The six armchairs and eight side chairs offered at Freeman’s American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale on November 15 are one of the last groups of seating designed by the architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) still in private hands.
Securely documented furniture by Davis exists for only four of his houses: Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York (first built as Knoll 1838-1842, expanded into the present house 1864-1867); Belmead in Powhatan County, Virginia (built 1845-1848), Ericstan in Tarrytown, New York (built 1855-1859), and Walnut Wood in Bridgeport, Connecticut (built 1846-1850). The 14 chairs in the sale were made for Ericstan about 1857 by the firm of Burns and Brother in New York City, the same firm that made the lost chairs for the original Knoll dining room at the same period. Although they have less carving than the dining room chairs made for Lyndhurst in the 1860s, the Ericstan chairs are more consistent with Davis’s earlier style.
Other surviving furniture from Ericstan includes the immense dining table that some of these chairs were used with, sold by a cousin of the consignor to the Toledo Museum of Art in the early 1980s; an occasional table with a carved frieze and cast iron bull’s legs (private collection); two large, throne-like library armchairs with carved finials in the form of a maid and man o’ the woods (private collections); and delicate, rib-backed chairs with deer hoof feet (Museum of the City of New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The furniture from Ericstan was preserved with the house for much of its existence. The original builder, John J. Herrick, seems to have over-extended himself paying for the house and was forced to sell it to Edward Maynard in 1865. Maynard later sold the house to Alfrederick Smith Hatch (1829-1904), in whose family these chairs descended.
Copies of correspondence between Davis scholar Jane B. Davies (1913-2000) and several of the Hatch descendants are available to purchasers.
This article was adapted from an essay by Robert F. Trent, Private Furniture Consultant & Historic Upholsterer. Stop by Freeman's on Sunday, Nov. 12 for a special lecture by Trent, "Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) and his Furniture."