Furniture in the South

Fig. 1: Bottle case on stand, northeastern North Carolina, Roanoke River basin area, 1750–1780. Walnut with yellow pine, iron, and brass. H. 37-1/2, W. 17, D. 32 in. Museum purchase and gift of Mr. and Mrs. P. Coleman Townsend, Miss Milly McGehee, and Mr. and Mrs. Carl M. Lindberg (2001.47).
Fig. 1: Bottle case on stand, northeastern North Carolina, Roanoke River basin area, 1750–1780. Walnut with yellow pine, iron, and brass. H. 37-1/2, W. 17, D. 32 in. Museum purchase and gift of Mr. and Mrs. P. Coleman Townsend, Miss Milly McGehee, and Mr. and Mrs. Carl M. Lindberg (2001.47).

Discoveries from the Field: Furniture in the South: Makers and Consumers by Wendy A. Cooper
by Wendy A. Cooper

Fig. 2: Campeachy or “Spanish” chair, attributed to William Worthington (1775–1839), Washington, D.C., 1810–1820. Mahogany, yellow pine, and tulip poplar, H. 40-1/2, W. 24-1/2, D. 30-1/2 in. Museum purchase (1964.143).
Fig. 2: Campeachy or “Spanish” chair, attributed to William Worthington (1775–1839), Washington, D.C., 1810–1820. Mahogany, yellow pine, and tulip poplar, H. 40-1/2, W. 24-1/2, D. 30-1/2 in. Museum purchase (1964.143).

Over the past quarter century, growing interest in the arts of the South has led to significant research and new discoveries by furniture scholars. Winterthur’s collection has benefited from this research as a number of pieces previously attributed to Northern craftsmen are now recognized as Southern, while information on others has increased with well-documented new discoveries. Southern furniture added to the museum’s collection in recent years has filled significant gaps in regional representation.

Before the end of the eighteenth century, furniture designed specially to hold liquor was favored primarily in the southern region of the American colonies. The bottle case on stand in figure 1, previously unpublished, can now be attributed to the Roanoke River basin area of northeastern North Carolina.1 Its interior is separated into three sections, one of which is further divided to accommodate six bottles. The other two sections might have held variously shaped bottles or a valuable commodity like sugar. Aspects of its design and construction suggest that its maker was familiar with Rhode Island workmanship and may have trained there. The sharply angled dovetails and neat narrow pins, the mid-molding attached to the base of the case rather than the stand, and the very sharp edged cabriole legs all echo features found on Newport furniture.

Published in 1966 as the product of a New York shop, recent research on furniture made in the District of Columbia has reattributed the armchair in figure 2 to noted Washington cabinet- and chair-maker William Worthington.2 This form has its roots in the ancient curule or “X” form stool that subsequently became popular in Spain and was brought to the New World and popularized in Mexico. Referred to as a campeachy chair in some contemporary sources, the term derives from the city of Campeche on the Yucatán Peninsula, from which these chairs were exported to the Louisiana Territory.3 Favored and used primarily by men, Thomas Jefferson used the name “siesta chair” to describe similar ones he owned at Monticello.

Fig. 3: Dressing chest of drawers, attributed to William Jones, d. 1792, Charleston, S.C., 1785–1792. Mahogany with mahogany veneer, light wood inlay and cedar. H. 36-1/4, W. 41, D. 23-1/4 in. Gift of Commander and Mrs. Duncan I. Selfridge (1957.32.02).
Fig. 3: Dressing chest of drawers, attributed to William Jones, d. 1792, Charleston, S.C., 1785–1792. Mahogany with mahogany veneer, light wood inlay and cedar. H. 36-1/4, W. 41, D. 23-1/4 in. Gift of Commander and Mrs. Duncan I. Selfridge (1957.32.02).

Fig. 4: Detail of interior of top drawer of chest in fig. 3.
Fig. 4: Detail of interior of top drawer of chest in fig. 3.

An extraordinary Charleston dressing chest of drawers (Fig. 3) was originally thought to have been made probably in Rhode Island, as it was given to Winterthur by Commander and Mrs. Duncan Ingraham Selfridge of Newport and said to have been owned by Commodore Duncan N. Ingraham of the same town.4 In 1997 and again in 2003 the chest was linked to the notable Charleston shop of William Jones (d.1792) and it was presumed to have been taken to Newport by a wealthy South Carolinian.5 Current research indicates that Commodore Ingraham was not from Newport, but rather from Charleston, and it is possible that he or a descendant brought the chest to Newport. Duncan Ingraham Selfridge (1884–1956), the son of Rear Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge Jr. of Newport, was likely named after Ingraham, a Southern naval hero. Since Duncan N. Ingraham (1802–1891) and Thomas O. Selfridge, Sr. (1804–1902) were contemporaries, their relationship may have been closer than is immediately apparent.6 Exactly how Selfridge came into possession of the chest is still a puzzle, but ongoing research may reveal that answer. The original owners of the chest may have been Ingraham’s parents or his wife’s, Harriett Horry Laurens, the granddaughter of Henry and Elizabeth Rutledge Laurens, also from Charleston. The most expensive feature of this costly “dressing chest” is the beautifully fitted top drawer that was designed for both writing and toilet (Fig. 4). Beneath the writing slide (once covered in baize) are lidded compartments with covers veneered in figured rosewood and banded with elaborate inlay. A looking glass in the center is fitted with a ratcheted frame to enable it to be raised for the owner’s ease of use.

Fig. 5: Chest, Northampton County, Eastern Shore, Va., 1770–1800. Yellow pine, paint and iron, H. 23-1/4, W. 53-1/4, D. 19-1/4 in. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle (2011.16).
Fig. 5: Chest, Northampton County, Eastern Shore, Va., 1770–1800. Yellow pine, paint and iron, H. 23-1/4, W. 53-1/4, D. 19-1/4 in. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle (2011.16).

Numerous pieces of Virginia raised-panel Eastern Shore furniture have survived, but most have been stripped to reveal the native yellow pine of which they were constructed. Fortunately, Winterthur’s chest retains much of its original Prussian blue paint, as well as a second coat of blue highlighted with at least two additions of lead white (Fig. 5). It is distinguished as one of only two known from this region with the more sophisticated ogee bracket feet.7 The inscription “John Cobb” inside the lid confirms its ownership in the Cobb family of Northampton County, Virginia. It was purchased in the 1990s out of an early nineteenth-century house in that county owned by the Ward family. Documentation notes that descendants of a John and Rachel Cobb sold one hundred acres to Littleton Ward. Perhaps this information may lead to further confirmation of the owner of the chest and its descent through the Cobb and Ward families.


On March 1–2, 2012, Winterthur Museum’s furniture forum will examine objects owned in the South. In conjunction with the forum, Winterthur will present a small exhibition of some of its Southern furniture including the objects discussed in this article. For more information on the Sewell C. Biggs Winterthur Furniture Forum call 302.888.4600 or visit www.winterthur.org.


Wendy A. Cooper is the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil senior curator of furniture at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

Images courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.


1. This piece sold at Weschler’s “European & American Furniture and Decorations” auction, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2001, lot 416. Winterthur thanks the late John Bivins Jr., Milly McGehee, and Sumpter Priddy for recognizing this rare bottle case on stand.

2. This was originally published by Charles F. Montgomery in American Furniture, The Federal Period in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (NY: The Viking Press, 1966). For the reattribution to Washington, D.C. see Sumpter Priddy and Ann Steuart, “Seating Furniture from the District of Columbia, 1795-1820,” in American Furniture 2010, ed. Luke Beckerdite (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation, 2010), 123–125.

3. Diane C. Ehrenpreis, “The Seat of State,” in American Furniture 2010, 29–53.

4. Charles F. Montgomery. American Furniture, The Federal Period in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (New York: The Viking Press, 1966), 185.

5. John Bivins, “The Convergence and Divergence of Three Stylistic Traditions in Charleston Neoclassical Case Furniture,” in American Furniture 1997, 58–63. Bradford L. Rauschenberg and John Bivins Jr., The Furniture of Charleston, 1680–1820, Volume II: Neoclassical Furniture (Winston-Salem, N. C.: Old Salem, Inc. and The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, 2003), 484–493.

6. In a phone conversation with Jennifer Bryan, archivist at the Nimitz Library of the U.S. Naval Academy, she has noted that the early officers of the navy were quite closely linked.

7. The other chest with ogee bracket feet was sold at Sotheby’s, The Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords, Americana, English Furniture, Silver and Decorative Works of Art, Vol. II, October 28 & 29, 2004, lot 252.

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