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Corner Chair

Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany, cypress and yellow pine
HOA 31 3/8; H (seat) 16 7/8; WOA 27 7/8; DOA 27 3/8
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Close stool corner chair: Solid back splats supporting curved arm rails; ogee shaped apron; original rails to support chamber seat set 7/8″ below frame top, wrought nailed; slip seat does not sit within molding (for easy removal); frame at front leg extends downward to back up leg blocks; carved front cabriole leg and two turned side legs on pad feet with cylinder-like underpads; back leg is cylindrical with turning just above foot; slip seat has modern upholstery; chair missing the commode seat, which likely was fitted with a pewter pan.

CONSTRUCTION: Crest to arm joinery: A pair of woodscrews at each side of the dovetail cut of the lower portion of the crest. Splat and shoe joinery: Flat shoe face-nailed to inner frame and notched for splats, which are blind tenoned into skirts and arms. Seat rail construction: Outer skirting backed by pine inner frame nailed in place on all four skirts; pine commode seat supports nailed at the bottom of the inner frame. Seat frame joinery: Skirts joined to stiles with pinned mortise and tenons. Arm support joinery: Turned tenons blind-mortised into arms and center of crest.

TECHNIQUE: The original commode seat, probably comprised of a pair of boards, rested upon supports nailed inside the frame. Similar to Virginia corner chairs made both in Williamsburg and Petersburg shops are the flat splat shoes, which here are face-nailed to the tops of the back rails. Another structural detail this chair shares with the Virginia examples is the large single dovetail joint securing each arm to the crest. These features no doubt are parallel developments stemming from British chairmaking traditions. In other respects, this corner chair follows Charleston norms. The corner chair is massively made; the one-inch- thick mahogany skirts are backed on all four sides by yellow pine boards of the same thickness, nailed inside the skirts just above the bottom shaping. From a stylistic point of view, it is entirely possible that chairs with turned feet were made in Charleston well into the 1760s, just as they were in London when a less-expensive alternative was deemed suitable for a piece that was not made for use in the “best” rooms of a house.

FORM: Corner chairs were a familiar form in colonial Charleston, occurring in probate inventories as early as the 1730s. A Dorchester planter, John Whitfield, had three “Corner” chairs in his manor in 1736. Many of these were made as necessary chairs; for example, the 1760 inventory of Francis Bremar contained “1 Corner Chair & pan” valued at £4, a chair very likely similar to this one. The term “smoking” chair, familiar in England and the lower Chesapeake, seems not to have been a term current in Charleston. Only five Charleston corner chairs are known–all of which are, or were, fitted with chamber pots. The rare survival of these chairs appears to document a surprising attrition of the sturdiest of chair types. The slip seat of this chair does not fit a rabbet in the front rails, but instead lies atop the rails, making it considerably more convenient for removal. Since at least four of the known Charleston corner chairs have this arrangement, it appears to have been common in Charleston. Unrabbeted front rails are seldom found on other American necessary chairs, with the exception of Williamsburg corner chairs attributed to the shop of Peter Scott.

CONDITION: Upper right side of left splat is replaced; commode deck removed; slip seat support now consists of a second set of strips nailed to seat frame.

Credit Line:
Mesda Purchase Fund