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  • American Skippet
    American Skippet
  • General Josiah Harmar
    General Josiah Harmar
  • Appeal to the Great Spirit
    Appeal to the Great Spirit
  • Hong Punch Bowl
    Hong Punch Bowl
  • Barter for a Bride
    Barter for a Bride
  • Artist/Maker
  • Date Made1750-1760
  • Place MadeUSA: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • MaterialsWood; Black Walnut; Southern Yellow Pine; Soft Maple
  • Measurements42" x 21" x 16 1/2" (106.7 x 53.3 x 41.9 cm)
  • Funds donated by Mr. A. H. Meyer
  • RoomThe Gallery
  • Accession #1972.0110.1-6

Side Chairs

Chairs with "compass bottoms"—so called because the pattern for the curvilinear seat rails was drawn with a compass—were first made in Philadelphia about 1730 and were based on contemporary English forms. Benno M. Forman advanced the theory that this type, with its arched crest rail and distinctive framed seat construction, derived from Continental models and was introduced to Philadelphia by German immigrants.[1]
Northern European chairs are almost certainly the ultimate origin of the type, and the extensive use of small pins in the construction is characteristic of German craftsmanship. The path of transmission is difficult to recreate, however, since many of the design and construction features that Forman characterized as German are also found in contemporary Irish furniture, which had an equally strong influence in Philadelphia.[2]
The pierced splats on this chair (one of a set of six in the Department of State collection) distinguish it from most surviving Philadelphia chairs in the Queen Anne style.[3] Pierced splats are uncommon on chairs without ball and claw feet, perhaps because these splats came into fashion at the same time as other features associated with the fully developed rococo style. Surviving Queen Anne-style Philadelphia chairs with pierced splats but without ball and claw feet are all similar, with trifid feet, volute and shell crest rails, and splats with like silhouettes.[4]  The pattern of the piercing on the Collection's chair is the most elaborate in this group. The same pattern appears on later chairs from Philadelphia and also from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.[5]
According to tradition, this chair and its mates were owned by Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800) of Philadelphia, who was born too late to have commissioned the set, although he may have inherited it from his family or that of his wife, Sarah Morris.[6]
David L. Barquist
1. Forman 1983, 167–70.
2. Kirk 1982, nos. 819–30.
3. The full set is illustrated and discussed in Conger and Rollins Treasures of State, cat. no. 8.
4. An armchair with simple piercing is at Bayou Bend (Warren 1975, no. 48), and a side chair with identical piercing is at Williamsburg. Side chairs with more elaborate piercing are illustrated in an advertisement, H. & R. Sandor, Inc., Antiques 94, no. 2 (August 1968): 151, and in Sack Collection, 5: 1289.
5. Kirk 1982, 259, nos. 890–92.
6. Gershenson 1967, 639.