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Important Carved Mahogany Philadelphia Mechanical Arm Chair (c. 1830 Philadelphia)

Artist

Attributed to COOK & PARKIN (worked 1819-1833)

Country of Origin

Philadelphia

Dated

c. 1830

Medium

Woods: white pine and tulip poplar.

Dimensions

27.25inch wide   46.50inch high   29.00inch deep
(69.21 cm wide  118.11 cm high  73.66 cm deep)

Condition

Excellent: The casters have been restored to their original matte and burnished lacquer appearance. The rear casters may be period replacements. Repairs to backing ledges and small restoration to bottom of proper right rear leg. The upholstery is modern using the materials and methods of the period. The chair has a shellac refinish.


Provenance

Private Collection
Anthony A. P. Stuempfig

Description / Expertise

The lotus-carved arched crest rail above a beaded frame holding an upholstered back, hinged at the base, allowing the back to recline as the upholstered seat slides forward. The padded arm rests terminating in scrolls decorated with tiered, concentric bosses and supported by water-leaf carved scrolls, above turned and reeded front legs terminating in important gilt-bronze cup casters. The rear saber legs having brass caster wheels.

This chair has been attributed to both Joseph B. Barry (1759/60-1838) and Charles White (1796-1876), two of Philadelphia’s most prominent cabinetmakers and legitimate arguments can be made for each, particularly for Barry. A group of four known arm chairs stamped by Joseph Barry & Co. made about 1829-1833 bear a resemblance to the present chair particularly in the arched crest rail and beaded framing of the back. Yet, the rare and distinctive water leaf carved scrolled arm supports that also appear as part of the pedestal of a group of center tables marked by Cook & Parkin suggests their hand.

Cook & Parkin, working at 56 Walnut Street were among the largest and most important cabinetmaking shops of the Classical period in Philadelphia, building one of the biggest export businesses in the city. Both Thomas Cook (1786-1868) and Richard Parkin (1787-1861), English born and trained, continued distinguished careers as cabinetmakers after the dissolution of their thirteen-year partnership; Parkin enjoying one of the longest careers of any Philadelphia cabinetmaker. The known work of these cabinetmakers consistently displays a deep knowledge of fashionable English and French pattern book designs and a keen sense of high style.

Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts published four related designs to the present chair between 1810 and 1813 each of which clearly influenced the design of this chair. The Repository of Arts, published in London serially between 1809 and 1828, introducing all manner of fashionable apparel and furnishings, was very influential in the United States and nowhere more than in Philadelphia.

Another influential English pattern book published by Thomas King in 1829, Modern Style of Cabinet Work Exemplified shows several mechanical and easy chairs including “Chairs with inclining backs” (pl. 10 of the Supplementary Plates), that illustrate the exact construction of the back of the present chair. Plate 45 of “A Sideboard Table” shows a back splash that could easily have provided the inspiration for the arched, lotus-carved crest rail. The makers were unquestionably familiar with this publication.

The form of mechanical chair is rare in American furniture of this period and this is among the finest examples of the form that is known. A few Boston examples are known including one that was published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their exhibition catalog 19th-Century America (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970), fig. 66. That chair has the remnant of a label of Boston cabinetmaker and upholsterer William Hancock (active 1820-1835), affixed to the bottom of the foot rest. The present chair is the only Philadelphia-made example of the form that is known.

Ackermann’s plates include a Library Reading Chair (Sept. 1810), the Royal Patent Invalid Chair (Nov. 1810), Merlin’s Mechanical Chair (Oct. 1811), and Pocock’s Reclining Patent Chair (Mar. 1813).

Of note is the possible connection to John Hancock & Co. upholsterer of Philadelphia who advertised in DeSilver’s Philadelphia City Directory in 1833 showing a Grecian couch with a tubular drawer at one end used in advertisements by William Hancock and closely related to that on a classical sofa labeled by William Hancock in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (19th-Century America, fig.65.) John Hancock’s upholstery shop was located at Walnut and 3rd Street, virtually next-door to Cook & Parkin at 56 Walnut. This intriguing connection to the Hancock brothers suggests that it was upholsterers/ decorators who were driving the process of producing furniture for their clients.