Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Object Details

Attributed to Robert Harrold (British, American, active 1765-1792)
ca. 1760-1785
United States: New Hampshire: Portsmouth
North American
wood; mahogany; soft maple; eastern white pine
Overall: 37 3/8 in x 22 1/4 in x 18 1/8 in; 94.9325 cm x 56.515 cm x 46.0375 cm
Matthew S. Marsh (1773-1814); by descent in the Williams and Denison families of Stonington, Connecticut; to Esther N. Breed (1905-1987) of Garden City, New York; to her son, Ebenezer Breed; to Sotheby's, New York, Sale 5968, January 24-27, 1990, Lot 1106 (not sold); to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
(Acc. No. 73.46.1) Branded on the bottom of the rear seat rail, "M.S. MARSH."; (Acc. No. 73.46.2) "X" inscribed on shoe and splat
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth R. Giddens, in honor of Clement E. Conger
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Related Objects

Chippendale Mahogany Silver Table

Chippendale Mahogany Silver Table

Harrold, Robert
ca. 1760-1775
wood; mahogany; sabicu; soft maple; eastern white pine
One from a Near Pair of Mahogany Pembroke Tables

One from a Near Pair of Mahogany Pembroke Tables

ca. 1765-1790
wood; mahogany; cherry; birch; hickory; eastern white pine

Object Essay

Although this handsome chair retains a history of ownership in Stonington, Connecticut, it was made in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as part of a set of ten probably commissioned from a local artisan prior to the American Revolution. It belonged to Matthew S. Marsh, a merchant there during the early 19th century. Marsh acquired the chair and a mate, also in the Collection (Acc. No. 73.46.2), and gave them a prominent place in one of his two parlors. They were valued at the substantial sum of £2 each in his estate inventory of 1814, although they were secondhand and then more than thirty years old.1The Collection’s matching chair, Acc. No. 73.46.2, is inscribed with an “X” on the shoe and the splat, indicating that the chairs were part of a set of at least ten. The largest sets listed in Marsh’s inventory are “10 chairs @ 2 [each]” in both the northwest and northeast parlors. Matthew S. Marsh, Inventory, taken August 1, 1814, Docket 8908, Rockingham County Probate Records, Rockingham County Courthouse, Exeter, New Hampshire.

Marsh’s use of a brand to mark the chairs conformed to a common practice in Portsmouth. The city had three major fires between 1802 and 1813, and residents became especially sensitive to that threat and to theft during a fire. At least thirty-six other individuals branded their furniture, presumably to help reclaim objects removed from their homes in such a disaster.2Kaye, 1102.

The design of Marsh’s chairs confirms their Portsmouth origin. The intricate splat configuration matches that of a pair of chairs descending in the Doe family of Rollinsford, New Hampshire, located just ten miles from Portsmouth.3The Doe family chairs, now owned by Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, are nearly identical to this example but lack the carving on the crest. They were sold in 1983 at the auction of the estate of Roger M. Doe of Rollinsford, New Hampshire, and may have belonged originally to Samuel Haven of Portsmouth. The carved leafage on the ears of the crest closely resembles that on an armchair owned in 1832 by George Gains Brewster, a Portsmouth watchmaker.4Jobe and Kaye, no. 119. In addition, numerous Portsmouth chairs feature a related splat pattern, which varies only in the insertion of a circular opening at the base of the splat in place of the diamond and scrollwork seen here.5Ibid., no. 121.

The maker of Marsh’s chairs carefully modeled them on English examples of the 1760s.6Most English precedents for this chair closely resemble the type described in n. 5. Like the china table (see Acc. No. 66.100) and Pembroke table (see Acc. No. 69.17.1) in the Collection, they illustrate the growing popularity of London-inspired designs in Portsmouth.

Brock Jobe

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.