American Furniture By E. T. Joy

UNTIL recent years so little was known about American antique furniture that it was widely supposed to be provincial English. Thorough study by scholars, some of them English, now tells us it has a character of its own, independent of the English furniture on which it was styled. Some connoisseurs, impartial Continental Europeans, comparing a Philadelphia c Chippendale' highboy, a Rhode Island block-front secretary, a Duncan PhyfeSofa table (unique American types) with their nearest English parallels today, give preference to the American creations. Even when the comparison is between two of a kind, two fairly similar and equally well-made chairs or desks or chests of drawers, the choice often goes to American examples.

From the arrival of the original Pilgrims in 1620 down to the opening of the Revolu-tionary War in 1775, most of the early settlers in America were British. There were settlements of Dutch, of Germans, Swedes, Spanish and French, but the vast majority of the people were British, blood and bone. From the first the different conditions in the two lands made for different circumstances in the lives of the peoples, their homes and their furniture. The two countries lay in isolated hemispheres, separated by three thousand miles of ocean. The climates were different; the requirements for survival of life were different; and the social, moral, intellectual and economic environments were as opposite as effort and ease.

As to things that the two peoples might build with their hands, such as furniture, one circumstance outweighed all others: the Americans were thrown on their own re-sources. They might want to model their furniture on English examples or designs, but by necessity they had to do it in their own way. In adapting their product to American use each furniture-maker had to rely for the rendering upon himself. The result was variation - individuality. So marked was this variation, that today not only can we separate English from American antique furniture but trace most American examples to the section of the country - northern, middle, or southern - in which they were made; often to the city - Boston, .Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charles¬ton — and on occasion actually to the shop of the man who made them.

Save in local regions where the settlers were Dutch, German, etc, Americans fol¬lowed the English furniture styles. Perched along the shore of a vast continent which'had to be broken tame to the plough, they had no time in which to work out polite modes of their own. They turned for their fashions to the country from which most of them had come. They were usually ten to twenty years behind the style, but followed in the path. It was hardly possible to follow the fashions, except in an independent way, because of the scarcity of models and the absence of guides. Only the merest scattering of families im¬ported their furniture. Ships were few and small; furniture is bulky; and cargoes were given over to goods that could not be readily produced in the New World. Furthermore, it had been early discovered that imported furniture woefully suffered shrinking and cracking in America's dryer air; also, that it offered no resistance to American insects. In short, almost every eventuality tended to make American furniture, though English in style, American in distinctive spirit and characteristics. Much English antique furniture, when compared with American, appears to have

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Antiques For Sale

Philip Burke has a wide range of 18th and 19th century English and continental antique furniture.

The different styles of antique furniture that comes in may only last a few days in the workshop before they are sold. If you require a piece of furniture not listed please call and we will do our best to cater for your needs.



Philip Burke has been involved in restoration work for a number of years dealing with all aspects of antique furniture restoration and conservation

Antique furniture is not always beautiful and pristine--in fact, some of the most valuable pieces show wear and fading. Whether or not to restore antique furniture can be a complex question, but it also depends on the definition of "restore."


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