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Easy Chair

Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
mahogany –pentaclethra –tulip poplar –bald cypress
H: 44 1/2″ W: 33 1/4″ D: 26″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Upholstered easy chair: Cabriole front legs with cyma-shaped knee block and ending in ball-and-claw feet; cabriole rear legs with cyma-shaped knee blocks and ending in cylindrical block feet; compass seat; vertical arm scrolls; slightly arched crest rail; original upholstery was executed without brass nail trim.

CONSTRUCTION: The rear legs are spliced and nailed to the stiles, and the seat rails are tenoned into all four legs in the usual manner. The four corners of the seat frame were originally fitted with glue blocks, probably vertically grained and quarter-round in shape. Each of the knee blocks is secured with three or four rosehead nails. The wing crests are nailed into open notches on the upper ends of the stiles and tenoned into the wing supports. The wing supports, in turn, are tenoned into the seat rails; those tenons are exposed on the outer surface of the rails and are secured with nails. A tacking rail is set parallel to each stile and is fixed to the wing crests and the seat rails with exposed tenons like those for the wing supports. The single-piece, cone-shaped arm supports are dovetailed to the outer surfaces of the side seat rails; these joints extend the full height of the seat rails and the base of each arm support projects slightly beyond the outer face of the seat rail. The arms are screwed to the tops of the arm supports. The crest rail and lower back rail are tenoned into the stiles. The original upholstery treatment did not feature brass nail trim.

STYLE: This chair is a product of Charleston, South Carolina. Although much of the furniture made there during the last decades of the colonial era was comparatively elaborate, this piece demonstrates that Charlestonians also espoused the British “neat and plain” taste then so popular in the Chesapeake. In fact, British design influences were prevalent in most Charleston furniture of that date, be it plain or embellished. The rear cabriole legs on this chair are common enough on English chairs, but they are relatively rare on American examples. Likewise, the thick, oval-shaped rear feet, unknown elsewhere in the colonies, have been found on a number of British chairs.

The attribution of the chair to Charleston is based on the extensive use of bald cypress in its framing and on the presence of structural and stylistic details like the high rear feet, the broadly curved knees, the appearance of exposed tenons where the wing supports join the seat rails, the use of solid single-piece arm supports, and the seating of the wing crests into open notches on the stiles. Its possible history of ownership at Mount Parnassus plantation on the Cooper River reinforces the Charleston attribution.

This piece was acquired by Louis Richmond (source for the provenance) from Edith J. Brown Scott of Columbia, South Carolina, in 1930. In letters to Richmond dated January 6 and January 10, 1931, Mrs. Scott indicated that the chair “came to me from my Fathers Mothers plantation up on Cooper River about 17 miles from Charleston S.C.” Mrs. Scott was the daughter of William Stevens Brown (born ca. 1819). Brown was the son of Charles T. Brown and Susannah Catherine Tennent. Susannah Tennent (Mrs. Scott’s “Fathers Mother”) was the daughter of William Tennent and Susannah Virgereau. The Cooper River plantation mentioned by Mrs. Scott may have been Mount Parnassus, an eighteenth-century house on the north side of the river in the Goose Creek district. According to John B. Irving’s A DAY ON COOPER RIVER (reprint 1969), Mount Parnassus remained in the Tennent family until 1867. More genealogical research could be undertaken to clear up the details of this history.
Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.