- Artist/MakerRandolph, Benjamin (formerly)
- Date Madec. 1755-1770
- Place MadeUSA: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- MaterialsWood; Black Walnut; Atlantic; White Cedar; Eastern White Pine; Southern Yellow Pine
- Measurements42-1/2" wd. Arms 29"
- Funds donated by Mr. Robert L. McNeil in honor of Clement E. Conger.
- RoomThe Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room
- Accession #1971.0004
Made for the Loockerman family of Dover, Delaware, these seven matched chairs constitute one of the largest and most elaborate sets of American Chippendale-style chairs to have survived intact. They are probably the set referred to in the 1785 inventory of Vincent Loockerman's estate as "6 leather bottomed Walnut chairs (old)" valued at 15s apiece and "1 Ditto Arm chair" at 22s:.6d. in "the blue room upstairs."1
They were expensive because they have several costly optional elements, such as "cut-through" and "relieved" (carved) banisters, "leaves on the knese," carved crest and seat rails, and fluted stiles. These and other options correspond to those on the best work itemized in contemporary Philadelphia cabinetmakers' price books.2 Armchairs typically cost at least one pound more than side chairs, and chairs made of walnut, like these, generally cost slightly less than those made of imported mahogany.
An odd aspect of the armchair is the absence of scroll carving on the outer sides of the hand rests. Another unusual detail on this and several stylistically related chairs is the prominent"pins" at the tops of the stiles between the fluting and the carved ears. Occurring on either side of a structural joint, they imitate pins that might secure a spline joint. These, however, are carved from the solid and are purely ornamental.
Because furniture-related trades, such as carving and upholstery, tended to be highly specialized, large urban cabinet shops often hired independent carvers on a piecework basis. Several other chairs of this same design vary slightly in the way the carved vine passes below the shell on the crest rail and in the method of articulating the shell ears.3 Such differences indicate different carvers, or even different workshops, responding to a common model, and they confound attribution to an individual maker based upon carving.
Related chairs have been attributed to Thomas Affieck on the strength of a chair that descended in the Hollingsworth and Morris families of Philadelphia.4 Vincent Loockerman is known to have purchased furniture in 1774 from another leading Philadelphia cabinetmaker, Benjamin Randolph, to whom Harold Sack has attributed this set. As Morrison H. Heckscher has pointed out, however, the Department of State's chairs are stylistically datable to the mid-1760s and are unlike any known labeled examples by Randolph.5 The restrained shaping of the arms and their supports likewise suggests this earlier dating.
Thomas S. Michie
1. Published in Sack Collection, 3: 616-17; Antiques 96 (December 1969), inside cover; Sack 1987,162. Other Loockerman furniture is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see Philadelphia: Three Centuries, no. 101, for a table). Others were sold at Sotheby's, New York, Sale 5295, February 2, 1985. 2. Weil, 182.
3. Examples with minor variations are at RISD (Monkhouse and Michie, nos. 110, III); another is illustrated in an advertisement, Antiques 107 (April 1975), 626; and a fourth was sold at the Anderson Galleries, New York, Jacob Paxson Temple Collection, Sale 1626, January 23-28, 1922, Lot 1661.
4. The Hollingsworth-Morris chair is illustrated in Hornor 1935, pl. 220.
5. See Heckscher 1985, no. 48, for an identical chair. Compare the Wi star family armchair, illustrated in Hornor 1935, pl. 154.