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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/MakerWhittingham, Sr., Richard (active 1795-1818); Richard Whittingham, Jr. (active ca. 1810)
  • Date Madec. 1795-1810
  • Place MadeUSA: New York, New York
  • MaterialsMetals; Brass; Iron
  • Measurements27 x 12 (at feet) in.
  • Funds donated by Miss Henrietta E. Bachman
  • RoomThe Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room
  • Accession #1974.0090.1, 1974.0090.2

Pair of Andirons

This pair of andirons is distinguished by its fine proportions and distinctive decorative details.[1] 
At the knees on the cabriole legs are unusually prominent spurs, sharp ended but with a distinctive curl at their tips.  The legs terminate in finely reticulated claw and ball feet.  The urn finials are engraved with swags of foliage and roses tied up with ribbons; the pedestals are engraved on the front with a motif of two crossed flags and a centered pole or staff with a liberty cap at the top.  Where the poles cross is a cloverleaf.  One flag has concentric circles of eight dots and eleven stars, a symbol of the new United States; the other has three stripes suggesting the French national colors.  On the ground are a broken spear and a toppled crown lying on a naturalistic rendition of turf, probably representing the toppling of the English monarchy.  On the sides is an octagonal medallion within a circle, a neoclassical motif used frequently by craftsmen after 1780.  Edging the pedestals is a deeply chased design of triangles with dots and a line of dashes.  The bases of the columns do not overhang their square plinths, and there is a distinctive pattern of curves and notches on the lower edges of the plinths.
The tall, attenuated columns topped with smooth, engraved urns represent a new style, as do the patriotic designs engraved on the pedestals.  New York became the capital of the United States briefly in 1789, after which the government moved to Philadelphia.   Symbols celebrating the new status of the American colonies appeared in all media.  These andirons recognize the contribution of the French to independence.  Another pair attributed to the Wittinghams is engraved with an urn and weeping willow which illustrate the nation’s response to the death of George Washington in 1799.[2]  The Collection’s pair, another pair marked “Whittingham N. York,” and the attributed “weeping willow” pair have the same zigzag-and-dot pattern on the pedestals, similar medallion motifs, and the same cuts on the lower front edge of the plinths.  The urns in all three pairs seem to have been made from the same casting.[3]
Whittingham varied the legs and feet on his andirons.  This pair has full ball and claw feet very much in a Philadelphia style.  The wood pattern for their casting may well have been carved by a Philadelphia craftsman.  The signed pair has snake feet, and the “weeping willow” pair have attenuated cabriole legs and flattened claw and ball feet.  The knee spurs also vary; they are grand and most pronounced on the Collection’s pair.
The Whittinghams were born in England, where Richard, Sr., was trained as a brass founder in Birmingham.  The family came to the United States in 1791 and landed first in Philadelphia.  Richard, Sr., worked in New Jersey until 1795, when the family moved to New York.[4]
Beatrice B. Garvan
1. These andirons have previously been attributed to John Bailey of New York; see Conger and Rollins, Treasures of State, cat. no. 236.  However, a recent survey of a more extensive body of similar andirons including marked Bailey examples indicates that the Collections’s andirons do not have the combination of details found on marked Bailey pieces and are more in line with an attribution to the Whittinghams, as detailed in this entry.
2. I am indebted to Donald L. Fennimore and the extensive research files at the Winterthur Museum for providing photographs of comparable examples.  See also Schiffer, Schiffer, and Schiffer,  70, figs. A, C.
3. This is a visual analysis that should be subject to a precise measurement of the urns.
4. See George H. Kernodle and Thomas M. Pitkin, “The Whittinghams:  Brassfounders of New York,” in James R. Mitchell, ed., Antique Metalware (New York:  Universe Books, The Main Street Press, 1976), 65–68.