Very Rare Queen Anne Carved Walnut Compass-Seat Armchair, Philadelphia, circa 1750
F. J. Carey, III Antiques, Ambler, Pennsylvania;
Alan Miller, Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
Alan Miller included this armchair in his article, “Flux in Design and Method in Early Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia Furniture,” published in American Furniture (Hanover and London: The Chipstone Foundation, 2014): fig. 43, p. 61. He notes that this chair has wider proportions and was likely commissioned by a patron of considerable physical stature.2 Miller identifies this armchair as made in the same shop and with the same patterns as a nearly identical armchair from a set of seating furniture owned by Caspar Wistar, a Philadelphia Quaker, successful businessman, and property owner.3 The Wistar set is likely an early example of the form by this shop.
The “Wistar armchair” shop as named by Miller was one of the most important shops in Philadelphia and made some of the finest seating furniture. All of the early chairs from the shop are made of solid walnut with splats made of figured though not vibrant crotch grain. Miller notes that for making the slip seat moldings, the shop used a technique that is a Philadelphia-Irish hybrid of using heavy stock thick enough to make the front rail and the full thickness of the slip seat which resulted in a continuous matching grain between the front rail and front slip seat molding. This shop used round-tenon joinery to secure the front legs to seat rails and thru-tenon joinery to attach the seat rail to the rear stile, the latter as seen in most Philadelphia chairs. Miller identifies that chairs from this shop have inner corners of the front legs that are relatively straight to the backs of the knees and do not have much hollow re-curve, a construction feature intended to strengthen the round-tenon at the top rear corner of the leg. Miller notes that chairs were substantially shaped after they were joined and glued together with the outer corners of the crest left square and then shaped after gluing. The bead on the outer edge of the stiles and crest was worked with a scratch-stock after the final shaping was complete.4
Like the Wistar armchair, the present chair is an early example from the shop. Both the Wistar chair and this armchair have stiles with inner lines at the underside of the crest moving into the upper C-scroll in a continuous curve. As described by Miller, the seats of both chairs are convex from the front to the arm supports and concave from the arm supports to the rear stiles. The shape of the arm supports are an inversion of the cabriole legs with a knee-like break in the rear facing curve just above the slip seat. Miller believes that “no other arm support design for a compass-seat chair of this type is as successfully integrated into the overall composition of the object.”5
Other side chairs from the Wistar set are at Wyck, the Germantown home of Caspar Wistar. A side chair from this shop bears an attribution to Edward Wright on the basis of a label reading “[mad]e by Edward Wright, living between Che[stnu]t and Market street in fourth Street, the _0 day of May 1749 Philadelphia, Pa.” glued to its back rail.6 Another side chair from this shop is in the collection of Chipstone.7 An armchair from the shop is featured in a painting of a kitchen interior by Thomas Hicks.8 For other chairs representing this same shop tradition, see an armchair in the Dietrich Americana Foundation, another at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and two side chairs in private collections.9
1 Alan Miller, “Flux in Design and Method in Early Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia Furniture,” American Furniture (Hanover and London: The Chipstone Foundation, 2014): See a similar Irish armchair and side chair in figs. 32-3, p. 53.
2 Ibid, p. 61.
3 Ibid, fig. 3, p. 32.
4 Ibid, pp. 58-60.
5 Ibid, p. 64.
6 Ibid, fig. 48, p. 65.
7 Ibid, fig. 38, p. 57.
8 Ibid, fig. 68, p. 80. This painting is dated 1865 and is in the collection of the Dietrich American Foundation.
9 Ibid, fig. 44-47, pp. 62-64.