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Side Chair

Origin: America, South Carolina, Charleston
OH: 36 1/4" OH(seat): 17" OW(seat): 20 7/8" OD(seat): 17 1/4"
Mahogany, ash (by microanalysis), white pine (by microanalysis), and holly.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1930-156
Appearance: Side chair wirh square-back, straight stiles, crest, and splat rails with double-beaded edges; splat features pair of crossed arrows over three simple stiles with minor rectilinear foliate carving and central figure-eight; central tablet on crest rail with simple leaf carving; straight side and rear seat rails, bowed front seat rail; rear rail veneered except for upper 1/2"; original upholstery included a double row of brass nails on front and side seat rails with a vertical row at each end and a single row at top of rear rail just above veneer line; rear legs square in cross section and slightly curved toward back; front legs sharply tapered, inlaid with plain stringing along edges on front, and cuffed.

Construction: Cut from the solid, the splat features five tenons at the top and three at the bottom. Vertically grained, quarter-round corner blocks, solid at the back corners and double laminated in front, are glued into the seat frame. The joints are not pinned.

Materials: Mahogany crest rail, splat, stay rail, stiles, front legs, rear seat rail veneer, and cuff inlays; ash seat rails (by microanalysis); white pine corner blocks (by microanalysis); holly stringing.
Label:The study of splat-back chairs made in Charleston is hampered because relatively few of them have been found. Given the size and sophistication of Charleston's furniture trade, one cannot conclude that chair production was limited there. A more plausible explanation is that furniture historians still know too little about Charleston chairmaking traditions to identify positively local productions when they are encountered. Documentary evidence clearly indicates that a sizable chair trade existed in pre-industrial Charleston: the surviving accounts of cabinet- and chairmaker Thomas Elfe record that his shop alone turned out more than five hundred mahogany side chairs and another thirty-seven "elbo" or armchairs between 1768 and 1775. Many of Elfe's chairs were elaborate formal pieces described as "carved back," "fronts fluted," "compass seated," and "brass nailed." Many other Charleston furniture makers also listed side and armchairs among their wares.

Some of the current uncertainty about identifying Charleston-made chairs may stem from the artisan community's use of both mahogany and, after the Revolution, of white pine as secondary woods in seating furniture. Given the strong British design impulses present in Charleston before the war and those that came from the North afterward, the existence of these non-native secondary woods may cause some Charleston chairs to be misidentified as British or northern imports. The present chair is a good example of that phenomenon. Because of its ash and white pine secondary woods and unusual form, it has been previously attributed to both Philadelphia and New York despite the fact that the ornamentation and overall form have little in common with chairs from those cities. The absence of similar chairs from northern cabinet centers and this example's solid history in the Carolina Low Country strongly suggest that it was made in or near Charleston.

Like so many other pieces of southern furniture, the form of this chair appears to have been inspired by a British design manual. The splat and crest rail closely resemble those in a small image in "Houses & Chairs in perspective," the illustration for a drafting lesson in Thomas Sheraton's 1793 Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book. Sheraton probably did not regard the perspective diagram as a design source for cabinetmakers because larger and more detailed furniture patterns were featured elsewhere in the book.
Provenance:The chair originally was owned by James Shoolbred (or Schoolbred) at Woodville plantation, St. James Santee Parish, Charleston Co., S. C. It was purchased from the Shoolbred family by A. H. Lucas of nearby Wedge plantation in 1870. The chair (or one from the same set) was recorded there in a drawing a few years later. The chair then descended to Mrs. J. D. Cheshire, who sold it in 1929 or 1930 to W. J. O'Hagan & Son, Inc., a Charleston antiques dealer. O'Hagan subsequently sold the chair to Israel Sack, who in turn sold it to CWF on June 27, 1930.

Inscription(s):Various modern illegible chalk marks on several seat rails.