restoring, — it had become nearly black and almost fossilized from exposure. It is now used as a sideboard by the vicar of the parish who found it in its lowly estate, and on it stand pewter and plate, also antiques from the neighbourhood. Such treasures can seldom be found here, certainly not any that have lain concealed since 1760.
After the Elizabethan period the next one of importance may be called Jacobean. James I. encouraged his people to use chairs instead of stools. It was not long before settles, lounges, and "scrowled chairs," the latter inlaid with coloured woods, crowded out the stools of former days, and the idea of enriching the useful became the interest of the skilled workman, and utility was no longer the measure of value. Stools, to be sure, were still used, but they had heavy cushions of brocade, or worked stuff, or velvet, and were hung around with a rich fringe and with gimp, fastened with fancy nails. The arm-chairs of this period, a fashion introduced from Venice, had the legs in a curved X shape across the front, and chairs are still extant which were used by James I. himself. These chairs, which are all somewhat similar in design, were rendered still more comfortable by a loose cushion which could be adapted to the inclination of the sitter. The bedsteads of the period were also smothered in draperies, the tester trimmed with rows upon rows of fringe, the head-boards, carved and gilded, being about the only woodwork allowed to show.
As we have said, the earliest wood used, at least in northern England, seems to have been oak. At the close of the sixteenth century there was furniture decorated with inlays of different coloured woods, marbles, agate, or lapis lazuli. Ivory carved and inlaid, carved and gilded wood, metals and tortoiseshell, were used also in making the sumptuous furniture of the Renaissance. The greatest elegance of form and detail was observed during this century, and it declined noticeably all over Europe, during the seventeenth century. The framework became heavy and bulky and the details coarse. Silver furniture made in Spain and Italy was used in the courts of the French and English kings. Then came the carved and gilded furniture which received its greatest perfection in Italy, though it was made throughout Europe till late in the eighteenth century.
Figure 4. Chest with One Drawer
Second only to the bed in importance as an item of household furnishing was the chest, a seat by day, a bed by night, and a storehouse of valuables always. It usually stood at the foot of the bed, possibly so that it could not be pilfered at night without the owner s knowledge. Some chests, heavily made, provided with locks and bound with iron, held all the worldly wealth of the, owner, as well as his papers and deeds. Before the time of James I. bills of exchange were not used, and the actual coin passed in all transactions. Italy was the first country to establish banks, the money-dealers of Florence practising banking as early as the thirteenth century. Holland followed their example, and in 1609 the Bank of Amsterdam was founded, but kept in its coffers the actual coin paid in, being merely a repository for safe keeping. England had no bank until the seventeenth century, when this business was undertaken by the goldsmiths of London. The Bank of England was not founded until 1694. It can be easily seen how necessary a part of the household goods a stout chest for valuables was, especially in remote parts of the country, where access to the cities was not easy. Not alone in houses was the chest a necessary article; one or more were a part of every church's furniture, and in them were kept the vestments, church linen, the plate, and other valuables.
There is a lawsuit mentioned in the Court Records of New Amsterdam, where one of two sisters living at Jericho, Long Island, about 1647, sues a neighbour for coming into their house and breaking into her chest, which was in her bedroom, and stealing from it several measures of wheat which were stored therein, as well as some coins which were in the till.
The wearing-apparel of the family also was kept in these chests, and for years before her marriage the daughter of the house was employed in filling one up with linen spun and woven through all the different processes from the flax, the size and fullness of the chest often proving quite a factor in the marriage negotiations.
The chests of the Jacobean time, enriched with mouldings, panellings, and drop ornaments, are by no means unknown in America. They are furnished with drawers, cupboards, and then drawers above, making them massive and useful pieces of furniture. They stand upon large round legs, and the handles to drawers and cupboards are drops. In Italy marriage chests were beautifully painted, often by famous masters, and sometimes gilded as well. In Holland the chests were carved or inlaid; and many of these, owing to the commercial relations between England and Holland, found their way into the former country and thence to America, in addition to those brought directly from the Low Countries. Chests were used as trunks by travelers long before Shakespeare's time, and he makes a chest play an important part in "Cymbeline." In the early days of the American colonies, when the settlers sent back to England for comforts not procurable in America, these were generally despatched in chests for safe keeping and to preserve their contents. The following letter shows a lady's desire to get hold of her property which had been unduly detained. Lady Moody was a member in 1643 of the Colony of Massachusetts, but, "being taken with the error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt with by many of the elders." As she persisted in her "error" she was persuaded by friends, in order to avoid further trouble, to move to the New Netherlands. This she did, and it is noted by the Rev. Thomas Cobbett, of Lynn, that "Lady Moody is to sitt down on Long Island, from under civil and church watch, among the Dutch."
Figure 5. Oak Chest on Frame (English)
Later she became a warm friend of the younger Winthrop, and many letters passed between them. The following was written in 1649:
My respective love to you, remembering and acknowledging your many kindnesses and respect to me. I have written divers lines to you, but I doubt you have not received it. At present being in haste I can not unlay myselfe, but my request is yt you will be pleased by this note, if in your wisdom you see not a convenienter opertunity to send me those things yt Mr Throgmorton bought for me, and I understand are with you, for I am in great need of ym, together with Mark Lucas's chest and other things.
"So, with my respective love to you and your wife and Mrs Locke remembered, hoping you and they with your children are in helth, I rest; committing you to ye protection of ye Almighty. Pray remember my necessity in this thing.
Chests are to be found in the well-settled as well as in out-of-the-way corners, and of Dutch, English, and American make. The Dutch, broadly speaking, are more common in the neighbourhood of New York, Albany, and other places settled by these pioneers from Holland, while the English-made ones, many of them, are to be found in New England, and scattered Over the Eastern States as well, since in the past year I have seen two fine ones, both found in the western part of New York State. The very earliest chests which were among the effects of our first settlers are very plain affairs, hardly more than boxes mounted on simple sawed legs. They were all furnished with locks, and generally with rude handles, and we can well conceive the motley array of household and personal "stuff" which came over in them. Elder Brewster's chest is in the Memorial Hall at Plymouth, and is just such a plain box on legs as has been described.
Though there were many oak chests undoubtedly brought over during these early years, there were also many of pine, and, being plain and cheap receptacles, more easily damaged than if of harder wood, they gave way to better and more ornate pieces as soon as the family fortunes warranted it.
In Flanders were made many fronts of chests only, quite elaborately carved, and sent to England, there to be fitted with the other parts. Among the guilds the chest-makers bore an important part, as chests, particularly of churches, were sometimes fastened with two locks, and the lock plates were often very highly and handsomely wrought. Of later years chests of every degree of elegance and beauty have found their way to America; some covered with carving of the florid style of the Renaissance, some still showing traces of the fine gilding with which they were covered. Even some of historic interest are owned here, such as the carved chest of olive-wood said to have belonged to the Stuarts, and brought to this country by a member of the family who fled to Virginia after the beheading of Charles I. It remained in the possession of a family named Stuart till recently, and was bought by its present owner, Miss C. F. Marsh, of Clermonton-the-James. This chest, though restored as to its feet, is remarkable on account of the decorations on the inside of its lid, which are unusual in that place, and from the fact that they are done in burnt work as well as carving. A portrait of James I. occupies the centre, and there are carved panels on either side depicting the "Judgment of Solomon." On the top of the lid the arms of the Stuarts are burnt in, while the front is decorated with panels of castles and warriors, and above the middle panel are the British lions supporting the royal arms. This chest is about six feet in length, twenty-four inches high, and twenty-two inches wide. The plantation on which it was found belonged to Captain John Smith in 1610. Its real value was quite unknown to those who possessed it. It was sold at auction, and was bought by a German farmer for a feed-box, on account of its strength. He carted it home, and was so satisfied with his bargain that he was quite unwilling to sell. It is made of eight-inch planks of olive-wood, cut several centuries ago in Palestine.
Nor is this the only chest of this description in the country. In Memorial Hall, Philadelphia, is one very similar to it (Figure 2), but in a perfect state of preservation, with the original ball feet and more ornate twisted wrought-iron handles. The style of decoration on the two chests is quite similar, they are both made of olive-wood, but the wrought-iron handles are much handsomer on the Philadelphia chest than on the Stuart one. It has, however, no carving on the inside of the lid; the four panels of carving are enclosed with a moulding; but the lions rampant are very well done, and there are figures in cavalier costume on the panels. While, of course, elegant chests like these are most uncommon, it is the less ornate specimens which prove the most interesting, because there is more likelihood of our becoming possessed of them.
Figure 3 represents a good specimen of one of these early chests. It is of English make, entirely of oak, the boards of the bottom being as heavy and solid as lead. The top is a heavy plank of oak with a fine grain. The chest is panelled within and has one till. The lock is modern, and some nails have been driven to hold, the chest together, for the back legs as well as the sides are worm-eaten. This chest is three feet nine inches long, twenty-eight inches high, and twenty inches wide, and is in good condition save for the nails. Its date is about the last quarter of the seventeenth century. It was found in New York State and belongs to Mr. W. M. Hoyt of Rochester. While oak and pine were the most common materials for these chests, olive-wood was sometimes used, as we have seen, and sometimes the panels were of cedar, and the ornaments of some of the softer woods, like pine or maple, coloured and stained to imitate ebony. American walnut came into use late in the seventeenth century, but, although used in furniture and popular as a veneer, it was not used for chests. Cypress wood was also in demand as a material for chests, the aromatic smell keeping off the pest of housekeepers, the moth. In summer time the heavy woollen tapestries and woollen clothes of the family were stowed away, and the former, at least, from their cost and the labour. expended upon them, had to be carefully protected.
Figure 6. Spanish Leather Chair
The roughest sort of a chest was called a "standard," and in it were packed the more perishable movables and furniture; and in moving from one residence to another these standards were carried by pack-horses or on rude carts. Chinese chests of teak-wood, lacquer, or cedar are very rarely met with, though you will sometimes see them in old homes in England, where some ancestor of the family followed the sea.
The inventory of the estate of Colonel Francis Epes, of Henrico County, Virginia, dated October 1, 1678, is a long and varied one. The first article recorded is "One foure foot chest of drawers seder Sprinkled new, but damnified £1–10.0." Further along are mentioned —
— "one middle size calve skin truncke with drawers. One old leather truncke with lock and key ... one old middle size chest with lock and key. One small old chest with lock and key. Two other old chests without keys and one without hinges."
Quite a number of chests and trunks for one family when it is noted that they had chests of drawers also. When the Rev. Samuel Sewall, so well-known from his voluminous diary, returned from a trip to England in 1689, he brought with him on the ship "America" a trunk for each of his three children, with their names and the dates of their births carved thereon. Presumably these trunks did not come over empty. He brought also a sea-chest, a barrel of books, a large trunk marked H. S. with nails, two smaller trunks, a deal box of linen, a small case of liquors, and a great case of bottles. He slept on a feather bed laid above a straw bed on the voyage, and was comfortably covered with a bedquilt.
American oak was used, however, in many American-made chests. Some of the early chests, particularly those found in the United States, stand flat on the ground. Others have legs, sometimes formed by the continuation of the stiles, as those parts of the chests are called which hold the panels on the sides. The two boards which occupy the top and bottom of the sides and back and front are called the rails. The upper rails in some of the chests of early make have a row of carving on them which adds still further to the beauty of the chest, and in some instances the stiles are also carved. Ordinarily, however, the stiles are plain or with but a slight moulding, and the rails are quite plain. Geometric patterns in arched, diamond, or square form were early employed, each maker copying industriously the patterns used by other makers and only occasionally having the originality to design for himself. After the legs formed by the continuation of the stiles carne legs made in the shape of great balls such as were used on much Dutch furniture and were copied by the English makers.
The great Dutch kas, or chest, was a very large and ornamental piece of furniture, carved, painted, or decorated in marquetry. Such pieces are unusual now, most of them having been gathered in by collectors or museums, the Dutch towns along the Hudson, as well as Albany and Schenectady, having been pretty well picked over.
The evolution of the bureau from the chest is an interesting study, and shows plainly the different periods through which the useful and homely "kilt" passed before it emerged into such an ornamental thing as the carved and decorated highboy. The first step in its upward career was taken when a drawer was added below the chest proper. This came as early as the last half of the seventeenth century, those chests belonging to the first half being without drawers. Sometimes this single drawer was divided, and the very earliest specimens had the runners on which the drawers moved on the sides, and not on the bottom, as came later. The sides of the drawer were hollowed out in a groove, and a stout runner was affixed to the side of the chest. Such a chest is shown in Figure 4. With the appearance of drawers carne a difference in ornamentation, and mouldings in great variety were used, beading and turned drops also coming in for use. These patterns were merely the familiar mouldings used in wainscots and panellings put to the purpose of adorning the chests. The early chests without drawers ran in the neighbourhood of five feet long and twenty-four inches high. As the drawers were added, the chests naturally rose in height, and to prevent their becoming too bulky they decreased in length.
A nice example of one of these early oak chests, mounted on turned legs and with curved strainers, is shown in Figure 5. It is in a fine state of preservation and has the original brass escutcheons. It was evidently intended as a receptacle for valuables, as both drawer and chest are made to lock. It belongs to the Waring Galleries, London. Two drawers followed one, the chest portion still retaining its prominence, and in this simple way the chest of drawers grew from the box-like affair of 1600 and later. By 1710 chests were looked upon as "old," and so advertised for sale, although they continued to be made until the middle of the eighteenth century. They were too useful to be abandoned by a people who were obliged to be often on the move, and who needed some stout receptacle in which to carry their household and personal goods.
There are chests which are peculiar to certain localities, notably in New England, which were doubtless made by a single cabinet-maker, his workmen and apprentices. They are almost entirely confined to these localities, and are therefore of less interest to the collector in general than such pieces as are more widely distributed. Under this head comes that style of receptacle known as the Hadley Chest, and the Connecticut chest shown in Chapter V. The Dutch chests were often of pine, painted, only the choicest ones being of walnut. One inventory records a "chest brought from Havanna," — probably Spanish.
After matters became a little less anxious for the early settlers, personal comfort began to be thought of more, and such colonists as had brought no chairs began to send for them to England or have them made in America. Every ship from England took out fresh comforts, and the dignitaries of the colonies had substantial household gear. Tables, chairs, beds, and carpets, — these latter not for floors, but for use as table-covers, — are mentioned with great frequency in the inventories, and the settlers' house, albeit many of them boasted of but four rooms, had more than a modest degree of luxury.
Figure 7. Turned Chair with Leather Cover
The New Haven Colony — as indeed did all the Colonies — had, as her chief officers, men used to the best that England afforded, and the following inventory speaks for itself. John Haynes, governor of Connecticut, in 1653 left an estate at Hartford valued at £1,400. In his hall, one of the most esteemed parts of the house at this period, were, —
— the whole valued at £8 13s. 10d. The parlor had velvet chairs and stools, also Turkey-wrought chairs, and a green cloth carpet valued at £1 10s. There were also curtains of say, curtain rods and "vallants," many napkins, as these were necessary from lack of forks, and much Holland bed and table linen. There were many chests and "lean-to" or livery cupboards.
"The men's chamber," had "a bedstead with two flock beds; one feather boulster, one flock do.; one blanket; one coverlet." His best rooms had feather beds. In the cellar were many brewing-vessels and wooden-ware, while the kitchen had a complete "garnish" of pewter, but not a single piece of crockery. Brass candlesticks, iron possnets and porringers, and the useful brass warming-pan were here also. Theophilus Eaton, also governor of Connecticut, left in 1657 an inventory of goods of even greater value.
Even earlier than this, rich furniture was imported by those who could afford it, and in 1645 a Mistress Lake, sister-in-law of Governor Winthrop the younger, sent to England for the furnishings for her daughter's new house. There were many items in the list, and among them were only one —
— "bedsteede of carven oak; 2 armed cheares with fine rushe bottums; three large & three small silvern spoons, & 6 of horne."
As late as 1755 "armed cheares" were highly esteemed, and Joseph Allison, of Albany, N. Y., bequeathed two to his second son, a walking-cane to his firstborn, and to his youngest son some clothes. Chairs, stools, and cushions are mentioned in many inventories as being covered with "set work;" this was heavy woolen tapestry much after the fashion of Oriental rugs, and most durable. It is rather unusual to find no mention of leather chairs in inventories, for they were used in America late in 1600, and chairs covered with "redd lether," as well as with Spanish leather, are of frequent occurrence.
Lion Gardiner was one of the chief proprietors of Easthampton, L. I., in 1653, where he passed the last ten years of his life "rummaging old papers" and in other peaceful pursuits. The inventory of his estate is set out fully and seems scant enough.
It was this same Lion Gardiner who, after the Pequot War, bought from the Indians the island Monchonock, embracing thirty-five acres of hill and dale. The price paid was a large black dog, a gun, some powder and shot, a few Dutch blankets. This is the place which we know to-day as Gardiner's Island. The "great cheirs" mentioned in the inventory were, no doubt, either Turkey-work or leather, and seem to be the only articles of this kind of furniture possessed by him.
Figure 8. English Chair (1680) Italian Chair (Same Period)
In 1638, in London, a man named Christopher took out a patent for decorating leather, which somewhat reduced its cost. Up to this time all leather was imported from Spain or Holland.
Figure 6 is a fine example of a Portuguese or Spanish leather chair, as they were variously called, and shows well the splendid and ornamental leather as well as the rich carving seen particularly on the front brace. The leather is fastened to the frame with large brass nails, and that part of the oak frame which is exposed is turned work. On many of these chairs there are three little metal ornaments on the curved top. In this example two are lost. Besides the carving on the front brace, a pattern which was often adopted and copied by English and Dutch cabinet-makers, this chair shows well that form of foot which came to be known as the "Spanish foot." It is seen on all makes of furniture, and with some variations of form, but always turns out at the base, and has the grooved work so conspicuous in Figure 6. There is no doubt that this was an exceedingly popular style of chair, for there are many examples almost exactly like this in many collections. This particular one is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Another style of leather chair is shown in Figure 7, and its solidity is a great contrast to the Spanish chair previously shown. The woodwork is turned, and the heavy underbracing shaped, while the second bracing is a feature peculiar to this chair itself. The date of this piece is probably about 1650, or a little later, — about the same date as similar turned pieces which are covered with Turkey work. The leather on the seat is so old and worn that it seems as if it had never been renewed, while the back is much fresher and looks comparatively new. The seat of this chair is so high from the floor that a footstool was a necessity, and in the old inventories the item of "low stools," or "foot-banks" appears with some frequency. This chair is of about the same period as the Spanish leather chairs. Many leather chairs are found in the United States, both North and South, and are probably of English make. Some inventories mention them as "old," as early as 1667, and many were in use in different parts of the country.
But while most of our early New England colonists were grappling with the serious business of life, almost content if they could scrape together enough to eat and to wear, and a substantial roof to cover them, in England life was taking a more ornamental aspect. Charles II., indolent and fond of luxury, came to the throne in 1660. Two years later he married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, and both of them introduced a more elegant style of living; his French and her Spanish training leading them to require more comforts than had hitherto been known in England.
Figure 9. Cane Chair, Flemish Style
Among other things which were exported from Holland was cane furniture of a superior quality. It became very much the fashion, and was in Spanish or Flemish styles, both of which were copied or adapted by English cabinet-makers. Some of this furniture found its way to America, and there are pieces to be found showing all three styles, Flemish, Spanish, and English adaptation. In Figure 8 is shown an example of the English treatment of the Spanish style, at least as to foot; while the flat underbrace is English, the curved back and bandy leg are quite Dutch. The carving on the top is very beautiful, and the knees of the front legs carved, not with the usual shell, but with heads, and below these an oval with moulding. This chair is in the South Kensington Museum, London, and dates from about 1680. The wood is walnut, and the scrolls and foliage on the back stand out in high relief; the seat, originally as now, is covered with a rich brocade, with fine brass nails and a fringe.
The second chair is one of about the same period, of very beautifully carved oak, and not restored. The arms are missing, but show the places where they originally were. It has lost its feet, but the exquisite carving on the underbrace and top is still quite intact and quite Italian in style. This chair is at the Waring Galleries, London.
A very splendid example of the Flemish treatment of the same style is shown in Figure 9, the oak wood-1 work being carved and turned, and the foot turning out in true Flemish style. The date of the chairs shown in both Figures 8 and 9 is prior to 1700.
The wealthy people of Charles II.'s time all indulged in these chairs. Before that period stools had been in general use, and only the master, mistress, or guest of honour occupied the few chairs possessed in a household.
In New England centres like Salem, Boston, or New Haven, even before the time of Charles II., there was in some of the houses comfort as we understand it. Mr. George Lamberton, of the New Haven Colony, sailed in 1646 to England upon business in the "Great Ship." She was never heard from again, and her loss crippled the little colony almost beyond belief. Mr. Lamberton's inventory shows a variety of items. He had as many as eighty napkins; bedding and table, chimney and board cloths in proportion; feather and down beds with their accompanying hangings. These with more than a dozen cushions to make soft the stiff chairs and settles, silver plate, four chests, ten boxes and trunks, eleven chairs, five stools, and three tables, both round and square, made up comfortable furnishings for a house with probably not more than four rooms. The colonists were not only "plain people," but there were those who came, shortly after the first settlement, who brought with them the household goods and clothes to which they had been accustomed. The "Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth" tells not only of the stress of living and the struggle with Indians and forest creatures. There was time to reprehend the frivolities of women's wear, and the pastor's wife was the chief offender in the matter of over-gay apparel. She was a young widow when Mr. Johnson married her, and brought goodly estate and personal belongings to her second husband. She continued to wear the clothes she had brought with her, and the chief exceptions were taken to the cork-soled shoes she wore, and the whalebone in the bodice and sleeves of her gown. Both the pastor and his wife seem to have been more than reasonable, since they were willing to reform the cut of their garments as far as they could "without spoiling of them."
Figure 10. Turned and Carved Arm-Chair
While the general habit of the Puritans was to keep their houses and apparel extremely plain, yet here and there among them bits of comfort and elegance would crop out. Among the stiff and straight-backed chairs, one with stuffing would be found, while in the more luxurious and easy-going South they were not so rare. The covering probably was "sett work or Turkey work;" but then, too, brocade ones were found, and such a chair as is shown in Figure 10 would be an ornament in any home. It is a fine example of walnut-wood, turned and carved with bannister back and stuffed seat. The covering has been restored, but is of a pattern which was of the period. The out-turned Flemish foot is more ball-like in shape than is often seen, but it has the bowed knees which are so familiar.
Yet, if the chairs were none too comfortable, there were few families in any of the settlements that did not own at least one feather bed. If not feathers, then "flock beds" were used, that is chopped rags, or feathers and flock mixed, or, as a last resort, the down from the brown soft, cat-tails which grew plentifully in every marsh was utilized instead of more costly material.