Family history notes that this armchair was owned by John Penn (1729-1795), the last colonial Governor of Pennsylvania, son of Richard Penn and grandson of William Penn;
David Stockwell, Wilmington, Delaware
For The most recent reserach on this group of seating furniture see Jay Robert Steifel, Rococo & Classicism in Proprietary Philadelphia: The Origins of the "Penn Family Chairs," (Philadlephia, PA: The Welcome Society of Pennsylvania, 2008)
Colonial rococo high style armchairs from Philadelphia are a rarity. With the refinements of a pierced shell on the crest rail, fluted stiles, a broad splat with an oversized tassel, a gadrooned shoe and front seat rail, carving above the knees, and broad proportions, this armchair represents the most elaborate and innovative version of the Philadelphia tassel-back chair pattern. It was made in the 1750s as part of a set of at least eight chairs, with seven other side chairs from the set known. Chairs numbered "III" and "IIII" were sold at Christie's, Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, Prints and Decoys, January 18-9, 2007, sale 1787, lot 603, with one retaining its original slip-seat made of poplar. William Hornor published Chair VIII as plate 335 of Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture with a possible provenance in the Penn family. That chair also retains its original poplar slip-seat frame. Four other side chairs formerly in the Palmer Collection have been published by Israel Sack, Inc.1 Another side chair from the set was sold at the Philadelphia Antiques Show in April 2005 by James Kilvington and is now in the collection of the Chipstone Foundation.
Tassel-back chairs with shell-carved crest rails reflect a favorite pattern of Philadelphia makers, as evidenced by the multiple sets of similar chairs surviving today. Their design was inspired by high style English prototypes, the patterns for which were later published as "ribband-back" chairs by Thomas Chippendale in The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director.2 Three sets of chairs of this distinctive pattern made during the 1760s and early 1770s exhibit a more standardized design and lack the creative details found on the present armchair. These sets are represented by two side chairs illustrated by Hornor in Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture as plates 333 and 334 and a set of six side chairs in the collection of the U.S. Department of State.3
1 Israel Sack, Inc., Collections of American Antiques, 1982.
2 Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director (London, 1762), pl. XV.
3 See William M. Hornor, Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture, 1935, pls. 333 and 334 and Clement Conger and Alexandra Rollins, Treasures of State, New York, 1991, cat. 38, p. 118.
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