Among the greatest surviving 18th century Philadelphia easy chairs, this celebrated example has been hailed as "the highest development of an American Chippendale wing chair" and "a collector's dream, representing the perfection of the form" (see Sack, Fine Points of Furniture (New York, 1952) p. 67; and Sack, Fine Points of Furniture (New York, 1993 edition) p. 74). In outstanding, original condition, this chair retains its original finish on its legs, and a sculpural, virtually untouched frame.
This remarkable Philadelphia easy chair compares closely to at least three other known examples, and the frame appears to be among the most intact surviving 18th century Philadelphia easy chairs known. This important group of chairs includes the example long attributed to John Elliott, in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see figure ___), a chair formerly in the collection of Luke Vincent Lockwood, illustrated in the Girl Scout Loan Exhibition Catalog, and an unpublished, privately owned example. All four chairs are very similar in their overall geometry and stance, characterized by broadly rolled arms, sharply raked rear legs, and finely shaped cabriole legs with acanthus carving on the knees and knee returns. The Museum's chair and the Lockwood chair are nearly identical; the chair offered here and the privately owned example also appear to be nearly identical, though the latter has not been examined under the upholstery. All four are likely the products of the same Philadelphia shop, working in the 1750s and early 1760s.
A close comparison of the chair offered here and the example at the Philadelphia Museum of Art reveal numerous common design and construction elements that confirm their common origin in the same Philadelphia shop. The Museum's chair is slightly larger ( 5/8 in. taller and ¾ in. wider at the arms), but many of the components are identical in measurement, and the choice of woods is also the same in most components of the frame. In both chairs the crest rails, wing frames, arm supports and arm facings are yellow pine, the arm rolls and arm "ramps" are tulip poplar, and the seat frames are oak. The wood choice differs only in the rear stiles and rear cross-brace, which are curly maple on this example, and yellow pine and oak on the Museum's example. The construction is also closely comparable, even in details such as both chairs having a thin laminate at the outermost dimensions of the poplar arm rolls, and another thin laminate at the outmost dimensions of the arm ramps. Both chairs also have a crisp line that follows the inside edge of the wing frame down and across the inside support for the rolled arms. Even the placement of nails on the frames is largely the same. The only notable construction difference is that the arm supports of this chair are through-tenoned into the oak seat-frame, whereas the Museum's chair is not through tenoned.
All four chairs in this group are superlative examples, but the chair offered here is in exceptionally good repair, and appears to retain its original finish on its legs. By comparison, the Lockwood chair and the Museum's chair have considerable repairs, including a replaced front rail and replaced rear legs on the Lockwood chair, and a reset front leg and broken and repaired rear legs on the Museum's chair. The inside of the front seat-rail on the Museum's chair was probably recut at a later date to accommodate a sprung seat; the chair offered here was also fitted with a sprung seat at one time, but the front rail was not re-cut. The chair offered here appears to have had only two or perhaps three upholstery campaigns.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art's chair was long thought to correspond to a bill of sale from John Elliott to Edward Shippen, dated 1754. Elliott billed Shippen for "An Easy Chair frame Carved Claw and Knee 1-15-0" and then itemized the costs of upholstering the chair:
For making up do. 1-6-0
7 1/4 yards worsted damask @71 2-10-9
3 = yds. essing (?) 0-3-5
4 = yds Ozar (?) 0-6-0
2 = yds China 0-7-6
two skins for the feather cushin 0-6-0
4 pound feathers 0-8-8
6 do. Curled hair 0-9-0
18 yds. Lace 0-6-0
Tacks, silk, cord, girt webb 0-7-0
Sett Brass castors, screws, and fixing on 0-7-0
While this bill is no longer thought to correspond to the museum's chair (the rest of the bill is for walnut furniture, and the chair is mahogany, a difference that would have likely been noted at the time), it provides clear insight into the final cost of such a luxury item. It is also a recipe for re-upholstering chairs of this period, and it is likely that the chair offered here was similarly fitted and upholstered with a worsted damask. A green thread trapped under a nail in the frame appears to be a remnant of this original covering. This chair was also once fitted with castors, which have been removed and the corresponding holes filled.
The early history of this chair is not known, but since its discovery in the 20th century, it has passed through several hands. Pioneer collector Louis E. Brooks may have purchased it from C. W. Lyon, as this chair appears to be the example that Lyon advertised in Antiques, September, 1943, frontispiece (see figure ). While many close parallels are apparent in the black-and-white image, it is possible that this advertisement illustrates the privately owned example from this group. From Brooks is passed to Jess Pavey, from Pavey to Walter Robb, and from Robb to the dealer Israel Sack Inc. The current owner purchased it from Sack.
AN IMPORTANT CHIPPENDALE CARVED MAHOGANY EASY CHAIR
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Sack, Albert, Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York, 1950), p. 67
Sack, Israel, Inc., American Antiques from the Israel Sack Collection (Highland House Publishers, 1974), Vol. 5, Brochure 27, pp. 1222-1223
Gaines, Edith, "The Robb Collection of American Furniture" Antiques (vol. XCII, no. 3) September, 1967, p. 328
Horner, William, Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture (Washington, D.C., 1977 edition), frontis page xiii
Possibly Charles W. Lyon, c. 1943
Collector Louis E. Brooks, Michigan
Walter B. Robb, Buffalo, New York
Israel Sack, Inc.