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Windsor side chair

1808-1812
Origin: America, Virginia, Richmond
OH: 33 1/2" OW: 17 5/8" OD: 16 3/4"
Maple, hickory, and tulip poplar.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1994-70,1
Appearance: Rod-back Windsor side chair; arched crest rail; bamboo-turned stiles with knobbed finials; five round, tapered spindles; shaped seat with round front profile; bamboo-turned legs; offset box stretchers.

Construction: The crest rail is tenoned into the stiles and is secured at either end with small cut nails. All of the spindles are round-tenoned into the crest rail and the seat, and the center spindle is further secured with a cut nail set at the top. The stiles are round-tenoned through the seat and the legs are round-tenoned into the same element. The stretchers are all round-tenoned into the legs.

Materials: Maple crest rail, stiles, legs, front stretcher, and side stretchers; hickory spindles and rear stretcher; tulip poplar seat.
Label:Like many other Virginia Windsor chairs, this one closely emulates eastern Pennsylvania models in both design and construction. Its form and date also document the fact that some Virginia artisans closely followed new developments in Philadelphia Windsor design and readily incorporated the changes into their work. Here the serpentine crest rail and the bow-back form popular at the turn of the nineteenth century have been abandoned in favor of the newer rod-back format with its slatlike crest rail. Documents confirm that the chair and its surviving mate were produced no later than 1812, suggesting that the design was adopted by its Virginia makers almost as soon as it appeared in Philadelphia.

Original labels on both chairs state they were made by the firm of Hobday & Seaton, whose shop was located "on the Cross street leading to the Governor's[,] Richmond." John Hobday (w. 1808-1819) and Leonard H. Seaton (w. 1804-1820) entered into a partnership in 1808. The firm advertised its proficiency in "FANCY & WINDSOR CHAIR-MAKING, TURNING, SIGN-PAINTING, GILDING, &C." Unfortunately, little else is known about Hobday & Seaton's business. Public records reveal that the pair sold a dozen Windsor chairs to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1810, and that they accepted an apprentice from the Overseers of the Poor the following year. Hobday's origins and training remain a mystery. Seaton was an orphan who in 1800 was bound as an apprentice to William Pointer (w. 1796-1808), a highly successful Richmond Windsor maker. Hobday & Seaton dissolved their partnership after only four years. The CWF chairs are the only presently known examples of their work.

On a regional level, the alliance between Hobday and Seaton reflects an important trend among early nineteenth-century urban furniture makers in the coastal South. Windsor makers increasingly pooled their resources as a means of coping with the rising costs of operating a business and the growing competition posed by imported goods. Southern Windsor chair-making partnerships were generally short-lived. Typically, one of the partners retained control of the business while the other opened a new shop in the same town or relocated to another community where he often became involved in other partnerships. This practice resulted in confusing, sometimes baffling, business relationships. For example, when Hobday & Seaton dissolved their business in 1812, Seaton initially retained management of the Richmond shop. By 1814, however, he had moved to Petersburg and entered into a brief partnership with Graves Matthews (w. 1814-1819), who subsequently collaborated with yet another Petersburg Windsor chairmaker, Alexander Brown, before moving to North Carolina and repeating the process. In 1815, Seaton moved his operation back to Richmond; by 1818, he was again in Petersburg and had joined forces with James Barnes. Barnes had once been in partnership with Seaton's ex-partner, John Hobday. This tangled web of Windsor-making businesses reflects the highly competitive nature of Windsor chairmaking in the South. It also helps explain why modern furniture historians have such difficulty identifying southern Windsors unless they bear makers' labels.

By 1815, the Windsor trade was booming and some artisans were forced to expedite construction in order to keep up with demand. This may have been the case with the Hobday & Seaton chairs because the wood from which they were made is of relatively poor quality. Knots, fragmentary losses, and areas of preexisting insect damage were simply leveled out with putty fills that became completely invisible after the chairs were painted. The spindles were produced quickly with a spokeshave or drawknife rather than a lathe, resulting in considerable size differences from one spindle to the next. Again, the shortcut was largely obscured by the paint.
Provenance:The chair and its mate descended through the Logan family of Powhatan Co., Va., to Sally Logan Coles, who gave them to her nephew, Edmund Pendleton Coles, in 1918. Coles bequeathed the chairs to his step-grandson, Burton Lee Doggett, from whom they were acquired by CWF in 1994.
Mark(s):None.
Inscription(s):An original printed label glued to the underside of the seat reads "Made & Sold / By / Hobday & Seaton / Next Door to [torn], on the Cross / Street leading to the Governor's / Richmond, Printed by Rauch and Southgate." A twentieth-century brass plate screwed to the underside of the seat is engraved "THIS CHAIR WAS GIVEN TO EDMUND PENDLETON COLES / IN 1918 BY HIS AUNT SALLY LOGAN COLES / IT WAS IN USE IN 1781 THE YEAR OF THE / CLOSE OF THE REVOLUTION / BY CHARLES, HIS GREAT, GREAT, GREAT UNCLE / AND MARY PLEASANTS LOGAN AT BELLE MEADE, VA." An early twentieth-century paper label glued to the underside of the seat is inscribed in ink "Edmund P. Coles / These chairs were in use / by Charles and Mary Pleasants Logan / Belle Meade the year [of the close] / [of the] revolution." The known dates for the partnership of Hobday & Seaton (1808-1812) indicate that Logan family tradition regarding the age of the chairs is incorrect.