Old porcelain and earthenware, and even old glass, may be skilfully
mended so as almost to pass as whole; and lost parts may be “restored”
to a condition that will leave an object not to be a reproach to one’s
collection. Of course, the collection should entrust such mending and
restoring to the hand of an expert, at least where broken or damaged
pieces are of particular rarity. Probably the famous Portland Vase, now
in the British Museum, is the most remarkable example of mending and
restoring we know of.
This celebrated vase, it will be remembered, was discovered in a
sarcophagus in an ancient tomb not far from the Frascati Road, near
Rome, about the middle of the seventeenth century. From its first
owners, after its discovery, it was known as the Barberini Vase until it
passed from the hands of Sir William Hamilton (who had purchased it for
a thousand pounds) into the possession of the Duchess of Portland.
Thenceforth it was known as the “Portland Vase.”
This vase, which was of a deep, blue-black glass, decorated with
semi-translucent cameo figures of white, cut in relief upon a dark
ground in a truly marvelous manner, was one day dashed to pieces in 1845
by a crank named Lloyd, a visitor to the museum. Fortunately the
hundreds of fragments were immediately gathered up and placed in the
hands of the official restorer, a Mr. Doubleday, who accomplished the
remarkable feat, aided by an engraving of the vase by Cipriani and
Bartolozzi in 1786, and especially by a remarkable copy of the vase
which Josiah Wedgwood had made.
Fifty such copies were originally made for subscribers at fifty guineas
each, and all were disposed of. These first copies are among the rarest
and loveliest examples of Wedgwood’s wares. As the original molds
survived, recent copies have been made, with black and also with
dark-blue grounds. While Wedgwood’s copies were remarkable ceramic
achievements, they may seem to lack the intrinsic beauty of the original
material, but they are pleasing and fine in themselves.
At the sale, in 1786, of the antiques and curios collected by the
Duchess of Portland, her son, then duke, was present in the auction
room as a bidder. Wedgwood was bidding on the Portland Vase and the
price went soaring up. Finally the duke discovered that Wedgwood’s sole
reason for desiring the vase was to reproduce it. On condition that he
was to have one of the copies, free of charge, the duke offered to lend
Wedgwood the treasure if Wedgwood would withdraw from the competition
and allow the duke to bid it in. The matter was amicably arranged, and
the vase was handed to Wedgwood for the purpose stipulated. He himself
I cannot sufficiently express my obligation to his Grace, the Duke
of Portland, for his entrusting this inestimable jewel to my care,
and continuing it so long–more than twelve months–in my hands,
without which it would have been impossible to do any tolerate
justice to this rare work of art. I have now some reason to flatter
myself with the hope of producing in a short time a copy which will
not be unworthy the public notice.
Wedgwood is said to have looked upon his copy of the Portland Vase as
Those who have been fortunate enough to see the original vase in the
British Museum–where, restored, it is now safely guarded in the Gem
Room–will appreciate how much can be accomplished in the hands of a
skilful mender and restorer, and will realize, too, the value of
“saving the pieces” when accident appears to have destroyed a rare
specimen of pottery, porcelain, or glass.
Should any one with a taste for antique furniture also find interest in
old-fashioned verse, he might some day come across Cowper’s lay which
elegantly hints at the evolution of lounging-furniture, culminating in
the development of the delectable sofa. I suppose few read old Cowper
nowadays. I myself confess to no propensity in this direction beyond a
liking for the ballad of “John Gilpin.” Poor, gentle, melancholy Cowper,
who tamed hares for diversion and gave to English poetry of the late
eighteenth century a cast more earnest and more simple than had come to
be its wont before his pen expressed his gift! But Cowper, mild and
quiet though he was, had yet a keen sense of humor. This crept into
certain lines that the lover of antique furniture may enjoy having
brought to his notice:
Ingenious fancy, never better pleased
Than when employed to accommodate the fair,
Heard the sweet moan with pity and devised
The soft SETTEE, one elbow at each end
And in the midst an elbow, it received
United, yet divided, twain at once.
So sit two kings of Brentford on one throne;
And so two citizens who take the air.
Close packed and smiling in a chaise and one,
But relaxation of the languid frame,
By soft recumbency of outstretched limbs,
Was bliss reserved for happier days; so slow
The growth of what is excellent, so hard
To attain perfection in this nether world
Thus, first necessity invented stools,
Convenience next suggested elbow chairs,
And luxury the accomplished SOFA last.
The couch has an ancient and classical ancestry. The Egyptians, the
Greeks, and the Romans utilized it extensively. The settee evolved from
the double chair–love-seat, it was often called–while the
“accomplished” sofa combined, or was supposed to combine, all the
advantages and virtues of couch and settee, not omitting the
attractiveness of the love-seat! An understanding of these relationship
adds not a little to the interest of collecting.
The collector will not concern himself with the couches of the ancients,
but will come within the early English forms of this article of
furniture. The name “day-bed” was earlier used for English couch
furniture of the Jacobean period (1603-1688). The seventeenth-century
day-bed allowed a person to recline comfortably at full length. It was
either laced or caned for cushioning. At one end the head-piece sloped
back. At first this head-piece appears to have been stationary, but no
doubt comfort soon suggested the later movable head-piece–a device more
popular with the English than with the continental makers of day-beds or
couches, as far as I have been able to discover.
In height the best day-beds were slightly lower than chair seats. The
Jacobean pieces have the characteristic carved or turned legs.
Undoubtedly many of these couches found their way to the colonies during
the early period of American history. Captain William Tinge (1653) had
inventoried such a couch, and a cane-bottomed one belonged to the
Bulkelys and is now in the Antiquarian Society, Concord, Massachusetts.
John Cotton (1652) was another early colonial couch-owner, and one might
call attention to many others who made mention of such household objects
in their carefully drawn inventories now preserved to us by the various
antiquarian societies throughout the country.
The couches of the William and Mary period (1688-1702) conformed to the
simpler forms that succeeded the Jacobean carved furniture. Not only
_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_
16th Century Venetian Glass Covered Cup, Skillfully Restored by an
[Illustration: Double Chair-Back Settee, Chippendale, 1735-1750]
[Illustration: Settee, Adam Style]
_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_
Sofa of the William and Mary Period]
were the rarer woods employed in their manufacture, but as the couch had
come to be looked upon as a necessity in the cottage as well as in the
mansion, the more ordinary woods were utilized also. Many of these
couches were exported to the American colonies, which, in their turn
copied their forms and otherwise adopted them. Upholstered couches now
began to come more commonly into use than the earlier couches, which
were designed to be fitted with cushioned seats.
During the period of Queen Anne (1702-1714) the houses of the rich were,
as a rule, beset by ultra-decorative fashions and in them luxury was
expressed in much of the furniture as well as in other furnishings.
However, such delightful specimens of the walnut furniture of the period
exist–simple, elegant, and truly beautiful in line–that we may rest
assured that good taste was enjoyed in the homes of the middle classes.
Couches of this period will therefore be found to reflect the extremes.
The cabriole leg, the leading characteristic of Queen Anne furniture,
soon made its appearance in the couch support.
Upholstery became more popular than ever, as enormous quantities of
silks and velvets were being produced during Anne’s reign. Chintzes,
and printed cottons, too, were in demand for couch covers. Lacquered
couches and marqueterie couches were also in vogue during this reign,
but few of these appear to have survived, and such as have are treasured
About 1720–two years after Anne’s death–mahogany came into general use
in furniture-making. Cabinet-makers lost no time in employing this wood
in the making of couches. Seven years after this, Thomas Chippendale and
his father were established in London. In 1749 Chippendale opened his
conduit Street shop in the Longacre section. Here he worked until his
removal to St. Martin’s Lane. A year after, in 1754, he brought out his
famous book, “The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers’ Director.”
The couches were being supplanted to great extent by the sofa during the
time of the Georges, in which Chippendale lived, but such couches as
remain show the various Chippendale lines. The brothers Adam
(1672-1792), following their taste for Italian things, and designing for
lighter woods and forms, gave more attention to the couch, perhaps, than
Chippendale had done. Unlike the Chippendale couches, the Adam couches
were without the end supports. George Hepplewhite, who died in 1786,
gave to English furniture a well-defined style. The first edition of
“The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide” was published by his widow,
Alice Hepplewhite, in 1788. Hepplewhite, as had the brothers Adam, came
strongly under the influence of the classic. Hepplewhite couches employ
an end such as that which upholstered sofas had suggested. They also
received inspiration from the French furniture of the time. In his book
Hepplewhite gives on Plate XXXII, “Two designs of couches or what the
French call _Péché Mortel_.” It has not been my good fortune to come
across a Sheraton couch in the strict sense of the word, though I
presume such were made by Thomas Sheraton (1750-1806). His
“Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book” first appeared in 1791;
but it concerned itself more with settees than with dwelling
particularly on true couch designs.
The couches of the French periods–Louis XIV (1643-1715), Louis XV
(1715-1774), Louis XVI (1774-1793), and the Empire (1792-1830)–all
follow the well-known lines of these Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze, Louis
Seize, and Empire styles, and it will not be necessary here to go into
detail concerning them. The English and American cabinet-makers of the
years 1792 to 1830 adapted French Empire styles and as a result produced
furniture which we may designate as English Empire or American Empire,
as the case may be.
The settee of the Jacobean period was a development of the double chair
or love-seat. It followed the general styles of the period in legs and
stretchers. The back usually was upholstered. It was not in general use
until walnut had come to supersede oak. For this reason the Jacobean
settees are for greater part of walnut.
The William and Mary period settees found the double chair back in
favor, and comfortable indeed were these settees, many of them being
provided with squab cushions in addition to their upholstered seats,
backs, and ends. The William and Mary settees were somewhat shorter than
the generously long settees of the Jacobean period.
Queen Anne settees were designed with straight backs, these backs doing
away with the double-hoop backs of the settees of the reign that
preceded Anne’s. These backs were considerably lower, and, as with the
couches, the cabriole leg formed a distinctive characteristic. In the
Queen Anne settees of a later time the double back without upholstery
came in again. The seats of these settees were depended upon for
occasional use at the back.
Chippendale’s settees followed the lines of his designs for chairs. His
window-seats did likewise. Colonel Wentworth’s “Chinese Settee” of the
Chippendale style is now in the Ladd House at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Very elegant indeed were the settees and the window-seats of the
brothers Adam. Both coincided in lines with Adam chairs. The
window-seats, though so often following Chippendale forms, were a
refinement of these latter. They were supported by four or by six legs,
usually, though several window-seats of Adam style have eight legs.
These settees bear the characteristic fluting on the front rail.
The Hepplewhite settees are, for the most part, double backs or triple
backs and follow in design the chair styles of this type. A Hepplewhite
settee of 1780 upholstered in silk brocade has the vase detail in the
arm-post and the legs are turned and reeded. Other Hepplewhite settees
were cane-seated and cushioned, and with these squab cushions were used.
Sheraton himself tells us that cane-work as applied to furniture again
came into favor with cabinet-makers about the year 1773. A very fine
Sheraton two-back settee painted with medallions by Angelica Kauffmann
is extant to test the skill of the eighteenth-century furniture-maker in
the reintroduction of the use of cane for seating, and for the backs.
Some of the Sheraton settees were upholstered and some were designed for
The settees of the various French periods followed the general
chair-furniture lines in their styles, as did the settees of the English
and the American Empire styles.
“Ingenious fancy” now brings us again to the “accomplished sofa.” The
settees and love-seats of the Jacobeans, and the couches that had long
preceded even them, united in the achievement that Cowper immortalizes
and which no early Victorian novelist could have dispensed with in
creating his “atmosphere.” The sofas of William and Mary and of Queen
Anne were expanded and upholstered settees in effect. Chippendale
devoted much attention to the sofa and came to use rolled-over arms in
the larger one. Several of these are illustrated in his “Gentleman and
Cabinet-Makers’ Director,” already referred to. Plate XXX shows two such
sofas, and that on Plate XXXI is described by him as follows:
A Design of a Sofa for a grand Apartment, and will require a great
Care in the Execution, to make the several Parts come in such a
Manner, that all the Ornaments join without the least Fault; and if
the Embossments all along are rightly managed, and gilt with
burnished Gold, the whole will have a noble Appearance. The Carving
at the Toe is the Emblem of Watchfulness, Assiduity, and Rest. The
Pillows and Cushions must not be omitted, though they are not in
the Design. The Dimensions are nine Feet long without the Scrolls;
the broadest Part of the Seat, from Front to Back, two Feet, six
Inches; the Height of the Back from the Seat, three Feet, six
Inches; and the Height of the Seat one Foot, two Inches, without
Casters. I would advise workmen to make a Model of it at large,
before he begins to execute it.
The Adam sofas closely fall in with the general features of the Adam
style, and the same may be said of the sofas of Hepplewhite and
Sheraton. Hepplewhite in his book tells us that the dimensions of sofas
“should vary according to the size of the room, but the proportion in
general use is, length between 6 and 7 feet; depth about 30 inches;
heighth of the seat frame 14 inches; total in the back, 3 feet 1 inch.
The woodwork should be either Mahogany or japanned to suit the chairs in
the room, and the covering must match that of the chairs.” Four designs
of sofas appear in Hepplewhite’s book. Plate 27 therein shows a
confidante. Of this he says:
This piece of furniture is of French origin, and is in pretty
general request for large and spacious suites of apartments. An
elegant drawing-room with modern furniture is scarce complete
without a confidante; the extent of which may be about 9 feet,
subject to the same regulations as sofas. This piece of furniture
is sometimes so constructed that the ends take away and leave a
regular sofa; the ends may be used as Barjier chairs.
Of the Duchesse sofa Hepplewhite says:
This piece of furniture is also derived from the French. Two
Barjier chairs of proper construction, with a stool in the middle,
form the Duchesse, which is allotted to large and spacious
ante-rooms; the covering may be various as also the framework, and
made from six to eight feet long. The stuffing may be of the round
manner as shown in the drawing, or low-stuffed with a loose squab
or bordered cushion fitted to each part; with a duplicate linen
cover to cover the whole, or each part separately. Confidantes,
sofas and chairs may be stuffed in the same manner.
In the rooms of the Antiquarian Society, Concord, Massachusetts, is a
sofa which once belonged to Samuel Barron and which shows mixed
Hepplewhite and Sheraton characteristics.
In Girard College, Philadelphia, one may see a Sheraton sofa that once
belonged to Stephen Girard, the founder. Sheraton himself describes one
of his own sofas as follows:
A sofa done in white and gold, or japanned. Four loose cushions are
placed at the back. They serve at times for bolsters, being placed
against the arms to loll against. The seat is stuffed up in front
about three inches high above the rail, denoted by the figure of a
sprig running lengthwise; all above that is a squab, which may be
taken off occasionally.
Sheraton also tells of the Turkey sofa “introduced into the most
fashionable homes as a novelty, an invention of the Turkish mode of
sitting. They are, therefore, made very low, scarcely exceeding a foot
to the upper side of the cushion. The frame may be made of beach, and
must be webbed and strained with canvas to support the cushions.”
It would be interesting to go on dwelling upon a subject so rich in
lore, but I fear, so little studied. The author has generously refrained
from the harrowing mention of haircloth, as he imagines there is little
he could add to a subject that all readers are probably too familiar