Collections › MESDA Collection › Easy Chair

Easy Chair

Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany, ash, cypress, poplar
HOA: 45 1/2; WOA: 31 1/2; DOA: 29 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Easy chair: Arched crest and shaped wings; arms supported by cone-shaped members; the whole supported by cabriole legs terminating in pad feet set upon round pads in front; back legs with great rake terminate in very large square block feet.

CONSTRUCTION: Crest/back stile/stay rail joinery: Unpinned mortise and tenon. Back stile/rear leg joinery: Rear leg scarf-joined to stiles and glued in place, held with nails from front of stiles. Back stile/ seat rail joinery: Seat rail cut with shallow notch to accommodate stile. Wing top rail/wing stile/frame joinery: Back stiles notched to accommodate wing rails, which are nailed in place; wing rails tenoned to wing stiles, unpinned; seat frame open-mortised to receive lower wing stile, which is nailed to seat rail. Arm/arm cone/frame joinery: Arm cone fitted into open mortises in seat rail and nailed in place; arm nailed to arm cone; arm notched to fit around wing stiles and nailed to wings inside. Frame/ front and rear leg joinery: Legs joined to seat rails with unpinned mortise and tenons. Glue blocks: One-piece quarter-round mahogany blocks front and rear. Upholstery evidence: Original show fabric stitched, not close-nailed.

TERM: This chair is one of the earliest surviving easy chairs from the South. The term “easy chair” can be found in Charleston inventories and advertisements from the 1720s through the 1820s. Such chairs often were intended for bedchamber use. Many are also listed in inventories with slip cases that were meant to protect expensive primary coverings.

STYLE: In addition to the presence of cypress as a secondary wood, the most uniquely Charleston feature of this chair is the massive block-like rear feet. This is the only known Charleston easy chair with turned feet, here in the front.

CONDITION: Left front leg stile patched; all knee responds and rear leg brackets replaced.

This easy chair came into the MESDA collection with a history of descent in the Cannon and Fraser families of Charleston. Once thought to have belonged to the successful Charleston builder, Daniel Cannon (1720-1802), a careful search of Cannon family inventories failed to identify an easy chair. Therefore, this is probably the “Easy Chair” valued at 5 pounds in the 1754 probate inventory of the wealthy Charleston Indian trader and merchant, John Fraser. Eighteen years later, it appeared as part of “8 Old Chairs, easy D[itt]o, & Close Stool D[itt]o” priced at 10 pounds in the inventory of his widow, Judith (Warner) Fraser (1698-1772). In 1860, it was listed as “1 Easy Chair” valued at only 50 cents in the probate inventory of their grandson, the famous Charleston artist Charles Fraser (1782-1860). It was among the contents of the Fraser family house on King Street that Charles bequeathed to his nephew, Joseph A. Winthrop (1791-1864), a direct ancestor of the easy chair’s last private owner.

It is among a large group of related objects in the MESDA collection with Fraser family histories. These include a Chippendale-style chest of drawers with a fitted upper drawer (Acc. 2787), a candlestand (Acc. 2788.1), a stilllife painting by Charles Fraser (Acc. 5470), a painted box made by Fraser for his niece Ann Susan Winthrop (Acc. 5471), and a miniature by Fraser of his niece Sophia Fraser (Acc. 5509).

Credit Line:
Gift of Frank L. Horton