APS Library Bulletin headline
New Series, vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 2001

X. Inside Head's Shop.

A. Materials and Supplies.

1. Wood.

En route to the home of botanist John Bartram, some four miles south of Philadelphia, Kalm observed that the "wood was full of mulberry-trees, walnut-trees of several kinds, chestnut-trees, sassafras, and the like." On a ride to the northwest of town, Kalm "did not see a single fir or pine;" he noted that most of the trees there were different sorts of oak..., chestnut trees, walnut trees, locust trees, apple trees, [and] hickory." Among the species of trees growing "spontaneously in the woods which are nearest to Philadelphia" were also: maple; chestnut oak; tulip; wild cherry; sweet gum; chestnut; black walnut; white elm; ash tree in low places; "American dwarf laurel, on the northern side of mountains;" a peculiar variety of red oak; red juniper; beech; butternut walnut; and a "Pennsylvanian fir tree."266

Despite its abundance, wood was not necessarily cheap, as many who owned forests closest to Philadelphia were preserving it for their own use or "they sell it to joiners, coach-makers, and other artists, who pay exorbitantly for it." Vast amounts of wood were required for Philadelphia's brick kilns or to melt iron out of ore in its forges. This fuel consumption also drove up wood prices.267

Head bought and sold large quantities of many of these woods.268 Head mostly received his wood in boards, planks, "scantlen," and "parsels [parcels]." His entries were very specific as to quantities and often as to dimensions.269 Some he used in cabinetmaking. Others were used in construction, or for fuel, or were sold by Head elsewhere. Some of it may have gone to export.270 It is therefore impossible to state with authority how much of the lumber was used for his cabinetmaking. Nor is it possible to identify which type of wood Head used in a particular piece of furniture, except when he recorded it.

Head's purchases of cabinetmaking primary woods, i.e., those woods that would be exposed to view, included cedar, mahogany, cherry, maple, walnut, and pine.271 Thus Nathanel [Nathaniel] Owen was credited "To a mahogany plank cut In to: four Bords;" Grifith [Griffith] Jones, supplied Head with "Blak Walnut Bord of divers sorts;" and Joseph Taylor, Junor [Jr.] got £23-0-0 for what must have been a choice or very large "parsel of Chary Tree Bords and Logs."272

Head's acquisition of secondary woods, those that could be used for construction of the back, interior and underside of a piece, included cedar, pine, oak, and poplar. Poplar was used in "all sorts of joiners work," in Philadelphia, and "[s]ome joiners reckoned this wood better than oak, because this latter is frequently warped, which the other never does, but works very easy; others again valued it very little. It is certain, that it contracts so much in hot weather, as to occasion cracks in the boards, and in wet weather it swells so as to be near bursting, and the people hardly know of a wood in these parts which varies so much in contracting and expanding itself. The joiners however make much use of it in their work...."

Poplar, however, is not mentioned by name in Head's account book until 1743, a year prior to Head's last recorded sale of furniture. Head credited Mickel Branin [Brannon?], "By - 6 peeses of popler" [9/7/43; £1-12-0], and "By - 64 foot of 4 Inch popler" [3/12/45, £0-15-4].273 Given the four-inch dimension of most of that poplar, Head was probably using it to make the 178 "hat bloks" he sold to his hatter sons-in-law, Jeremiah Warder and Benjamin Hooton, or for his hatter son, John Head, Jr. Cf., the "4 inch poplar plank, for hatters" advertised by another joiner.274 Poplar has recently been identified as among the secondary woods in the Wistar high chest and dressing table that may present something of a problem, if Head never had any poplar until two decades after the pair were ordered made [1726].275 One possible explanation is that, if Head did use poplar in his furniture prior to 1743, it may have been part of earlier shipments for which Head occasionally did not identify woods. E.g., "By Sundres Timbr..." [Nathanal Pool]; "To: 1000 foot Bord" and "1504 foot Scantlen" [John Hains].276

John Coster, Thomas Georg [George], and John Rambo charged Head for sawing large quantities of walnut, Head's most common primary wood. They usually charged Head by the foot, but on occasion by the "parsel" or "Gob [job]."277 No doubt to afford him with a ready and proximate supply, Head had his own lot, on which to store his wood.278 One way to get his wood into his shop was by the "Weel Barrow" he had gotten from Reuben Foster, who was credited £0-11-0, on 9/23/30.279

2. Glue, Linseed Oil, Beeswax, Feathers, Hair, Sheep Gut, and Miscellaneous Supplies.

Head maintained large quantities of "Glew [glue]." He sold off some small amounts of it, a "1/4 pound" to Charles Hansly and a "1/2 pound" to Joseph Elger. However, he bought and retained larger amounts for himself, including "4 : pound" from Richard Harrison; and, from Samuel Smith, "one pound" and another "13 pound."280

Probably in connection with the finishing of his furniture, Head acquired linseed oil, in quantities from "2 galons" to "1/2 a Barel."281 He also got many pounds of beeswax from several sources.282 Combustible materials must have always been a concern. The Philadelphia Contributionship would later refuse to insure "any...Joyners Shop...used as Stores for...hazardous Goods.... These included "Tallow."283

Although not necessarily an upholsterer himself, Head bought and sold supplies which might have been used in connection with the mattresses for his bedsteads or for upholstering seating furniture. He debited John Burr "To - 30 pound of fathers [feathers]." He credited William Pyewell "By Twenty Bushels of Hair." From Alexander Wooddrop, Head acquired "2 Ships guts [sheep gut]."284

Head also kept "on[e] Botom of Twin[e]," purchased from Calap Ranstad [Caleb Ranstead]; and "Wier [wire]" from Joshua Johnson. Other useful miscellaneous material included "3 yards of Bagen [bagging]," acquired from Ralf [Ralph] Hoy.285

3. Furniture Hardware.

Head both bought and sold vast quantities of nails. His earliest purchase was "To : 6 pound of nails," on 11/24/20, for which he credited Joseph Masters £0-4-6. That was part of 137 pounds of nails he bought from Masters between that date and 3/5/24.286 Alexander Wooddrop was also an early large supplier. His nails and tacks, however, were priced per thousand pieces and not by the pound.287 On 4/11/21, Wooddrop sold Head "1 m [1,000] nails d/2 [two penny nails]," at £2-2-5; and "5 m [5,000] - Larg Taks," at £0-8-4; and "6 m [thousand] - d/2 Brads [two penny brads]."288 The last order credited, from Thomas Maul [Maule], on 11/9/47, at £3-3-3, was "By - 47 1/2 pound of nails."289 Head, in turn, sold nails by the pound and, in one instance, by "a Bage [bag]."290 Among the types of nails sold by Head were the "10 pond [pound] : hobd nails [hobnails], debited to Richard Luis [Lewis], at £0-5-0, on 7/23/21.291

Not all of these nails were meant for use in furniture. Some were clearly for construction, such as the "28 pound of Larth [lath] nails," which Head bought from George Kellay.292 Head sold lath nails to brickmaker John Coats, in 1736, together with " 152 foot of oke scantlen [oak scantling]," and eight bushels of lime, obviously for a lathwork job.293

Head's earliest purchases of locks were the "Till Loks," of which he obtained significant quantities. Five dozen of them were bought from Alexander Wooddrop, on 4/11/21, apparently in two sizes. The cheaper, and perhaps smaller, ones were the "2 dosen," at £0-13-0. The slightly more costly were the "3 dosen," at £1-2-6.294 Wooddrop was an associate of Thomas Rutter (d. 1730), the "father of the iron industry in Pennsylvania.295 Cheaper till locks were also purchased from Jon [John] Copson, on 10/14/23, at £0-3-0, described as "To : 24 Loks plain Till."296 What Head meant by "plain" is unclear. Also, he gave no further description of the others. Head appears not to have sold any of his till locks in bulk until late in his career. On 8/1/45, Thomas Maule was debited £1-0-0, "To - 2 dosen of Till Loks." Maule also was debited £1-13-0, on 3/1/47, "To - 28 drawer loks and som Kies [keys]."297 As by this period any furniture sales had ceased to be recorded, he may no longer have had a need to stock so many till and drawer locks.

Most of the undescribed locks which Head purchased were at a shilling apiece.298 They were cheaper by the dozen.299 Edmund Woolley's "6 Loks", debited at £0-6-0, on 5/23/23, were probably for the £10-0-0 "Chest of drawers & Table Charytrewood" he purchased on that same date.300 Without seeing those two pieces, however, it is impossible to know on which drawers these locks were mounted. By comparison, the "Chest of drawers and a Chamber Table," which by tradition were made for the marriage of Caspar Wistar and Catherine Johnson, and may be the ones debited to his account, on 4/14/26, have key holes in their hardware to accommodate four locks. Three are on the three large drawers of the high chest's three-over-three drawer configuration. The fourth is on the central of the three drawers of the dressing table.301

James Cooper was debited only £0-3-0, "To 3 Loks & 3 scuchens [escutcheons] & puten [putting them] on."302 These were thus cheaper locks than those supplied Woolley. A cupboard lock was slightly more expensive, as Head charged Edward Williams, £0-1-6, "To a Lok for a Coberd." Thomas Canby was debited £2-10-0, "To an oval Table with two Loks." Josier [Josiah] Foster was debited £3-2-0, "To a Chest of Drawers & a Loke." That was probably for one of the standard £3-0-0 chests with the extra two shillings for the lock. A "Chest Lok" cost Maule £0-2-0.303 As this is twice as much as the shilling locks which accompanied Woolley's chest and chamber table, the locks for Foster and Maule may have been something either larger or more elaborate.

There was good reason to have locks on cupboards and table drawers and other places where food was kept. Attempts to domesticate the raccoon had failed in one vital respect: "[I]t is impossible to make it leave off stealing....Sugar and other sweet things must be carefully hidden from it, for if the chests and boxes are not always locked up, it gets into them, eats the sugar, and licks up the treacle with its paws...."304

Some locks were even more costly, and may therefore have been meant for other purposes than mounting on furniture. Mary Davis sold Head "2 : Loks," at £0-11-0, and another two, probably smaller or simpler, at £0-10-0. Head also credited Isaac Shute £0-1-6, "To a Hors Loke," on 7/15/25.305 Even second-hand locks had some value. Head appears to have given Richard Blakham £0-2-6 credit for "an ould lok, on 7/8/44.306

Not every lock may have needed a key. Head sometimes may be using the term lock to mean fastener. Thus, the £0-2-6, which Abram Cox was charged, on 7/9/22, "To 8 loks & 2 scrws [bed bolts?]," may have been to secure the "Comperst Rods [arched tester]" to the "Cornish" and "Badstad," which he had ordered from Head that same date. Other types of fasteners included the "Six Staples," which cost Samuel Asp £0-1-6, on 4/8/30, the same date he purchased his "Badstad" and "Comparst Curtin Road [arched curtain tester] and 2 scrues [bed bolts?]."307

Only one locksmith is identified by Head. "Ladwik Sipel the Dutch Loksmith" appears to have done no work for Head, as no credits appear on the contra page of his account. Head, however, supplied Sipel. In addition to 42 bushels of lime, Sipel was debited £4-17-0, on 1/30/43, "To - 3=0=26 pound of Iron;" and £3-7-6, on 2/15/43, "To - 2=1=0 pound of Iron."308 The first iron order was gotten through John Leacock, whose account was credited in the same amount, on the same date, for a like quantity.309 John Ludwick Seipel advertised the sale of his "Commodious brick house, conveniently built, with other additional tenements thereon, between William Branson's and John Kampher's, in the Northern Liberties of this city, containing in front 20 feet and 120 feet deep, at the lock smith's sign, in Second Street...."310

Head used and dealt in a variety of hinges. He purchased pairs of "Buts [butt hinges]" from William Branson, paying £0-6-0, "To 6 payr Buts," and £0-10-0, "To on[e] dosen small Buts."311 Branson's iron works were at Reading Furnace.312 Among the joint hinges he bought were "3 payer Bras Joynts," from Andrew Duche [Duché], at £0-6-0. Clockmaker William Stretch was credited £0-3-6, "To a payer Clock Cas Joynts," the same price Head later credited Peter Stretch, "By a payer of Inges." Hinges with hooks were bought in large quantities. Abraham Kinzing, for example, was credited £0-4-7, "By 5 pound and 1/2 of hooks & Inges."313

Dressing table on turned legs
Fig. 12: Dressing table on turned legs
Fig. 12a: Detail of peened drops and an escutcheon

Chalfant Collection
Miniature chest of drawers on five legs with peened drops and an escutcheon
Fig. 13: Miniature chest of drawers on five legs with peened drops and an escutcheon

Formerly in the collection of the late Robert Simpson Stuart
The earliest recorded hardware pulls acquired by Head were the "7 dosen & 1/2 drops & scuchens [escutcheons]," for which he credited William Branson £1-8-1 1/2, on 9/30/21.
314 Drops and escutcheons were a popular choice of hardware on the earliest Philadelphia furniture, such as those shown on the drawers of a trumpet-turned leg, cross stretchered dressing table [figs. 12, 12a], and a miniature chest of drawers on frame [fig. 13]. The drops were secured with a a cotter pin, inserted through a hole in the escutcheon and then peened onto the back of the drawer front. Contemporaneous with drops were handles, which eventually supplanted them. Jon [John] Copson, on 4/6/24, was credited £0-2-4, "To on dosen scuchens;" and £0-8-0, "To: 2 Dosen handles." 315 At first, the handles, too, were peened through the drawer fronts with cotter pins. At some point, cotter pins disappeared in favor of the sides of the handles fitting into threaded posts, which could be inserted through holes in the drawer fronts, and be held fast by nuts.316 Perhaps, Head may have been referring to that kind, when he recorded selling "2 Screu Handles," to Bangman Rods [Benjamin Rhoads?], on 10/18/20, at £0-1-0.317

Indicative of the high activity of Head's cabinetmaking business was his hardware-buying binge in 1726. Pewterer Simond Hagal or Edgal [Simon Edgell] was credited "To : 4 : dosen & 1/2 of drops and scuchens" [4/11/26, £0-13-6]; "To : 3 dosen of drops & scuchens" [4/14/26, £0-15-0]; "To - 27 drops and scuchens" [4/18/26, £0-10-1 1/2];" and "To 4 dosen Cofen scrues" [8/14/26, £0-4-0]."318 Thus, in addition to his pewter business, Edgell seems to also have had a thriving business in decorative brasses and other hardware for furniture. This makes sense, given that Edgell left 1,183 pounds of brass moulds.319 John Whit & Abram Tailor [Taylor?] were credited "To : six dosen of drops [4/12/26, £0-15-0]." Boulah [Beulah] Coates was credited "To : 9 : dosen of handles & scuchens" [5/2/26, £2-0-6], in what appears to be the last order for this type of hardware that Head placed. Beulah Coates (d. 1741), the widow of Thomas Coates (d. 1719), was said to have been a "woman of considerable business ability."320

On 7/15/27, Head sold Thomas Linley, "Ten drops and 5 scuchens," at £0-5-0.321 Thereafter, the only pulls which might have used for furniture, that Head recorded buying, were knobs. On 1/16/32, he credited £1-19-0, to Andrew Duche [Duché], "By - 19 dosen and 1/2 of Bras knobs."322 Head's last sale of pulls, to Thomas Maule, on 8/1/45, at £0-7-0, "To - 2 dosen of handles & scuchons," as with his other quantity sales of hardware to Maule, may indicate that Head had exited the cabinetmaking business.323

Illustrative of the tricky footing on which any interpretation of Head's phonetic spellings often stand, is his 8/30/31 credit entry of £0-0-10, to Lawrence Boore's account, "By Buter & scuches." As it is unlikely that Head was ordering his escutcheons slathered in butter, an alternate translation yields a more palatable result: "butterscotches."324

4. Wooden Furniture Components.

Whatever wooden panels Head required, he probably constructed in his shop. There is only one instance recorded, in which Head got panels from someone else. On 12/24/20, he received "6 paneles" delivered by a "Joseph Colman," for which £0-2-6 was credited to the account of Joseph _____[Colman?].325 There is no indication of whether Head utilized these panels in furniture or in interior construction of one of his houses.

Head also credited Andrew Duché £0-9-0, "By four dosen and 1/2 of nobs" [3/7/31], and £1-4-0, "By one gros[s] dit[t]o" [6/25/31]. These were probably used as drawer pulls on drawers not requiring more elaborate hardware. Head also sold specialized knobs. Thus, John Nicholas "To 24 nobs for mops [maps]" was debited £0-4-0 [4/22/24].326

Head sold "60 Bad [bed] Pags" each, at £0-2-6 per lot, to Joseph Cooper Junor [Jr.], on 8/18/27, and to Benjamin Clark, on 10/22/29. They were probably used in the rails of Head's bedsteads to secure the ropes underneath the mattress. Other pegs were sold in strips. Jon Loyd [John Lloyd?] was debited £0-3-0, on 9/20/23, "to : 18 pags in Strips," and £0-6-0, on 5/7/30, "to 5 pags in a strip." These may have been for hanging of clothes and would have been mounted on walls at entries or inside any closets.327

B. Tools.

Franklin quipped: "It is still ill Jesting with the Joiner's Tools, worse with the Doctor's."328 Arriving from England as an adult, Head probably brought over many of his own tools. Few of the entries show purchase of tools from others. As it has been observed that there has been "little investigation...[of] the cabinetmaker's source of supply of furniture hardware and tools,"329 it is informative to note that Head credited: William Branson "To on Grin Ston;" Mary Davis "To 10 Gimblits [gimlets]" and "To 2 hatchits;" and George Kellay [Kelley] "By a payer of hand Irons."330 Tools for which Head may have had duplicates or no longer wished to use, were debited to others: Barnabas Talbot got "a hand saw;" Thos. [Thomas] McClellan "a Tenant [tenoned] Saw;" Jon Loyd [John Lloyd?] "a Grinston;" John & Arnol[d] Cassell [Cassel] "a Hamer dd [delivered] by Mary Davis;" John Nicholas "a moulding plain" and "four Sawes;" and Robert Webb "a marken Iron."331

Utensils made from "curled Maple" were described as "preferable to those made of any other sort of wood in the country, and much dearer than those made of the wood of the wild cherry trees.... But the most valuable utensils were those made of curled black walnut."332 The "moulding plain" may have been made of beech, a "wood...reckoned very good for making joiner's planes of." Such planes were also sometimes made of laurel.333 Even after Head ceased sales of furniture, in 1744, he appears to have kept some tools. He credited John Rouse £0-2-0, for "Stelen a Chisel," in 1745; and Thomas Maul [Maule] £0-18-9, on 7/20/46, "By sundres Tools and other thing agreed for."334

C. Shop Activities.

1. "To varnishen;" "To...Blakit And varnishit;" & Staining.

Looking glass
Fig. 14: Looking glass

Chalfant Collection
High chest on turned legs
Fig. 15: High chest on turned legs
Fig. 15a: Detail of turned legs and flat stretchers

Chalfant Collection
Head's finishes included varnishing, such as "mending a Looking Glass & varnishen," for which he charged John Mocombs Junor [McComb, Jr.]. An early looking glass with a brace added between its two glasses is shown [fig. 14]. In connection with a bedstead sold Abram Cox, Head charged £0-4-0, "To 2 posts Blakit And varnishit," and £0-10-0, "Cornish [cornice] Blakit & varnishit." Head also did staining, such as "To a Tray & Staining : 4 Lags [legs]," for Sary Dimsdild [Sarah Dimsdale], one of his customers across the Delaware River.

2. "To Turning".

There are a few entries in Head's book, and in loose papers inside it, to his debiting others for turning furniture parts, including two bedposts, a table frame, "five ledges [legs] for a Chest of drawers," and four other legs. Most of his turning was of small objects, "Pags [pegs]," "a [k]nob," "Two peses of wood," " a handle and nob [finial] for a tee pot," and a "Nosel for a pomp [pump nozzle]."336 Of those entries, the table frame and the five legs for the chest of drawers are the most interesting. Both orders were debited to Joseph Chatam [Chatham], a fellow joiner who, together with Thomas Maule, was later to appraise the inventory of Head's estate.337 A five-legged chest of drawers, presuming it had no sixth, would have looked something like a surviving miniature [fig. 13].338 The usual configuration on Philadelphia high chests was six legs [figs. 15, 15a]; whereas arched-front dressing tables had four, pendants visually substituting for the "missing" inner front legs [fig. 12]. Chair-turning, a specialized field, Head left to chairmakers. One of them, Alexander Forman [Foreman] also turned some tables for Head.339

3. "To framen."

Another aspect of Head's business was the framing of pictures and maps. He had many customers for this service: Alexander Wooddrop, James Steel, John Mocombs Junor [McComb, Jr.], Joseph Prichard, Thomas Wells, and Thomas Masters Junor [Jr.]. His prices varied according to the size of the job. Head was doing the work of framing, as on some occasions he debited Wooddrop to "framen" or "framin" maps, at £0-3-0. At another time, he appears just to be selling the frames themselves, as Prichard was charged only £0-18-0, "To : 12 : picttur frams." Head debited separately for knobs used in connection with hanging. Thus, John Nicholas was debited £0-4-0, "To 24 nobs for mops [maps]," on 4/22/24.340

4. "To mending."

As would be expected from a craftsman starting out in a new community, Head took in a great deal of mending work in his earliest entries. But this also continued sporadically thereafter, presumably because Head was repairing furniture which he had sold. Head mended a diverse range of items.

Oval gate-leg table
Fig. 16: Oval gate-leg table
Fig. 16a: Detail of skirt and frame

Chalfant Collection
Most frequently repaired were tables, probably oval ones, as this was the form of table of which Head had sold the most. With heavy wooden leaves supported on turned frames with swinging gates, these were probably subject to a lot of "wear and tear," as their gates were opened and shut, and their leaves swung up and down [figs. 16, 16a]. While Head usually entered simple entries for mending, such as "To mending a table," he occasionally provided additional useful information. Thus, he mended a "Sader [cedar]" table for James Steel, on 3/22/32; and a "Walnut" one for Peter Stretch, on 10/22/39. His charge of £0-4-6 to Mary Parker Sanor [Mary Parker, the Elder], on 10/25/22, included other furniture, "To mend loking Glas & Tabel & a Stand." The charge of £0-4-0 to Mary Snad Saner [Mary Sneed, the Elder], on 5/13/23, included "maken a drawer," either for one that was lost or as a retrofit.

Head mended "duch table[s]" on three occasions, each for a shilling. Once for Alexander Wooddrop, and twice for Thomas Masters Junor [Jr.]. The first repair for Masters must have been minor, as he included mending a "Cane Chayer." The second was "To maken a foot for a Duch Table."342 What Head may be referencing is a "dutch settle," which is "a wooden bench whose back may be tipped forward to form a table."343 If these tables were, in fact, "dutch settles," they too could have readily sustained damage as their settle portion was tilted back and forth in the process of converting them to table use. Probably few of them came into Head for repair for two reasons. First, they were still sturdier than the ovals tables with their hinged, drop leaves, and lighter turned bases. Second, there were probably fewer of them around. It would today be considered a rare form in Philadelphia.344

Hornor's earliest precise date for a tea table being in Philadelphia is for the "Standing Tea Table," owned by Joseph Redman in 1732. The earliest mention of the term "tea table" in the Pennsylvania Gazette was also not until that year. But the Head account book establishes that a tea table was in Philadelphia at least a decade earlier, as Head mended one in 1721: Alexander Wooddrop was charged £0-3-0, on 6/26/21, "To mending a Tee table." 345

Stool with turned legs
Fig. 17: Stool with turned legs

Mones Collection
Head supplied tops for various tables, including one to Edward Williams, at £0-3-6, on 3/18/20; and one for "a pine Table" to William Clar [Clare], at £0-2-6, on 12/14/28. He also provided "Tops for two Sto[o]ls" to Phillip Johns, at £0-6-0, on 4/13/27, in whose tavern the stools may have undergone heavy use.
346 A rare surviving example of a turned leg stool is one in walnut, which has its original top [fig. 17]. It was clearly not among those abused at Johns's tavern.

Head's next most frequent repair was to looking glasses, as would be expected for something so fragile. James Logan was importing great quantities of looking glasses from England in this period.347 Head's Front Street competitor, "Lambert Emerson, Joyner, ...at the Sign of the Looking-Glass," advertised himself as a "Looking-Glass Maker," thus showing that not all were imported.348 One of Logan's customers, Barnard Eaglesfield, bought from him "Looking Glasses for 1 doz[en] 18/ 1 doz[en] £1-16-0," on 8/3/26. Eaglesfield also had an account with Head under the name "Barni Eagelsfield." He had earlier purchased from Head "20 : Bras [k]nobs," at £0-4-2, on 4/13/24. Like the "24 nobs for mops [maps]," purchased a week later, on 4/22/24, by John Nicholas, at £0-4-0, these may have been meant to support fragile items hung on walls, like looking glasses.349 Head mended seven looking glasses for six customers.350

High chest on cabriole legs and trefoil motif in skirt
Fig. 18: High chest on cabriole legs with Spanish feet and trefoil motif in skirt

Mones Collection
Chests of drawers also came in for repair with some regularity during the 1720s. This is not surprising. The high chests of that period, like the Wistar/Morris and Richardson ones, had the full weight of their two case sections supported by a frame of six turned legs that were tenoned into the four corners of the dovetailed base section and secured with corner blocks.
351 Head and his competitors, recognizing the inherent weakness of such design, further stabilized the legs with flat stretchers just above their feet. Illustrative of the turned leg and flat stretcher construction of this period are two walnut high chests of drawers [figs. 7, 15, 15a] and a walnut dressing table [fig. 12]. This design was later discarded in favor of cabriole legs, the tops of which were extended and such extensions mortised into the lower case section at each of the four corners. Illustrative of the cabriole leg, mortised design is a curled walnut high chest of drawers on ankleted Spanish feet [fig. 18].

One challenge of future research on the Head account book will be to attempt to determine when Head may have introduced such new design to his own high chests. It is clear that Head's customers were coming in for frame problems. Abram Cox was charged £0-10-0, on 3/23/23, "To mending a frame of a Chest of drawers." So did [n]emier Alen [Nehemiah Allen], who was debited £0-7-0, on 10/14/23. Thomas Masters Junor [Jr.] may not have had so great a problem, as he was charged only £0-2-6, on 10/14/23, "To mending a Chest of drawers," with nothing more explicit noted. Two other customers had more extensive work done, and may have paid to have their chests of drawers given an updated look with new brasses. Thomas Radman Sanor [Sr.] paid £0-10-0, on 5/11/24, "To mending a Sader Chest of Drawers With drops & scuchens [escutcheons] And Sader." Thomas Williams was charged the same, on 2/10/29, "To 10 handles and 5 scuchens & mending his drawers." The "Chamber Table" mended for John Coster, and debited at £0-3-6, on 7/10/37, although unstated, may have also come in for frame repair, if constructed the same as the earlier high chests.352

Other forms mended by the Head shop included Sarah Griscom's "Badstad;" a "Book Case" for Thomas Masters Junor [Jr.]; boxes for Abram Cox and Nathanal Nathaniel Pool; three clockcases for Peter Stretch and one for Daniel Harrison; cradles for Cox, Pool, Paul Preston and Thomas Todd; a "Couch [daybed]" for John Mocombs Junor [McComb, Jr.]; a "Scre[e]n" for Pool; a "Stand" for Mary Parker Sanor [Sr.]; eleven picture frames for Thomas Wells; desks for William Wallas and Joseph Cooper; and "To Botomen [putting a bottom on] a Box" for James Steel.353 The "Scre[e]n," mended for Pool, at a cost of four pence, may have been a fire screen.354

D. Seating Furniture Supplied By Others and Sold Through Head's Shop.

Patricia Kane has observed that "[t]he date for the introduction of the [slat-back chair] style into Philadelphia is difficult to determine." Joseph K. Kindig III, agreed that "it is difficult to establish the earliest date for this form popular throughout the Delaware Valley," dating neither of his illustrated examples prior to 1735. Beatrice Garvan found "the craftsmen who made these chairs...elusive in manuscript records...."355 Head's account book helps fills the void. It records and traces the chair transactions of several Philadelphia turners and joiners of the first third of the 18th century, many previously unknown as chairmakers.

A useful introduction to the chair transactions in the Head account book, is the ledger of Philadelphia chairmaker Solomon Fussell. The Fussell ledger, which first came to public attention in 1916, combines an account book and daybook.356 It records that Fussell made seating furniture, mostly inexpensive slat-back chairs. The chairs had rush bottoms and were constructed of turned maple, including "backs," i.e., or stiles, between which two to six "slats" were horizontally inserted. The chairs were sold unfinished, stained, or painted. His most popular chair was the three-slat, which cost 3 shillings. Prices thereafter rose at a shilling per slat. His most expensive was the 6-slat chair at 6 shillings. Fussell also made chairs with joined frames and splat-backs, but these were priced higher than slat-backs, initially at 7 shillings and, by 1748, at 12 shillings. That same year, Fussell sold even more expensive chairs: walnut chairs with leather bottoms at £1-0-0, and mahogany chairs at £2-10-0.357

Unfortunately, the Fussell ledger is limited in its surviving scope, as only its second volume, covering 1738-1751, remains. The earliest entry is dated July 2, 1738. While Head's account book contains only some thirty-five entries on seating furniture, pertaining to about one hundred "Chayers" and a few "Couch[es]," its timeframe is both earlier and longer: 1723-1742. Another limitation of the Fussell ledger is that it is focused, understandably, on the production of one chairmaking enterprise, his own. By contrast, Head, a middleman, recorded transactions with at least seven different chairmakers. In an era of less liquidity, these chairmakers may have been more dependent on selling their wares through a viable intermediary, such as Head, who could dependably and expeditiously barter their chairs for cash or for other needed goods.

Slat-back chair with four slats Banester-back armchair with carved arch seat Slat-back chair with five slats, cyma-curved on top
Fig. 19: Slat-back chair with four slats

Chalfant Collection
Fig. 20: Banester-back armchair with carved arch seat

Chalfant Collection
Fig. 21: Slat-back chair with five slats, cyma-curved on top

Chalfant Collection

Many of the chairs sold by Head may have been slat-back chairs. While there is only one direct reference in his account book, "To : Six Chayers : 4 slats," there is other circumstantial evidence.358 No other chair is mentioned by type. Most of Head's chairs were sold in lots of six, a quantity typically recorded for slat-back chairs in 18th century probate inventories.359 Head's chair prices also are close to what Fussell was charging for his slat-back chairs. Head's prices were not sufficiently dear to be for "chairs of the genteelest kind, [which] were of mahogany or red walnut...[but probably] were of rush bottoms, and made of maple posts and slats, with high backs and perpendicular."360 A maple four-slat chair with flattened ball and wafer finials [fig. 19] may have been like the four-slat chairs Head sold.

That chairmaker Solomon Cresson charged Head a shilling, on 10/6/28, "To Botomen one Chayer," is inconclusive.361 That entry may or may not refer to a rush seat. Even if it did, rush seats were not exclusive to slat-back chairs. Fussell used them on his splat-back, joined chairs. They are also found on some chairs with banester-backs, i.e., backs composed of vertical elements wider than spindles.362 A surviving banester-back maple armchair has a crest and banesters of white cedar [fig. 21]. (Its original rush seat has been replaced, an expected circumstance given its age.) While it is always possible that some of Head's chairs may have been banester-back chairs, the latter were somewhat dated by the time of his latest entries.

None of Head's chairs were indicated as being made to accommodate slipseats. Such chairs were priced much higher than any in his book. E.g., the "Eight Walnut fram'd Chairs blue Damsk Bottoms...£12-0-0," in the 1754 inventory of Head's neighbor, carpenter Edward Warner.363

There is the slim, but intriguing possibility that some of the last chairs sold by Head may have been Windsors. That form, which was to become ubiquitous in the latter half of the century, is documented in 1740s Philadelphia advertisements, probate inventories, and a bill.364 Arguing against Head's chairs being Windsors is that the probate valuations for Windsor chairs were generally higher than the prices which Head obtained for his most expensive chairs.365

Head's principal chair supplier was Solomon Crison [Cresson]. Each was a good customer of the other.366 In return for the furniture sold him, Head took in chairs from Cresson, crediting them to his account. This may have enabled Head to sell Cressson more furniture than he might have otherwise. It also afforded Head a welcome medium of exchange. Head could readily sell Cresson's chairs to his customers, who required seating for the oval tables, chamber tables, and desks they were buying from Head. A further advantage to Head was that the more chairs that were sold to his customers, particular for use in different rooms, the greater their need of additional case pieces from Head. Secondary sources of chairs for Head were Alexander Forman [Foreman], John Hudson, John Hugoford, Caleb Ransted [Ranstead],367 and Bangman Troter [Benjamin Trotter] (1699-1768).368

All six of these chairmakers have been nearly as elusive to scholarly inquiry as John Head. None is mentioned in the authorities on early American seating furniture, cited above. Nor was anything previously known of the specific types of chairs they produced. In many instances, it was not known whether they produced chairs, at all. Hornor provides no information on Hugoford or Ranstead, and little more on the rest. Solomon Cresson is listed as a "chair-maker and turner, arrived in 1696."369 Alexander Foreman is described as a "turner, freeman 1717; documentary reference August 4, 1718."370 Hudson is a "Chair-maker and turner; documentary reference, 1715 and 1718, freeman 1717.371 Hornor, based on Trotter's estate inventory, states that: "Benjamin Trotter in 1768 provided himself with a 'Quantity of (maple) Chair Rounds.'"372 Trotter's inventory lists six walnut leather bottom chairs, 17 rush bottom chairs (two lots of six, and one of five), two leather bottom ones, and "1 Windsor Chair."373 But, "no actual records have been found to show what he charged for his chairs."374

Of the over seventy-five chairs debited to Head's clients between 1723-1742, none appear to have been made by Head's shop. No chairs are among his few charges for turning furniture parts, which included two bedposts, a table frame, five legs for a chest of drawers, and four other legs.375

Head invariably debited chairs to his clients at the same prices at which he credited his suppliers. Thus, Head took no profit from chairs per se. He may have offered them as an inducement or accommodation to customers considering the purchase of oval tables. Not coincidentally were most of the chairs priced in lots of six. Six chairs would have been an ideal number with which to encircle most of Head's oval tables, when in use. Head's first chair sale was of "6 : Blak Chayers," debited to Thomas Hill, on 2/22/23, at £1-10-0, an order soon followed by Hill's purchase of an "oval table : 5 fot Bad [5-foot board]," on 5/24/23, at £3-0-0.376 Indicative of consistency of price over time are the "six Blak Chairs," which Caleb Ransted [Ranstead] sold to Head on 7/9/29, which also cost only £1-10-0 at the end of the decade.377

When not in use, the six chairs could stand against the wall, flanking other case pieces in the room, available to be moved for use at a desk or other table. This type of chair would have looked appropriate wherever used. Its turnings [figs. 19, 21, 22] would have complemented those on the frames of Head's tables, as well as those on Head's on-frame case pieces, such as desks-on-frame, and his chamber tables with matching chests of drawers. Perhaps it was for one or more of these reasons that Bangman [Benjamin] Moore couldn't resist buying three of Head's £5-10-0 chests of drawers and two lots of six chairs.378

Slat-back chair with five slats, boldly turned legs and stretcher, and cyma-curved skirt Detail of cyma-curved skirt of large oval gate-leg table
Fig. 22: Slat-back chair with five slats, boldly turned legs and stretcher, and cyma-curved skirt
Fig. 22a: Detail of cyma-curved skirt and bold turnings

Chalfant Collection
Fig. 23: Detail of cyma-curved skirt of large oval gate-leg table

Chalfant Collection
As in some of the more undulating designs of the period, if the tops of the slats [figs. 21, 21a] or the bottoms of the chairs' applied skirts [figs. 22, 22a] were cyma-curved -- i.e., indented in the middle and sloping either side -- then they would have echoed the type of symmetrically scrolled facings often seen on the skirts of oval tables [
figs. 16a, 23] and used by Head on the base mouldings of his clockcases [figs. 5, 5c]. Cyma-curved base mouldings are also seen on desks, scrutoires, chests-on-chests, and other clockcases of the period.379 While some of these may also come to be attributed to Head's shop, the cyma curve was generally popular and, without corroborating evidence of construction, is not conclusive to attribute all such furniture to his shop.

Most of Head's chairs were sold six at a time, at £1-10-0 the lot. All at that price probably had five-slat backs, as John Hudson got only £1-7-0, on 1/18/26, "To : Six Chayers : 4 slats," the cheaper of the lots sold to Bangman [Benjamin] Moore, on 3/23/26. The least expensive lot transacted by Head was one of six sold at £1-5-6, perhaps with three-slat backs, for which Solomon Cresson was credited on 1/8/42. Head promptly resold these to Mary Street on 1/12/42. The least expensive chair, and the only single sold, was that for which Cresson charged Head £0-3-0, on 9/25/41. The £1-18-0 for a lot of six, that Cresson charged Head, on 8/16/41, could have been for 6-slat chairs, a rare type.380 Fussell's prices were, comparable to those charged by the chairmakers who supplied Head's customers.381

With Cresson, Foreman, Hudson, Ranstead and Trotter regularly charging £1-10-0 for six chairs, their trade must have adopted a fixed price for chairs of that standard type. Such circumstantial evidence of trade practices is valuable, as no Philadelphia price books survive for this era.

Larger lots of chairs were occasionally sold, perhaps to better accommodate those oval tables sold in larger sizes or in twos. Cresson supplied "8 Chayers" on 6/24/31 at £1-18-0.382 The "13 Chayers" debited to Richard Hains [Haines?] on 4/16/25 at £2-11-6 came from Alexander Foreman, who was credited for that number on 4/26/25. This order may have been composed of three-slat chairs. Or it may show that chairs ordered by the "Baker's dozen" were cheaper than chairs bought in lesser quantities. Twelve four-slat chairs purchased as two lots of six would ordinarily have cost more, £2-14-0, and five-slat chairs even more, £3-0-0. "Thirteen Chayers" were also ordered by Thomas Branson, but at greater expense, £3-5-0, on 3/26/26. Branson's order may have been for a dozen of the five-slat chairs, at £3-0-0 (double the price of a lot of six), with an extra £0-5-0 charged for an armchair. Cresson was credited £1-17-6 on 9/2/27, "By Six Chayers and one Alber [elbow] chayer." If the sidechairs were Cresson's standard six at £1-10-0, then this armchair cost £0-7-6. Armchairs were expensive, as they were broader and required carving the arms and fitting them into the rear posts. 383 Head's own probate inventory, now lost, shows him as retaining fourteen rush bottom chairs, which his fellow joiners Thomas Maule and Joseph Chatham valued at three pounds two shillings.384

Head also bought two "Couch[es]," or daybeds, from Solomon Cresson, only one of which he sold. Head may have kept the other. While Head did not record making any couches himself, he mended one and provided a "Couch Hide" for another.385

[ Foreword ][ Section 1-2 ][ Section 3-4 ][ Section 5-9 ][ Section 10-10d ][ Section 10e-Conclusion ]
[ The Account Book as Artifact ][ Acknowledgments ]
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