A roller coaster ride through mid 18th Century Philadelphia 

I remember sitting on the London Tube getting across town to Liverpool Street Station to meet my girlfriend  (who became Mrs G) while reading the London Evening News. In the arts and book section was a review of a new publication called Manchester United Ruined My Life by Colin   Shindler.

As a Manchester City supporter thanks to my departed father, I to read it which was very well written about the ups and downs of City fan.

This book has somewhat  faded in my memory but it got me thing about the last 3.5 years of my life.

What started out as a phone call between friends with a interest and passion for period antique furniture could eventually take us on a roller coaster ride of highs to the lows which Shindler also talks about.

How can a object in this case a four poster bed corse the sea sickness of emotions on a journey trying to understand and workout the manufacturer, materials and its history as well as working out some anomalies and mechanics not found throughout English production in the Georgian period.

My connection to this project is from the start unlike my normal restoration jobs which are pieces generally made for the practical domestic market of the 18th &early 19th Century which have very little or no need for research.  This was very different because this piece was found, examined, bought and then restored which opened  up this to me a new road  of discovery and hard nocks communicating with experts who know nothing of me or my background skills.

I have just had the privilege to read my article in the forth coming Mortise and Tenon Magazine in USA which takes you through the hole story as if in our shoes.

The M&T Magazine team are a very exciting and passion group who want to bring everyone to the table when it comes to learning & understanding American furniture history and constructing/manufacturing.

From the cabinetmaker -restorer -conservator- curator -the Student of furniture and then the experts come scholars to open up listen by  share old and new knowledge and finding which will shed light on furniture which had been put to one side.

My article is this journey about a bed made for John and Elizabeth Cadwalader and how like Shindler we all have a passion  and with me its Antique Furniture and  finding this John Cadwalader bed has it  ruin my life Yes in someways from frustrations of being on the wrong side of the pond but also has made me more determined to get a platform to speak . 

Mortise and Tenon Magazine a recommended read for all students of American Furniture.


The Philadelphia connection 

Something has always puzzled me about carved decoration found on a number of the very best period Philadelphia mahogany furniture which have been made between a 10 year period of 1760-70.

What has court my eye is a simple circles which have been lightly  carved out by probably the carver using a small gouge.

There really is nothing strange about them as they’ve  blend in with the other caving but i have found very little research on them and why,  as they are not found on every piece of carved mid 18th century Philly furniture but seem to be on the most expensive..

They seem not to be found on any other furniture mades and  carved from other East Coast States of this period.

John & Elizabeth Cadwalader bed

First piece that came to my attention was when I was restoring the damaged polish  of all the showwood  from the John Cadwalader bed ( photo 2). 

Showing a section from the front carving while removing the bad polish

We noticed the circular carving, each one is different showing they have been executed free hand and placed in the sunk parts of the canopy eg the concave section at the top scolap areas but we could not find at the time a connection but now after 3 and 1/2 years of research by myself and Ian Coulson this circling with the other physical evidence is drawing me to the the fact that this bed was made in Philadelphia in late 1768-9.

The image below got me to look at it twice when I was reading Wallace Nutting VOL III of Furniture Treasury

 This drawing was taken from a Philadelphia piece of furniture but this too had the circular marks also in set  on  the concave sections. While going through the book i came across another Philadelphia furniture which had making too.

Both drawing got me looking at the bed again and its real connection to America at a time of some of the best Rococo furniture.

Now i have started looking into this more deeply by looking at the known piece but a large number of Auctioneers catalogues online or hard back and museums collections show great images but not good enough to see this finer details like the ones below

I am looking to build up the know piece with or without information of the makers and carvers who were involved in furniture making.

Carved canopy in position after restoration

When in Philadelphia late 1760s

Over last nearly 4 years myself and Ian Coulson have been researching this bed which is made of carved mahogany for the footpost and bolt covers.

Over all the bed has been tested with timber analysis and finish examination both have opened up some very interesting finds. (More to come in the new volume of Mortise and Tenon Magazine)

It was  while I was finishing of this article I came across a piece of furniture which has anomaly that has been recorded on a games table in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Winterthur Museum published The Cadwalader Furniture Study  where they researched and finish tested known Cadawalader piece of furniture out of Museums and Private hands.

This study shows the history of each piece through finishes and repairs, it also openes up new findings regarding leg construction method,  one we have not seen in period furniture making in the UK but there findings also found anomaly on the  underside of the Games table  (PMA).

Last weekend after reading a blog form a furniture Conservator regarding proportion which he uses for his reference a bit of furniture which had sold through a leading American Auctioneers.

It came with a impressive write up regarding its connection to a Carver this by the evidence left by his hand skills. It also stated that it was made in Philadelphia by design and execution plus backed  by independent furniture experts.

While looking closely at these fantastic images which included close up detail shots something  court my eye. It was not the fantastic carved decoration to the facade or the way the finish had broken down with age but for a simple photograph taken showing the back and its construction.

Just a few seconds of looking at the image the anomaly jumped out at me.

Why so quickly because i had seen it before first hand which was when we examined the bed at auction and then closer examination when the showwood of the bed was being restored.

This anomaly felt behind by a craftsmen and his tool in the preparation of the timber on the piece taken from the blog is more than likely to be the same timber aa used on the carved removable showwood canopy of the bed. Its shows the same dark staining and light colour orange timber on the edges leaving us to believe that the bed canopy and the piece from the saleroom are from the same workshop in Philadelphia circa late 1766s to 1770.

We can now  add two fully documented bits of furniture connected to Philadelphia and with them add the bed and all its evidence to the fact that all three came from the same workshop.

Research is still on going.

“A Table to Suit”

This is great opportunity to look at a early period tables machinics

In Proportion to the Trouble


In January we had the opportunity to examine a c. 1715 Delaware River Valley dressing table at Christie’s. Furniture historians have been aware of this table since the publication of Wallace Nutting’s Furniture of the Pilgrim Century 1620-1720 in 1921. It was subsequently illustrated as plate 394 in Nutting’s Furniture Treasury, at the time in the collection of Edward C. Wheeler. Jr. of Boston. Two related tables with similar leg and stretcher designs but with the more common three drawer facade are in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Chipstone. I think the cataloged date range is too broad. 1700 would be a very early date for a London version, perhaps 1710-1720 is a more accurate date range.

PMA.1925-69-1 Philadelphia Museum of Art

Table 2

At Christie’s the table shared an alcove with a pair of Philadelphia compassed chairs and was spot-lit like a movie star, which…

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Opinions of Antique Furniture from Photos

It’s been half term week and I have had to entertain one 11 year old daughter who came up with the goods yesterday.

While at school she has been working with The Young Journalist Academy were she had been given hand outs as well as learning how to present a article and be on the radio.

As I had two articles to write yesterday she came to help and put me in the right direction a couple of times which really did help me.

In are modern world we are flooded with images of products which we need so we are told. From the TV our computers or phones to magazine  and news papers and they are everywhere to which we automatically make our opinions.

It’s very easy to find a photo of a antique piece of furniture for research or if you are looking to buy we make a opinion with in seconds before we have done due diligence of physical examining the machinics of that piece.

We don’t judge a book by its cover so we also should not do the same with furniture.

The machinics are the most important eg. What timber has been used 1,2 or 3 different woods?

Is there any restoration, Are the drawers joints sides and bottom all the same.

Are the brass furniture correct or replacement  etc etc.

To make a judgement from a image of the fasard is very dangerous or us as monies or for scholars or historians before they experience first hand the feel, smell and physically everdense of the construction and once there decision is  made you’ll find it very difficult for them to say they made a mistake.

So its important to physical look at the piece, even take your restorer to help you look because if we don’t take care and obsorb before a decision is made you could loose a important piece of history or buy something which has no value.