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Arm Chair

Place Made:
Edenton North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany, beech, cypress
HOA: 39 1/4; WOA: 28 7/8; DOA: 23
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Chippendale-style arm chair: Curvelinear back posts with arched crest and terminating with sweeping cabriole back feet, the crest carved with foliated leaf design, this supported by a pierced splat carved with volutes and two floral rosettes; arms sweep outward and are carved at terminals with a pansy-like flower and at midpoint with a diagonal insert, supported by an ogee-shaped crest onto the side rails; the front seat rail is scalloped at the base; the front legs are cabriole with carved acanthus leaf knees and claw-and-ball feet; two screws and a piece of wood on rear of back splat appear to attempt to hold broken pieces together.

STYLE: The cabriole rear legs, the shaping of the crest and back stiles, the form of the arms and arm supports, and the carving style firmly link this chair with the late Baroque fashion prevalent in Britain in the 1730s. Also an early detail is the broad strapwork splat, a pattern observed on chairs from Ireland and New York; here the chairmaker failed to cross the central portion of the strap of the “figure eight” properly. (RAES)

Claw feet, often taken to be Rococo or “Chippendale,” are an Oriental motif that appeared in Britain during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. However, they did not appear in the first edition (1754) of Chippendale’s GENTLEMAN AND CABINETMAKER’S DIRECTOR, and evidently were not popular in London then. The rear talons of the feet of this chair are finished with a “knife” edge, a detail not yet observed outside Edenton.

GROUP: This chair is the work of one of at least four shops comprising the Edenton school of cabinetmaking during the pre-Revolutionary period. Many features of this chair have little or no parallel in any American work outside the Albermarle Sound region.

RELATED OBJECTS: This chair is identical to two deaccessioned chairs from the MESDA collection (Acc. 2803 and Acc. 3304). All three chairs are mahogany. Acc. 2418 has a beech slip seat and rear seat rail with cypress glue blocks. Acc. 2803 has a yellow pine slip seat and blocks. Acc. 3304 also has yellow pine secondary, but was made with a cherry rear seat rail. These details, as well as different numbering systems, indicate the chairs belonged to separate sets. Since 18th century armchairs made in North Carolina are quite rare, the fact that these three chairs were from three separate sets of armchairs is surprising.

UPHOLSTERY: The original upholstery of 2418 was a blue and orange wool fabric, while 3304 was originally covered with leather. The seating material of 2803 is unknown.

This chair was known to have been in Perquimans County in the 19th century when it was gifted by Mrs. Juliana Harvey Elliott (1819-1879) to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hertford. Descended from early colonial governor Thomas Harvey (d. 1699), the Harveys were one of the most prominent families in Perquimans County and inhabited a peninsula on the western side of the county called Harvey’s Neck. The chair probably belonged to Mrs. Elliott’s great-frandfather, Benjamin Harvey (1727-1774), a wealthy planter and politician who, with his brothers John (1724-1775) and Miles Harvey (1728-1776), represented Perquimans in the North Carolina colonial assembly. This may be the “Mahogany Arm Chair” listed in the probate inventory of Mrs. Elliott’s uncle and guardian, Thomas Harvey (d. 1844) of Pasquotank County.
Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund