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Easy chair

1750-1770
Origin: America, Virginia, Williamsburg
OH: 41 1/8”; SH 11¾”; OW: 32”; SW 29¼, OD: 28½”; SD: 24¼”
Mahogany, ash, yellow pine, tulip poplar; tacks, linen (fragment)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon M. Geddy, Jr.
Acc. No. 1989-372
Appearance: Easy chair with flat, chamfered, crest rail slightly rounded at ends; cone-shaped vertical arm supports; trapezoidal seat frame; cabriole front legs originally on high inverted trumpet disks; originally with blocked rear feet; blocked and turned H-plan stretchers (side stretchers replaced); turned rear stretcher (replaced).

Construction: rear legs glued and nailed to stiles; seat rails tenoned into legs; front and side rails undercut to provide a downward projection at end of each rail; projections allow the seat rail tenons to be approximately twice as high as those on most American chairs; knee blocks flanking front legs are glued to faces of downward projections on rails; wings nailed into three-sided notches near upper ends of stiles and tenoned into wing supports; wing supports let into seat rails with tenons that are exposed on outer surfaces of rails and secured with nails; cone-shaped arm supports each consist of a tulip poplar outer half and an ash inner half; arm supports are half-lapped over seat rails and nailed at the bottom; arms are nailed to tops of arm supports and lapped over and nailed to the inside of the wing supports; crest rail tenoned into stiles; lower back rail through-tenoned into stiles; thin rails nailed flush to the inner surfaces of side seat rails and stiles to provide extra nailing surface.

Upholstery: Small linen fragment remains under a nail on the inside face of the proper left arm. Green corrosion inside brass nail holes is indicative of original leather cover as is the original extensive brass nail trim, including fronts of arm supports, both top and back edges of crest rail (at the edges of the leather pieces). Tacking evidence indicates that original foundation linen was tacked on top of the seat rails and front faces of back stiles rather than to the sides. Tacking evidence also indicates stuffed rolls at front of seat, crest and along wing panels. Chair frame was constructed without tacking rails for wing upholstery.

Materials: Mahogany legs and stretchers; ash seat rails and inner face of arm supports; tulip poplar outer face of arm supports; yellow pine all other secondary woods; tacks; linen fragment.
Label:Though its legs and stretchers are well worn and much repaired, this Virginia easy chair is a rare survival. Pre-Revolutionary Virginia probate records often list easy chairs, as do the advertisements of cabinetmakers and upholsterers, but few Virginia-made examples have come to light. This chair, which descended in the Cole and Geddy families of Williamsburg, is representative of those that are known. Its execution in the neat and plain style is de riguer for urban Tidewater Virginia; elaborately carved easy chairs are almost unknown among Virginia cabinet wares.

The chair is attributed to Anthony Hay (d. 1770), Benjamin Bucktrout (d. 1813), or Edmund Dickinson (d. 1778), each of whom was at one time master of the same Williamsburg cabinetmaking shop. Hay purchased the Nicholson Street shop in 1756 and remained there until he left the cabinet trade in 1767, at which time Bucktrout became master of the shop. Three years later Dickinson took over the operation and remained until it was closed in 1776. Significantly, Bucktrout and Dickinson were both employed by Hay at various times during the 1760s, probably as journeymen. The overlapping tenures of these three master cabinetmakers and their various employees now make it virtually impossible to discern the work of one from that of another.

The Hay-Bucktrout-Dickinson attribution is based primarily on an unfinished easy chair leg that was excavated from the shop site during archeological investigations in 1960. Found in a context from the third quarter of the eighteenth century, the leg features extra-long mortises that drop one-and-one-quarter inch below the top of the knee, thus spanning the weak spot where the cabriole leg breaks forward, and shifting the knee block application from the base of the rail to its face. The leg is supported on a pad foot that rests on a high, inverted trumpet-shaped element with a narrow base. Both of these unusual traits appear on the Cole-Geddy chair, as well as a number of other chairs and tables with Williamsburg histories.

There are several noteworthy similarities between this easy chair and two examples from Charleston (CWF #1930-129 & 1968-658). All have blocked rear feet, a detail that rarely appears elsewhere in the American colonies except New York. Moreover, the wing supports on all three chairs are nailed into open mortises in the sides of the seat rails; chairs from New England and Philadelphia generally employ a standard mortise-and-tenon joint at this location. Though the evidence is far from conclusive, the southern approach in these areas may again harken back to the region's strong reliance on British cabinetmaking traditions since both traits are also often found on English easy chairs.

Probate records suggest that in the South, as in New England, most easy chairs were upholstered in worsted wools, which were commonly thought to be both fashionable and durable. However, the personal taste and wealth of the purchaser sometimes dictated other textile choices, as in 1770 when Williamsburg resident Robert Carter paid upholster Joseph Kidd L1.10 for labor expended in "Covering an Easy Chair with Crimson Silk damask." Such fragile and costly upholstery was usually protected, except on special occasions, by checked linen or cotton case covers. Leather upholstery, far sturdier than either wool or silk, was sometimes used for covering easy chairs as well. Indeed, the position and spacing of the original tack holes on this chair suggest that its first covering may have been leather.
Provenance:Inherited by Vernon Geddy, Jr. from his mother, Mrs. Vernon M. Geddy, Sr., nee Carrie Cole Lane, in 1988. She had inherited the chair from her aunt, Carrie Dudley Lane Cole in 1950. Mrs. Cole inherited (according to family recollection) from her husband, Henry Denison Cole, in 1936. Carrie Cole Lane Geddy lived with her aunt and uncle, Mr. & Mrs. Henry Denison Cole, in the Taliaferro-Cole House at Duke of Gloucester and Nassau Streets in Williamsburg until the building was acquired and restored by Colonial Williamsburg in the 20th century. The Cole family had owned and occupied the house since 1804.
Inscription(s):"X" chalked in several places on upholstery frame.