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Easy Chair

Townsend, Stephen __Possibly by
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –red bay –tulip poplar –yellow pine
HOA: 45 1/4; WOA: 32 7/8; DOA: 25 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Easy chair: Arched back rest; shaped wings terminating in cone-shaped arm scrolls; rounded seat frame; the whole supported by cabriole legs in front which terminate in ball-and-claw feet, the knees carved with an inverted acanthus leaf; the back legs splay outward and then abruptly turn down at the base.

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, fastened with nails from front of stiles. Back stile/ seat rail joinery: Seat rail cut with shallow notch (left notch broken) 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 inside of wings. Frame/ front and rear leg joinery: Legs originally joined to seat rails with unpinned mortise and tenon joints. Glue blocks: Missing; apparently quarter-round blocks front and rear. Upholstery evidence: Original show fabric stitched, not close-nailed.

The carving on this chair matches that seen on other examples of colonial Charleston furniture, including a bedstead at Winterthur, the Masonic master’s chair and a tea table at MESDA, and another easy chair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

MAKER: This is probably the “1 Easy Chair $8” listed in an upstairs bedchamber at Archdale Hall in Richard Bohun Baker IV’s 1838 probate inventory (Charleston Inventories 1834-1844, p. 299). The close association of his father, Richard Bohun Baker III (1740-1783) with the Charleston cabinetmaker Stephen Townsend suggests the possible maker of this chair. Surviving receipts document several commissions of furniture from Townsend and his business partner William Axson, including a pair of card tables, a dressing table, a small cedar table, a set of cornices, and a close stool chair. In 1771, Baker paid Townsend 54 pounds to settle an account for additional unspecified work (Baker-Grimke Papers, SCHS).

Over the course of his career, Townsend was partnered with Thomas Stocks and William Axson. He is also documented doing business with cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe and upholsterer Edward Weyman. In 1768, Townsend advertised his own shop on Meeting Street “where he carries on the Cabinet and Chair-Making Business in all its branches.” By 1771 Townsend seems to have given up cabinetmaking to become a planter in Christ Church Parish. That year he sold all of his stock in trade and slaves brought up and trained in the cabinetmaking business to Thomas Elfe’s former business partner, John Fisher.

WOODS: Mahogany primary wood, mahogany seat frame, poplar wings, back uprights, back base piece and right (as you face chair) arm; hard pine crest; arm supports (rolls) of red bay.

The easy chair descended from Dr. Richard Bohun Baker V of Archdale Hall Plantation to his niece, Mrs. John Drayton-Grimke.
Credit Line:
Purchase Fund