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Sofa

ca. 1760
Origin: England, London
OH: 35 3/8"; OW: 87 7/8"; OD: 36"
Mahogany and beech
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1963-191
Appearance: Sofa with serpentine crest rail; horizontally rolled arms sloping slightly towards front; coved in front of roll; serpentine front rail with egg-and-dart moulding at base; four cabriole front legs with leaf-carving on knees; claw and ball feet. No stretchers. Plain rear legs kick out at back.

Construction: The front and side seat rails of the seat frame are tenoned into the legs. The front rails are notched to accommodate the side rails where they overlap the extended front legs. Two downward curving medial seat rails are dovetailed into the seat rails directly above the medial front and rear legs which are inset and tenoned into the seat rails. The front corner legs extend 3 1/2" above the rails. The four front legs are carved as are their corner blocks which are glued in place and backed with shaped glue blocks. Glued corner blocks of the rear legs are possibly later replacements. Egg and dart molding nailed to the underside of the front and side rails connects the corner blocks. Miter-cut corner braces are glued (originally nailed and glued) into notches in the seat rails.

The front facing interior corners of the back corner legs are chamfered as are the front facing corners of the two medial back legs. The back corner legs extend 7" above the rails and are cut at an angle above the rail to support at the proper angle the back frame stiles to which they are screwed. Directly above the medial legs, back supports of the same shape as the corner leg extensions are tenoned into the top of the seat rail and screwed to the medial stiles of the back frame. Note: The supports are now screwed to the back frame stiles from both the front and back however in the period they would only have been screwed from the back as the back was removable.

The four stiles of the back assembly are tenoned into the crest rail. The two medial stiles are tenoned into the bottom rail of the assembly which is in turn tenoned into its side stiles which are in turn miter cut and glued into miter cut notches in the side seat rails.

Each rear stile of the arm assembly is placed parallel to and 3/4" in front of the corresponding back frame stile. It is miter cut at the bottom and screwed into a miter cut notch in the seat side rail. At the top, it is screwed into a notch in the arm rest. The front stiles are lap joined and dovetailed into the corresponding seat side rail. The cylindrical arm is cut flat on top to accommodate additional padding under the upholstery and set between the scrolled terminals of the front arm stile and crest rail and screwed to them. There is evidence of glue blocks (three missing and one replaced) in the resulting four inside corners. A large block-like forearm rail with down turning upper surface is set between each front arm stile and the upward extension of the adjacent front corner leg. Each of these rails is butt joined, screwed(or possibly nailed) and glued to the front arm stile and half-dovetailed and glued to the extended portion of the corresponding front leg. The tacking rails are inset and screwed into the lower section of the arm rest rails.
Label:This sofa descended in the family of James Prince of Newburyport, an elite seaport in Massachusetts. Prince probably purchased it second hand from merchant Nathaniel Tracy (1751-1796) around 1800 when he also bought Tracy’s large brick mansion and other furnishings. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette each visited the Tracy-Prince home during respective stops in Newburyport in 1789 and 1824. An English import, this richly carved sofa was likely among the finest upholstered seating furniture available in New England. While the unusual serpentine front and intricately carved legs made this an expensive piece of furniture, the sixteen yards of fabric needed to upholster the frame and cushions accounted for a large proportion of the original cost.
Provenance:Sofa descended in family of James Prince of Newburyport, Mass,; "was in his house at a time when both Washington and Lafayette were entertained there." Lafayette was the Nation's guest between ca. 1777-1779; again in 1779 to 1781; once more in 1784. Ex colls. James Prince, Newburyport, Mass.: Alice L. Hayden, ibid; Charles Hallam Keep, New York
Mark(s):No
Inscription(s):No