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Backstool (Side Chair)

ca. 1765
Origin: England
OH: 34 3/8”; SH: 14: OW: 22 3/8”; SW 22 3/8”; SD 21
Mahogany, beech; linen, canvas, straw and hair stuffing, leather, wool threads, brass, and iron
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1980-186
Appearance: Backstool with upholstered back and seat; serpentine crest rail above a tufted upholstered back with original leather show cloth; seat (missing original leather) with upholstery peaks at front corners, serpentine front rail and straight side rails upholstered over the rail with leather and double rows of brass tacks; straight molded front legs with acanthus carved knee brackets (intact on proper right front leg only); side stretchers, rectangular in cross section; square, slightly raking rear legs; remnants of a rear stretcher; medial stretcher missing.

Construction: Rear legs rise up to form stile supports; front legs rise up to form square upholstery peaks; legs are now shortened. All seat rails tenoned between legs (seat rails are all secondary wood); front ox-bow stretcher all one piece. Side stretchers with rounded tops tenoned (one-shoulder tenons) between front and back legs; remnants of rear stretcher between rear legs, also likely one-shoulder tenoned; horizontal mortises for medial stretcher, with shadow evidence that shows it was also rounded on top. Proper right carved knee brackets applied with glue, possibly partially carved after application; glue/shadow evidence for proper left brackets. Stiles nailed to leg supports (3 holes, now empty on proper right; 2 nails on proper left still present); stiles wider than leg supports, so bottom inside side cut at an angle to allow room for seat upholstery over the back rail. Tacking rail tenoned between stiles. Crest rail mortised to stiles. Upholstery peaks on front face of crest rail glued, square in front but chamfered on bottom.

Seat: One original chevron pattern webbing strip remains; later cotton webbing now supports seat. Original and newer webbing tacked to top face of seat rails; bottom linen tacked to top face of seat rails, later replacement with old cloth machine sewed together; layers of straw (not original) and hair; top linen tacked to top faces of front and side seat rails, and to rear face of rear seat rail, not original; top leather does not survive, except fragment under tack on upper rear surface of rear seat rail. Strips of leather secured with tacks on top edge of outside faces of front and side seat rails and the underside of same; decorative brasses on top and bottom edge of outside edges of front and side seat rails; original canvas webbing for webbed edge seat cut away, fragments visible beneath show leather on seat rails.

Back: One horizontal webbing strip likely tacked to front face of stiles; loosely woven plain weave bottom linen tacked to front faces of stiles; hair stuffing twined in place through foundation linens and leather, in decorative tufting pattern (only two cords still unbroken); tufts no longer present, but fragmentary evidence shows black wool; top linen sewed to webbing strips create boxed edge for stuffing (“webbed edge technique”); webbed edges tacked to outside faces of stiles; top linen without webbing tacked to rear face of tacking rail; show leather joined at square profile corners with self welt (no cord), tacked to rear faces of stiles, crest rail, and tacking rail. Decorative brasses follow rear edges of outside faces of stiles and top face of crest rail; black, plain woven wool fragments for rear show cloth under decorative brasses.

Mahogany primary, beech secondary, webbing, tacks, foundation linen, canvas strip, straw and hair stuffing, leather, wool threads (for tufts and fragments of rear show cloth), brass nails
Label:Despite the loss of its medial and rear stretchers and the shortening of its legs, this English back stool retains much of its original upholstery. When first constructed and upholstered, this back stool, neatly covered with black leather, with a self welt, decorated with brass nails and tufting, and featuring black wool on the back, was very handsome. But, without important structural components to the upholstery, such as stuffed or stitched rolls and foundation webbing, the system was destined to fail. It is possible that the maker cut corners knowing that this chair was going to be exported to colonial Maryland and that the buyer would have little recourse. The chair descended in the Cheston and Thomas families of Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Provenance:The chair descended in the Cheston and Thomas families of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. It sold with the effects of Miss. Helen Cheston, whose ancestor James Cheston built "Ivy Neck," at an auction in Owensville, Anne Arundel County, Maryland to Pat Duggan of Baltimore. He sold the chair to Bryden B. Hyde of Baltimore from whom Colonial Williamsburg acquired it.