Exceptional Queen Anne Carved and Figured Maple Armchair, attributed to Solomon Fussell or William Savery, Philadelphia, circa 1750
Christie's, New York, Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Decorative Arts, October 18, 1996, sale 8494, lot 102.
Lindsey, Jack. Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680-1758, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999) fig. 150, pg. 98, no. 156, pg. 172.
William Savery was apprenticed to Solomon Fussell, a Philadelphia craftsman who ran a chairmaking business, from circa 1735 to 1741. By 1750, he was established in a shop of his own on Second Street, between Chestnut and Market, where he continued to work for the remainder of his life as one of Philadelphia’s finest cabinetmakers. An active Quaker, his patrons included many other Quakers such as the Pembertons, Drinkers and Abel and Rebecca James. In 1754, he was appointed a ward assessor by Benjamin Franklin, who purchased furniture from Savery and Fussell in the 1740s.3 Savery’s estate inventory taken at his death in 1787 reveals that his important furniture was made of maple, including six maple chairs and one armchair valued at £4.0.0 … a maple chest of Drawers £5.0.0 … and a Do dressing table £126.96.36.199 Most of Savery and Fussell’s accounts list maple as the primary raw material. It was clearly their wood of choice as it was plentiful in the Philadelphia area and, although difficult to work, allowed the craftsmen a high quality end product with a vibrant and strong surface. Although both craftsmen used similar construction methods in their work, their chair styles differed at times. This chair follows the design preferred by Fussell, with a crest with a central arch, a vase shaped splat with scrolled ears, undercut arms and a tripartite stretcher. Savery’s chairs exhibit a serpentine crest rail, vase-shaped splats with shield-like profiles, serpentine arms and bulbous front stretchers.
A nearly identical maple armchair attributed to Solomon Fussell is in the collection of Winterthur Museum.5 A closely related side chair with Savery’s label sold in these rooms, Important Americana, January 17, 1999, sale 7253, lot 766. It displays minor differences in the splat profile, shaping of the skirt and turnings of the front stretcher but is otherwise very similar. A pair of maple rush-seat armchairs attributed to William Savery and representing the same tradition was sold at Christie’s, Important American Silver, Furniture, Folk Art, Prints, English Pottery and Chinese Export Art, January 24, 25, and 28, 2013, sale 2670, lot 173.
Six very similar maple side chairs originally owned by the Johnson family of Philadelphia and attributed to William Savery were sold in these rooms, Important Americana, January 20-22, 2006, sale 8158, lot 530, for $2,144,000. A maple dressing table in a private collection with a history in the Johnson Family also bears an attribution to William Savery. It was sold in these rooms on January 19-21, 2007, sale 8278, lot 564 for the record price of $4,408,000. The Johnsons were successful tanners, property holders and Quakers, and the chairs and dressing table stood for approximately 130 years in their home in Germantown. The house was completed in 1768 and given by Dirck Jansen, an early settler of Germantown, to his son John Johnson on the occasion of his marriage to Rachel Livezey in 1769.6 The chairs and dressing table were most likely purchased from William Savery around the time of their marriage.
A tiger maple ladderback rush seat armchair attributed to the Fussell-Savery school with the same arms, arm supports, front skirt profile, cabriole legs and front stretcher sold at Pook & Pook, April 20, 2007, lot 755 for $491,400. Another maple ladderback armchair attributed to the shop of Solomon Fussel with the same features was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in memory of Mrs. J. Insley Blair.7
1 Benno Forman, “Delaware Valley ‘Crookt Foot’ and Slat-Back Chairs: The Fussell-Severy Connection,” Winterthur Portfolio, 15, Spring 1980, p. 55.
2 William Hornor, Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture, 1935, p. 295.
3 See Jack Lindsey, Worldly Goods, Philadelphia, 1999, no. 56, p. 145.
4 Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 50-51.
5 Joseph Downs, American Furniture, New York, 1952, no. 32.
6 Harold Eberlein and Courtlandt van Dyke Hubbard, Portrait of a Colonial City, Philadelphia, 1670-1838, p. 380.
7 Frances Safford, American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, no. 17, pp. 48-50.