Chair-Back Settees

A popular form of mid- to late eighteenth-century seating was the chair-back settee, in double-, triple-, and quadruple-back formats.

O'Sullivan Antiques IncFig. 1. George II Irish mahogany double chair-back settee, circa 1740. (O’Sullivan Antiques)

Chair-back settees are constructed in much the same vein as their single side chair counterparts: The main differences being the long, continuous front and rear seat rails, to which the legs are morticed, bridled or half-lapped. It’s also not uncommon for there to be fewer rear legs than front legs and rear legs/stiles are often separate (fig. 2).

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_01c1Fig. 2. Rear legs and stiles separately joined to rear seat rail.

Whilst not the strongest configuration, early chair-back settees – modelled after fashionable chairs with outward spreading stiles – often employ paired stiles to connect the individual backs (fig. 3).

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1750_01aFig. 3. George II Irish mahogany double chair-back settee with paired central stile, circa 1750. (Moxhams)

A somewhat awkward remedy to counter the potential weakness of a paired-stile back (or other form where the crest rails wouldn’t naturally connect) is occasionally seen in the form of a continuous crest rail incorporating a carved motif or family crest (figs. 4 & 5).

Geo_II_Giles_Grendey_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1735_01aFig. 4. George II mahogany chair-back settee in the manner of Giles Grendey, circa 1735. (Millington Adams)

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_02bFig. 5. George II Irish mahogany chair-back settee, circa 1740. (Hyde Park Antiques)

The more prominent crest rails of side chairs with tapered backs permitted a much stronger arrangement to be routinely effected on commensurate chair-back settees by the use of a single continuous crest rail (figs. 1, 6 & 7).

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_01aFig. 6. George II Irish mahogany chair-back settee with continuous crest rail, circa 1740.

Geo_II_Irish_mahogany_chair-back_settee_c1740_01d1Fig. 7. Seamlessly flowing crest rail.

Chair-back settees remain popular, though their cost can be prohibitive for some. In the mid eighties, when I regularly did the auction rounds, a customer asked me to keep an eye out for a double chair-back settee for her. Given her budget, I didn’t fancy her chances, so I suggested an alternative: She had previously sent me a pair of rough Chippendale period mahogany side chairs to restore, which rather conveniently lent themselves to being converted into a settee. I grafted new wood onto the two crest rails and carved it in a way so as not to crowd the transition. I then made new front and rear seat rails and carried out the conversion in such a way that the whole appeared to be authentic.

I have since performed several settee conversions for customers and I have encountered several others’ less convincing attempts. For what ever reasons, others have simply joined the crest rails with no effort made to blend the transitions. On one conversion I was shown, the crest rails were simply connected with nails whose heads had been cut off and inserted into holes drilled into the interconnecting ends of the crest rails.

The settee in figures 8 and 9 has an unhappy back in which the heights of the unrealistically crammed crest rails don’t appear to correspond.

Geo_III_chair_back_setee_01a2Fig. 8. George III mahogany triple chair-back settee. (O’Sullivan Antiques)

Geo_III_chair_back_setee_01a1Fig. 9. Conjoined triplets? (O’Sullivan Antiques)

Jack Plane

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Robert Bakewell’s Chair

A somewhat uncommendable provincial chair in The Collection from The Royal Agricultural Society of England (fig. 1), auctioned by Dreweatts at Bloomsbury House, London on the 11th of July, sold for £9,000 ($16,370).

Robert_Bakewell_chair_c1750_01aFig. 1. Unusual country-made chair, circa 1750. (Dreweatts)

Lot 110 was a George II open armchair with an elm seat, oak armrest and – most rare in British furniture – a backrest made of willow.

The chair belonged to Robert Bakewell (1725-1795), an agriculturalist recognized as one of the most important figures in the British Agricultural Revolution. In addition to work in agronomy, Bakewell is particularly notable as the first to implement systematic selective breeding of livestock. His advancements not only led to specific improvements in sheep, cattle and horses, but contributed to the general knowledge of artificial selection.

On the back of Bakewell’s chair an inscription reads: ‘This chair was made under the direction of the Celebrated Robert Bakewell of Dishley out of a Willow Tree that grew on his Farm- It was his favourite seat and the Back which thus records his Memory, served as a Screen when seated by his Fireside, calculating on the Profits, or devising some Improvements on his Farm. – Thousands of Pounds have been known to exchange Hands in the same… Mr. Bakewell Died in 1795.’

Robert_Bakewell_chair_c1750_01bFig. 2. Willow back with dedication. (Dreweatts)

Jack Plane

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Hear! Hear!

Firing glasses (so called because of the musket-shot report the glasses produced when slammed on table tops in enthusiastic agreement with orators and speakers) first appeared in the late seventeenth-century. Firing glasses from this period are rare; the majority of surviving glasses are eighteenth-century (and shouldn’t be confused with nineteenth-century penny licks[1]).

Firing glasses were stoutly made – particularly the stem and foot – to withstand the maltreatment they received. The glasses are small; usually no more than 2-3/4″ to 3-1/8″ (7cm – 8cm) tall. The bowls’ meager capacity held just sufficient for the immediate toast – anymore and the contents would be sloshed around the room when the glasses were ‘fired’. Frequent topping-up was all part of the ceremony.

firing_glass_c1750_01cFig. 1. Circa 1750 firing glass engraved with motifs in support of the Jacobite movement.

The Masons were apparently a loquacious faction as firing glasses (as well as roemers and ceremonial goblets etc.) frequently turn up bearing Masonic arms or emblems.

firing_glass_Masonic_c1755_01eFig.2. Circa 1755 firing glass engraved with Masonic Square & Compass emblems.

firing_glass_c1765_02aFig. 3. Circa 1765 firing glass with ogee bowl, double series opaque twist and plain foot.

firing_glass_c1780_01aFig. 4. Circa 1780 firing glass with engraved, ovoid bowl, double series opaque twist and conical foot.

At informal gatherings, toasts were proposed by anyone with a point to voice and a speaker (usually a verbose and eloquent individual), maintained control of events at more formal assemblies.

Speakers were expected to enliven formal events with sobriety. To this end, a glass with the same outward appearance as a firing glass was produced, but with a deceptively small bowl (figs. 5 & 6). Further, the high quality of the lead glass reflected the contents of the bowl, giving the impression of it being as full as other revelers’ glasses.

Eighteenth-century ‘deception’ glasses followed the shape and proportions of commensurate firing glasses, however, as the prominence and status of the speaker increased, so did the shape and size of their glasses.

Aside from the reduced capacity of deception glasses, the feet were also thinner than those of firing glasses; more in keeping with other styles of drinking glasses. The stems were often knopped like wine glasses of the period and the overall height grew to around 3-1/2″ – 4″ (9cm – 10 cm).

deception_glass_c1720_01dFig. 5. Circa 1720 deception glass with funnel bowl, multiple knopped stem and stepped foot.

deception_glass_c1770_01Fig. 6. Circa 1770 deception glass with trumpet bowl, single ball knop and stepped foot.

Jack Plane

[1] Penny licks are small glasses with thick-bowls (to deceive customers), in which one pennyworth of ice cream was served by nineteenth-century street vendors.

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Two Joynt-Stools and a Miasma

Samuel Pepys’ woke on the 6th of July, 1661 to the news his uncle Robert had died at Brampton the previous night. Samuel rode to Brampton where, according to his diary entry…

“My uncle’s corps in a coffin standing upon joynt-stools in the chimney in the hall; but it begun to smell, and so I caused it to be set forth in the yard all night, and watched by two men.”

Chas_II_oak_joyned_stool_c1660_01aCharles II oak joyned stool, circa 1660.

Joyned stools have often – erroneously – been labelled ‘coffin stools’ (particularly those approaching, or exceeding 24″ in height). Although I have seen a not-overly-tall pair of joyned stools in a church for the convenience of supporting a coffin, the reality is; they were simple seats of the period.

 Jack Plane

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Samuel Buys a Chest of Drawers

Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for Monday the 1st of July, 1661:

“This morning I went up and down into the city, to buy several things, as I have lately done, for my house. Among other things, a fair chest of drawers for my own chamber, and an Indian gown for myself. The first cost me 33s., the other 34s.”

Jack Plane

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‘Designed to please’ – Lot 340

If you are in the least bit prudish or of a delicate nature, I would recommend you read no further as there follows an image that some may consider rude.

Cocus (Brya ebenus) was a prized cabinet wood in the late seventeenth-century, used to great effect on cabinets, chests and escritoires etc.

Chas_II_Cocus_cabinet-on-stand_c1670_01aA rare Charles II cocus-oyster-veneered cabinet-on-stand, circa 1670. (Mallett)

Cocus’ striking appearance in conjunction with its dense, fine texture also lent itself to the production of treen and other small personal items.

At an English auction in 2010, a pair of eighteenth-century French cocus godemiché in a fitted leather travelling case fetched £3,600 (around $6,500). Brentwood Antiques Auction’s aptly named auctioneer, Wendy Wood, described the dildos as “extraordinary and exceptionally rare.”

18C_cocus_dildos_04aCocus pocus. Wendy Wood holds one of the phalluses erect.

Jack Plane

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Vice Admiral Hardy’s Writing Cabinet

Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy (1769-1839) served as Admiral Nelson’s flag captain and was with Nelson aboard the ‘Victory’ at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 on the occasion he was mortally shot. As Nelson lay dying on the deck, consoled by the Vice-Admiral, he made the famous utterance “Kiss me Hardy”.

Hardy’s Cuban mahogany writing cabinet is enclosed by a velvet-lined fall that opens to reveal two sliding shelves and six small drawers, with a further two secret drawers concealed behind the two upper small drawers. Brass carrying handles are attached to the sides.

The small escritoire was used by Hardy – placed upon a table – when he was at sea. The associated and incongruous pedestal was presumably added some time after Hardy’s retirement from service.

Vice_Admiral_Hardy's_escretoire_late_18c_01aVice-Admiral Hardy’s escritoire. (National Maritime Museum)

Jack Plane

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Say, have you read this?

In Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for the 21st of June, 1661, he mentions purchasing some ‘say': “…having bought some green Say for curtains in my parler”.

Say is one of several archaic names for baize, a fabric commonly employed for furnishings.

Jack Plane

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Nelson’s Pelagic Furniture

Horatio Nelson was a career sailor who, as Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, accrued a number of personal pieces of furniture befitting his status. England embraced the hero and as a result, many of his belongings still survive in private and public collections.

Nelson’s Wash Stand

Nelson's_wash_stand_c1787_01aFig. 1. Portable mahogany wash stand, circa 1787. (National Maritime Museum)

This small, portable mahogany-veneered wash stand has a split top hinging to both sides, rising mirror, wash bowl cut-out, cupboard and drawer to the front, with four brass castors and a lifting handle to each side. It appears to be missing its shelf on which a water jug would have sat. An attached silver plaque bears the inscription: “Lord Nelson’s cabin Washstand on board the Victory. Owner J. Augustine Brown Esq.” [1]

Nelson’s Writing Box

Nelson's_writing_box_c1798_01aFig. 2. Brass-bound writing box, circa 1798. (National Maritime Museum)

The writing box is made from timber retrieved from the French Vice Admiral Brueys’ flagship ‘L’Orient’ which was dramatically destroyed when her magazines ignited during the Battle of the Nile. An engraved brass plaque on the lid is inscribed: “Part of ‘L’Orient’ blown up at the Battle of the Nile 1st August 1798. In Lord Nelson’s possession at the time of his death 21st October 1805.”

George_Arnald__The_Destruction_of_L'Orient_at_the_Battle_of_the_Nile_1st_August_1798_01aFig. 3. George Arnald, The Destruction of ‘L’Orient’ at the Battle of the Nile 1st August 1798. (National Maritime Museum)

By the by, Giocante Casabianca – the young son, of L’Orient’s commander, Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca – was the subject of Felicia Hemans’ poem, Casabianca (The boy stood on the burning deck…).

The ‘Foudroyant’ Chairs

After his decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile, Nelson sailed for Naples to effect repairs to his ships. Whilst in Naples (and possibly influenced by his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton), Nelson acquired six[2] painted chairs (figs.4, 5 & 6) which he used in his cabin aboard the ‘Foudroyant’.

Nelson's_Foudroyant_chairs_c1775-01aFig. 4. Original painted decoration, Napoli chair, circa 1775. (National Maritime Museum)

The pale-blue-painted chairs have woven marram grass seats and wooden backs painted with neo-classical scenes. The chairs were later painted dark green overall (fig. 5).

Nelson's_Foudroyant_chairs_c1775-01bFig. 5. Later green painted finish. (National Maritime Museum)

Nelson's_Foudroyant_chairs_c1775-01cFig. 6. Two of the ‘Foudroyant’ chairs; pre- and post-restoration. (National Maritime Museum)

The ‘Victory’ Armchair

Nelson's_cabin_armchair_c1800_01aFig. 7. Leather armchair, circa 1800. (National Maritime Museum)

The mahogany-framed, black leather-upholstered and brass-nailed armchair was Nelson’s personal cabin chair aboard HMS ‘Victory’. The chair originally had a black silk cushion on the right arm, on which Nelson allegedly rested his arm stump.

Jack Plane

[1] James Augustine Brown served as clerk under Nelson in the ‘Boreas’, to which he transferred from the ‘Goliath’ in the spring of 1784. His chief responsibility was the pay lists and it was during this time that he was probably Nelson’s secretary.

[2] An inventory of Nelson’s belongings, in the British Library, lists six of these chairs.

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Ronald Phillips Ltd – Making Room

Geo_II_mahogany_open_armchair_c1755__Ronald_Phillips_01aOne of Britain’s pre-eminent dealers of fine English antique furniture and objects, Ronald Phillips Antiques Ltd., are re-evaluating their stock after a recent move to new premises.

Ronald Phillips have entrusted Christie’s with the disposal of their surplus to be auctioned at Christie’s rooms in South Kensington, London: The Ronald Phillips Ltd – Making Room sale will be conducted on Wednesday the 2nd of July, 2014.

Jack Plane

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