Quality Antique Furniture Defined By Time
And Style Of Manufacture
Fine antique American furniture can be divided into seven distinct periods, each with its own elements of style. These periods are:
Pilgrim (or Jacobean)
William and Mary
Federal (including Sheraton and Heppelwhite) 1785-1810
Each of these styles originated in England or Europe and made its way to this country by way of English cabinetmakers.
A look at the chairs of each style will give a general understanding of its characteristics.
Pilgrim chairs were heavy pieces made of oak with sausage-shaped lathe turnings. William and Mary chairs were walnut and featured cane seats and backs, with elaborate carving on the legs, arms and back, and ball or shaped feet. Chairs of these two earliest periods exist today primarily in museums.
Queen Anne chairs had curved cabriole legs and pad feet. One type of Chippendale chair is similar, but often has added carving to the legs and ball-and-claw feet. The other type of Chippendale has straight, square front legs. Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs were made of mahogany, maple, birch or walnut.
The chairs of the Federal period were lighter in design and construction. Heppelwhite chairs used a shield or oval back and Sheraton favored a square back. They had tapered legs, and painting, inlay work or carving as ornamentation was common.
Empire chairs were heavy in both appearance and construction. They were of massive design and often had broad veneered surfaces. The most notable cabinetmaker of this period was Duncan Phyfe.
Victorian chairs are hard to categorize. They borrowed from every preceding period and blended the design ideas, often ostentatiously. Overall, they typified the baroque taste of this era.
Existing side by side with the so-called fine furniture was the country furniture of each period. The earliest settlers made ladder-back chairs for everyday use, and these continued to be made and used until the end of the 19th century.
During the Empire period, painted furniture was popular for everyday use. The Hitchcock chairs, with their fancy stencil decorations, are the most well known. In the Victorian period, “kitchen” chairs of pine and oak, with designs stamped on by giant presses, were very popular.
Other popular country or kitchen designs of the past were the Shaker-made chairs; Windsor chairs with their backs of vertical dowels; and wicker pieces.
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