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Shield Back Side Chair
Materials: mahogany; oak
Dimensions: 91.4 × 52.1 × 41.9 (36 × 20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Owner: Mr. and Mrs. Robert Carter and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Accession Number: 1955-30-1/8; 1958-16; 1987-26
Historical Notes: Ten side chairs, possibly of a set of twelve, were used in the Dining Room at Monticello. Jefferson probably acquired them in New York during the spring of 1790 for his house on Maiden Lane. His household goods from Paris had not yet arrived, and he needed to furnish his residence. Jefferson made purchases from both New York and Philadelphia merchants while as secretary of state he resided in these temporary United States capitals between 1790 and 1793, but his expenditures in New York outnumbered those in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, he anticipated the forthcoming arrival of his vast household inventory and thus would not have wished to duplicate what he already owned.
Jefferson purchased two sets of shield-back chairs from two different unidentified makers. The designs for these chairs were influenced by Plate 5 of George Hepplewhite's The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide. The interpretation of this design varied.1 Jefferson's set had pointed shield bottoms and square, tapered legs supported by stretchers. The seats were originally upholstered over the rail and tacked in a swag pattern.
Placed in the Dining Room at Monticello, the chairs were terribly worn by 1814.
On looking around the room in which we sat the first thing that attracted our attention was the state of the chairs. They had leather bottoms stuffed with hair, but the bottoms were completely worn through and the hair sticking out in all directions.2
The poor condition of most of the chairs prevented their inclusion in the Dispersal Sale in 1827. The chairs were retained by the family; nine of the ten known chairs descended in the family of Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The tenth descended through Benjamin Franklin Randolph to the Carter family of Redlands in Albemarle County.
- Text from Stein, Worlds, 271
- 1. Charles Montgomery illustrates two (cat. no. 87 and 88) in American Furniture: The Federal Period in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (New York: Bonanza Books, 1978), 139-40.
- 2. Francis Calley Gray, in Peterson, Visitors, 57.