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Maker(s):Gragg, Samuel
Culture:American (1772-1855)
Title:chair
Date Made:ca. 1810
Type:Furniture
Materials:wood: maple, oak; paint
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Suffolk county: Boston
Measurements:overall: h: 34 w: 18 1/4 d: 22 1/2 in.
Accession Number:  HD 2015.27
Credit Line:Museum Collections Fund
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield
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Description:
"Elastic" chair made of bent white oak with maple probably used as the secondary wood. The chair survives with all of its original slats except one replaced on the seat, and its original painted surface. The crest rail and front legs are painted with a polychrome peacock motif, and its cloven-hoof feet add to the whimsy and originality of its design. Gragg's elastic chair is possibly the earliest patented furniture design in the United States (patent issued in 1808). He produced them in Boston from 1808 to 1822. They display remarkable ingenuity in their use of less expensive materials in place of mahogany, other imported woods, or gilding. The wood used in this chair was steamed and bent, and the production process was standardized, furthur reducing expense. While not an overwhelming commerical success, the Gragg chairs were also not a market failure. It is a testament to the early 19th-century American taste for Classical design in its adaptation of the Greek klismos chair form. It also reflects ways American manufacturers adapted to the early-19th century market and its limited access to English and other imported materials. Stamped on the underside of the front seat rail: "S. GRAGG/BOSTON." and on underside of rear seat rail: "PATENT." Wood tested and examined with Bruce Hoadley September 2015: the stiles, legs, seat rails and splat pieces are all white oak, the front seat rail is possibly birch or gumwood, and the stretchers are probably maple. The polychrome peacock-painted decoration is attributed to John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841) (or, less likely, John McDuell) based on archival information found in Arkansas (see object file for more information). Phil Zea came across a Classical house in Walpole, New Hampshire, in the late 1980s or early 1990s that had on its porch a repained Gragg bench that was original to the house--so we know that in the period in which they were made these chairs were used in western Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the owner moved to Florida and took the bench with him so Zea was unable to acquire it for Historic Deerfield.

Link to share this object record:
https://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?t=objects&type=ext&id_number=HD+2015.27

Research on objects in the collections, including provenance, is ongoing and may be incomplete. If you have additional information or would like to learn more about a particular object, please email fc-museums-web@fivecolleges.edu.

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