American Furniture By E. T. Joy

temple in 1795. Both in public and in resi¬dential architecture the classical revival swept the country for the next three-quarters of a century, streaming westward three thousand miles across the continent to the Pacific coast, and losing favour only when set aside by untoward circumstances, notably the Civil War of 1860-5. How appropriately these houses in the new republic would have been dressed had they been furnished in an informal American version of Adam's classical style!


in American furniture the style of Hepplewhite so often tends toward, or incorporates, features of Sheraton's style, that many articles called Hepplewhite are best described as combination Hepplewhite-Sheraton. This American mixture of two English furniture fashions was natural in the circumstances. The peace treaty ending the war between England and the United States had been signed in the latter part of 1783; trade between the countries had begun again in 1784; and by 1785 the type of furniture then the latest vogue in England, Hepple¬white, was being advertised in American newspapers as the latest importations. Another five years were to pass, however, before the economy of the United States had sufficiently recovered from the war for many citizens to buy these importations or to order American-made furniture based on Hepplewhite designs. By that time, 1790, a new type of furniture, the Sheraton, had sprung into being in England, and American cabinet-makers were shortly beginning to adapt it to American use. It was inevitable in these circumstances that elements of the two styles (which already had certain features in common) should often be combined.

Antique furniture restoration The two styles can be differentiated, how¬ever, in a great many pieces of American furniture, though the distinction is not easy to sum up in words. American Hepplewhite chairs generally have shield-shaped backs (or shield variants such as the interlaced heart, the oval, etc) with either openwork splats or banisters in the back. The splats may be touched with carving such as plumes, wheat-ears or leaves. The legs on these chairs arc generally square and tapered, often ending in spade feet. Such legs also generally appear on Hepplewhite wing chairs, sofas, tables and, that new convenience in the dining-room, the sideboard. In most late eighteenth-century sideboards the front was designed in a ser¬pentine curve, and it is said that if the ends of the curve are concave the design is Hepplewhite; if convex, Sheraton. All are generally veneered in finely marked maho¬gany and carry a bit of inlay - satinwood or maple strings bordering the drawers, a few bellflowers dropping down the legs, etc. In the main, American sideboards are so much less ornamented than English as to be easily distinguished.

A word should be added about the new type of drawer-handle introduced about 1780: a bail pull attached to an oval brass plate. Such handles, the plate often stamped with an eagle, acorn, oak leaves, grapes or some such design, continued to be used until 1820, though small round brass knobs were sometimes used instead. Wall mirrors now began to be made in smaller sizes. These Hepplewhite mirrors seem to have been, much influenced by Adam's classical (Pom-peiian) mirror designs, and the influence carries over into American Hepplewhite mirrors to the extent that the frames are elegantly thin (Pompeiian), carved, gilded, often bear garlands of leaves and flowers hanging halfway down the sides, and are surmounted by a finial, usually an urn, set in a scrolling ornament as delicate as filigree work.

A major change in the dressing of American rooms was visible by the end of the eighteenth century; for sundry articles of furniture were going out of fashion - lowboys, highboys, tall chests of drawers, etc - the replacements being chests of drawers of more moderate size, decorative types of tables, and several new furniture forms. The increased use of occasional furniture, such as card, tea, side, Pembroke, pedestal and sofa tables alone would have changed the appearance of rooms. Add waist-high chests of drawers (bureaux), modest-size bookcases, tambour desks, china closets, sideboards, etc, and the change becomes pronounced.

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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.



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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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