Picture This CXXVIII

I previously mentioned privy furniture with interestingly shaped aprons. This oak Chippendale-style commode chair incorporates the familiar aprons along with a removable rush seat with which to access a ceramic potty.

Fig. 1. George III oak commode chair, circa 1770.

Fig. 2. Removing the seat reveals the potty (absent).

Jack Plane

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Happy New Year

Cheers to everyone who took the time to read my posts over the past year, and a special thank you to those who commented on them.

Wishing everyone happiness and prosperity in 2019.

Jack Plane

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A Pair of George II Irish Walnut Side Chairs – Part Three

I completed the construction of the two chairs on Christmas day and had hoped to finish them this week; however it’s simply too damned hot.

The walnut chairs in-the-white.

When the weather cools from the current high 30s (US: stinking hot) to the mid 20s (US: still a bit warm), I’ll give them a 260 year-old polishing. After that, they’ll go off to the upholsterer and likely won’t reappear for a couple of months.

Jack Plane

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Season’s Greetings

Whatever your persuasion and situation, I wish you all well during the festive season.

Thomas Rowlandson, Christmas Gambols, circa 1812.

Jack Plane

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“To a Walnut Dask”, Part II, The Writing Compartment.

Part II of Christopher Storb’s examination of John Head’s walnut desk.

Jack Plane

In Proportion to the Trouble

open Writing compartment of the desk attributed to John Head. Made in Philadelphia, 1720-1740. Black walnut, hard pine, Atlantic white cedar, yellow poplar, brass, iron. Private collection.

For a lack of other surviving desks that can be attributed to John Head’s shop, we have no way of knowing if the writing compartment is typical of his work.  More or less elaborate interiors may account for some part of the range of prices Head charged for desks.

Along the back at the center of the writing compartment are five divided openings over three drawers.  In front of the drawers is a board that slides towards the back revealing another storage space commonly called a well.  Wells were a common device seen on desks in the first decades of the eighteenth century, but by the late 1730s, they were were on their way out of favor, replaced by an additional drawer above…

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A Pair of George II Irish Walnut Side Chairs – Part Two

When making chairs of this ilk, I like to glue the entire backs together as separate assemblies. I then repeat the process with the front legs/seat rails and finally take the side seat rails and remaining stretchers and glue the whole lot together.

I dry-assemble the stiles, back seat rails and backsplats in order to establish the shoulders for the tenons on the tops of the stiles and splats. That done, I form the tenons and cut the mortises in the crest rails to match (figure 1).

Fig. 1. Chair back components.

Each component is shaped and rough-sanded except where they intersect with another. As can be seen by the pencil marks (click the above image to enlarge it), the junctures are left oversized until glued and assembled whereupon all are faired.

As with these two chairs, it is common for Irish chairs’ splats to be tenoned directly into the back seat rails (as opposed to into fixed shoes) and the shoes – more like ‘slippers’ – simply slip into position against the fronts of the splats (figs. 2 & 3).

Fig. 2. Slip-on shoes.

Fig. 3. Irish splat and slip-on shoe. (Windsor House Antiques)

Each shoe is retained with a couple of headless brads.

Jack Plane

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John Head’s Account Book

Following on from yesterday’s post concerning a bureau made by the English emigrant, John Head, the American Philosophical Society digitized Head’s account book and has today, made it available to all and sundry.

The American Philosophical Society has also published an accompanying book (available here), The Cabinetmaker’s Account: John Head’s Record of Craft & Commerce in Colonial Philadelphia, 1718-1753 by Jay Robert Stiefel.

English joiner John Head (1688–1754) immigrated to Philadelphia in 1717 and became one of its most successful artisans and merchants. However, his prominence was lost to history until the author’s discovery of his account book at the Library of the American Philosophical Society. A find of great historical importance, Head’s account book is the earliest and most complete to have survived from any cabinetmaker working in British North America or in Great Britain. It chronicles the commerce, crafts, and lifestyles of early Philadelphia’s entire community: its shopkeeping, cabinetmaking, chairmaking, clockmaking, glazing, metalworking, needleworking, property development, agriculture, botany, livestock, transport, foodstuffs, drink, hardware, fabrics, furnishings, household wares, clothing, building materials, and export trade.

Jay Robert Stiefel, historian of Colonial Philadelphia society and its material culture, presents the definitive interpretation of the John Head account book and introduces many other discoveries. The culmination of nearly 20 years of research, this new volume serves as an essential reference work on 18th-century Philadelphia, its furniture and material culture, as well as an intimate and detailed social history of the interactions among that era’s most talented artisans and successful merchants. Profusely illustrated and in large format, the book includes a foreword from furniture historian Adam Bowett and an introduction by historian Patrick Spero, Librarian and Director of the American Philosophical Society Library.

Jack Plane

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“To a Walnut Dask” Part I

Christopher Storb has written an interesting post on a walnut bureau made in Philadelphia by the English joiner, John Head, who emigrated to British America in 1717.

Jack Plane.

In Proportion to the Trouble

In the account book of the joiner John Head (1688-1754) there are debit entries for 45 desks, the first entry coming in 1719, two years after Head immigrated from England to Philadelphia, the last in 1742, two years before he ended his production of furniture.

Compared to chests of drawers, there are few extant desks made before 1740 that can be attributed to the Delaware River Valley.  To date, only one desk, in a private collection, has been attributed to the shop of John Head.

For an unsigned or undocumented object to be attributed to a specific maker, the object must conform in multiple and significant ways to signed or otherwise documented objects from that maker.  Some features regarded as characteristic of furniture documented to the shop of John Head have been discussed in previous posts. The desk described and illustrated below follows the construction, design…

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A Pair of George II Irish Walnut Side Chairs – Part One

In the late 1980s I restored four elegant mid-eighteenth-century Irish ‘red’ walnut side chairs with stuffover seats. If I did take any photos of them, I can’t locate them now; however, I did take the time to make patterns of the chairs out of some heavy card.

The chairs are fairly familiar; their elements are found in numerous Irish mahogany and walnut chairs of the period. The simple undercarriages are typical of many Irish and English side- and dining chairs viz. square, chamfered legs with H-stretchers, though Irish chairs often lack a rear stretcher (figs. 1,2,6,7 & 8) and more often than not, have the iconic shaped brackets at the juncture of the front legs and seat rails (figures 1, 2 & 3).

Fig. 1. George II Irish mahogany side chair, circa 1760. (Irish Furniture)

Fig. 2. One of a set of six George II Irish mahogany dining chairs, circa 1760. (Johnston Antiques)

Fig. 3. George II Irish mahogany elbow chair, circa 1760. (Johnston Antiques)

Though these chairs are frequently of fairly plain design, their crest rail ends are often subtly scrolled (figures 1 & 4) or eared – either incorporated or disjointed (figures 5, 6, 7 & 8).

Fig. 4. Irish scrolled crest rail, circa 1755. (Solomon Bly)

Fig. 5. George II Irish mahogany side chair, circa 1755.

Fig. 6. George II Irish elbow chair, circa 1750. (Mackinnon Fine Art)

Fig. 7. George II Irish elbow chair, circa 1750. (Irish Furniture)

Fig. 8. George II Irish mahogany elbow chair, circa 1760. (Johnston Antiques)

The undercarriages of the chairs I will be making are virtually the same as that in figure 1, whilst the rear stiles, splats and crest rails bear close similarities to the pair of elbow chairs in figures 6 and 7[1].

Jack Plane

[1] GLIN, The Knight of, and PEILL, J. (2007) Irish Furniture. Yale University Press, p.209, fig. 17.

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A Sticky Subject

Jack Plane

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