- Artist/MakerHopkins, Gerrard (1742-1800)
- Date Madec. 1775
- Place MadeUSA: Maryland, Baltimore
- MaterialsWood; Mahogany; Southern Yellow Pine; Spruce
- Measurements39.5"h x 23"w x 17"d
- Funds donated by an anonymous donor
- RoomThe Entrance Hall
- Accession #1972.0062.1, 1972.0062.3
Baltimore's furniture produced before the Revolution is much more rare and its characteristics are less well known than that produced in other major Eastern seaboard centers. Although the town had begun the rapid growth that would become explosive in the post-Revolutionary period, in 1770 it had only three thousand inhabitants and two principal cabinet shops. That the masters of both these shops were trained in Philadelphia has added to the difficult task of distinguishing the furniture made in the bigger city from that of its neighbor to the south.
Clearly of the Philadelphia school, these two chairs (part of a set of six in the Department of State collection) can be ascribed not only to Baltimore, but also to the shop of a specific cabinetmaker. The carving of the shell in the center of the seat rail is virtually identical to the shell on the apron of a high chest bearing the label of Gerrard Hopkins. This shell has certain idiosyncrasies, such as distinctive stippling, which indicate that the pieces came from the same hand. The carving of the foliate knee brackets and cabriole legs of the chest and chairs is similarly related. Other Maryland characteristics of the chairs, not exclusively used by Hopkins, are the bold cupid's-bow crest rail, wide splat, broad proportions, and somewhat provincial design.
Gerrard Hopkins was the leader of both the pre- and post-Revolutionary War cabinetmaking community in Baltimore, a man respected both for his trade and his civic leadership. Born into a large and prosperous Maryland Quaker family, Hopkins left home for Philadelphia in 1754. Three years later, he apprenticed with another Quaker cabinetmaker, Jonathan Shoemaker (working 1757–93), whose attributed work is in the finest and most fashionable Philadelphia Chippendale style. Upon returning to Maryland in 1767, Hopkins set up shop on Gay Street in Baltimore, which became the principal site of his manufactory for the next thirty-three years. His first advertisement alerts Marylanders to his Philadelphia training and appeals to potential clients, Quaker and non-Quaker, by stating that he worked in "mahogany, walnut, cherry-tree, and maple . . . to be done with or without carved work."
It is likely that the first owners of these chairs were John Ross Key (1734–1821) and Ann Phoebe Charlton (1756–1830) of Frederick County, Maryland, who married in 1775. They were owned later by their son, Francis Scott Key (1779–1843), the Maryland lawyer and poet best known as the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and other family members.
Gregory R. Weidman
1. See Conger and Rollins Treasures of State, cat. no. 36. For the Hopkins piece, see Elder and Stokes, 30. The Baltimore Museum of Art also owns an armchair descended from Governor Robert Bowie of Maryland that is nearly identical to the Key chairs; ibid., cat. no 15. Like the chairs, the high chest would probably be attributed to Philadelphia were it not for the label. For a further discussion of both this problem and Hopkins, see Weidman 1984, 46, and Beckerdite 1986, 21–64.
2. Hornor 1935, pls. 102, 103, 157, and 159.
3. Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), April 9, 1767.
4. This group of chairs in the Department of State collection was brought together through the kind efforts of William Wightman Phillips. Inscriptions on the two chairs support this history of ownership. For a complete discussion of provenance, see Conger and Rollins Treasures of State, cat. no. 36