Whitehall Blog

Archive for October, 2010

Shocking Information on WOOD

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Every student of American furniture knows that if you find large boards of New England to Mid-Atlantic WHITE PINE used as the secondary wood, it is American made–just as if you find narrow boards of grey toned white pine with many little knots it is English made–what is called most often deal rather than pine.

What if that were not true?

Every student of American furniture knows that almost always a four drawer chest is American made and a five drawer chest is English made.

What if that were not true?

The careful study of the English furniture trade reveals that in fact neither of these “we all know concepts” is true!

Not every student of American furniture is even aware of the vast quantities of walnut imported by England from it’s colonies in America–importing dating from the late 1600′s onward.

Happily, the work of Ms. Stuart stresses this new to most of us information over and over again.  Throughout 900 pages of analysis she quotes the letters and documents of the Gillows firm as to their purchases of wood–much through the port of Liverpool.  And what was true for their firm was absolutely true for all their competitors.  Repeatedly the firm asks for its wood suppliers to bid on walnut and fine, broad white pine arriving at the docks from Massachusetts and elsewhere in the colonies.  The walnut was used for primary and secondary work–the pine for secondary wood as well as architectural work.  In some letters Gillows praised the quality of American pine–sometimes he complained about it–sometimes he fretted over the cost relative to Scots and Baltic pine (it came a great deal further–no pun intended!).

Again, this wood was mostly bought at auction in the ports–factors or representatives of multiple furniture makers bid against each other to acquire the finest wood for their clients.  This can only mean that every cabinetmaker outside of London and Edinburgh ( where oak was always preferred as the secondary for drawer construction) were using American pine in their furniture.  And London/Edinburgh makers used pine for backs, sides to veneer, etc–also likely to have been colonial in origin.

How much “American” furniture is English or Scottish in origin?

As you ponder this information, add the fact that English design demonstrably favored 4 rather than 5 drawer chests (just like we say Americans did)–afterall, where were those American cabinetmakers trained? Are you sure your American chest is American?

(Upcoming–the myths of mahogany in a future blog)