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William and Mary Oak armchair (circa late 17th to early 18th century)

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    Posted 9 years ago

    (122 items)

    Found in New York City's South Bronx, this William and Mary chair, circa 1690, measures 49" in height x 24-1/2" in width x 19" in depth; 17" seat height. It has a wonderful oak patina with traces of red, white and brown paint.

    Armchair with cane back and seat within molded frame. Crest rail is high flat-topped arch, formed by two broken cyma curves; the stay rail, a flattened inverted version; shaped arms with scrolled terminals ending in ram's horn curl over turned supports with inverted lobed vase. Canted rear legs are rounded between blocks joining seat and stretchers. Front legs are turned with ball lobed vase, ring, and blocks, and terminate in ('Braganza') Spanish front felet; block and baluster rear

    During the 1670s carved chairs with cane backs and seats became a staple of the London furniture industry. Over the next fifty years specialists produced tens of thousands of these chairs. Many were made for export to American ports and soon furnished the homes of wealthy residents from New Hampshire to South Carolina and throughout the West Indies. A small number of colonial craftsmen, primarily in Boston built their own versions of this popular English form. This New England example, made of American oak, probably belonged to a prominent patriot, similar on the level as John Hancock in the late 1700s.

    When Americans speak of William and Mary chairs they generally mean the early American colonial furniture high backed seats of leather or cane which were introduced to England with the Dutch court of William III and its French-born designer, Daniel Marot. The caned example shown is as elaborate as can be found from the period; the hand laid ball-shaped stretchers between the front legs provide the richest and most characteristic touch of the early American colonial furniture in William and Mary style in America. Some caned furniture was later covered with leather: a document of 1726 in Pennsylvania notes 'making leather seats to cane Chairs'.

    Colonial craftsmen were seldom innovators, but some of them took elements from fashionable European furniture and combined them in pieces that are fresh and harmoniously integrated. The banister back chair and others like it are associated with a family of turners and chair makers who worked at Ports­mouth, New Hampshire, and also at Ipswich, Massachusetts.

    It is attributed to John Gaines II (1697-1748), the son of a turner and himself the father and grandfather of a chair maker and cabinetmaker. John Gaines II was manufacturing chairs like this long after the William and Mary style had lost favor in London. The writer views this early American colonial furniture chair as one of the few examples of furniture in an American idiom-not great or unique, but a noteworthy contribution nonetheless.
    Easy chairs were not generally adopted among fashionable colonials until the second quarter of the 18th century. This is supported by inventories and by the few survivors which
    incorporate elements of the William and Mary style. Products of upholsterers working with turners or joiners, easy chairs date from the reign of James I, but they did not achieve wide popularity in England until about 1700. The crest and vertical proportions of the colonial wing chair illustrated occur in the chairs which are in the Flock Room at Winterthur. Also of interest are the shaped skirt, which happily complements the back, the double roll of the arm, interpreted as an indication of a New England origin, and the small 'Spanish' feet, which appear in a variety of forms.

    I welcome any and all information pertaining to this item.

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    1. BHock45 BHock45, 9 years ago
      Is this finished in a lacquer or a paint?
    2. BHock45 BHock45, 9 years ago
      I would be curious to see a joint. Are any of the joints loose enough to see? They would tell us the story. I have a small, handheld metal "pinpointer", I run it up and down the chair to see if there are any nails under the finish. I would assume your chair has either no nails, or very old hand hammered "rose petal" looking ones. Am I correct? Nice find.
    3. BHock45 BHock45, 9 years ago
      In addition, a look at the hole drilled for the cane would help. This chair would have been caned and re caned many many times so the holes would be rather haggard looking.

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