Southern Antiques

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Southern Antiques  (1931) 
by Paul H. Burroughs
  • This is the original 1931 version. There was a reprint published in 1967, but that version will not fall into the public domain in full until 2063 at latest, at least due to its inclusion of a newer preface.
  • The publisher used the letter "f" instead of the long s character "ſ" when quoting from 18th century texts, probably due to the lack of a typewriter that could produce these symbols. For the sake of searchability, etc., these have all been replaced with the actual "ſ" character in the transcriptions.


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OVER three thousand people lived on Virginia soil as early as 1620, and were a self-supporting group. Much of the furniture antedated by many years any permanent settlement made in New England or elsewhere. In the light of it, it is amazing that no study has been made of this craft and that almost no mention of it has appeared in what students of furniture making have had to say about early American furniture. Particularly is this to be wondered at with delay serving more and more to make the path obscure when such rich fields for research and study remain of a quaint and unique civilization, portraying itself in individual order and design.

The question of the origin of early Southern furniture is one that has been far too easily disposed of by students of American furniture making. The oft repeated announcement that "Southern plantation owners were in touch with the mother country and imported their furniture from England," does not cover the case. Even indifference in the South, and, everywhere, this lack of any real understanding of what was the case has prevailed; and I have long felt that some study was badly needed in the general field. The importance of this need has been borne in upon me more and more, as in my searching, more and better types have come to my hand. The furniture, itself, as pictured in this book and the facts that I am presenting, seek to tell the story as it is.

The quest for a Hepplewhite sideboard in South Carolina, where it was known they were to be found in abundance, may be said to have served in some degree to open up this vein of interest for me; and the difficulties under which I labored in an effort to locate that particular piece so impressed me that they, too, have not been without their influence in this book. The type of sideboard which I sought had been designated for me as shown in a book on antiques, but so ill-suited was the information available on the subject there or elsewhere, that before the search was abandoned my ideas on the type of book needed for the practical use of collectors was largely defined.

With so much wealth in the South, and money and tobacco leaving the hands of the planters so freely, many questions have presented themselves to my mind. I was asking, in particular, whether apprentices of well-known English and Northern craftsmen, when leaving their masters to seek their fortune—as apprentices did when their trade was perfected—did not come into the South as settlement proceeded, to follow their vocations in the rich and growing communities rather than continue in employment as they were, or set themselves up in competition with those under whose tutorage they had worked. Abundant evidence has revealed that many craftsmen came into the Southern colonies, and produced work there of a quality comparable with the best made in America. No man stands out for producing exceptional types; but constant association and research bring out the salient points of the furniture they made. I have secured the names of more than seven hundred cabinetmakers in the South from 1737 to 1820, some of them working over a period of twenty years.

The furniture of the majority is what this book is concerned with. I have not tried to present the most elaborate nor the plainest example that is to be found, but have sought rather to show a representative piece, chosen because it is a Southern antique and of a type being found by dealers and collectors. Genius crops up in hidden places, and many unique and excellent pieces herein illustrated were made by unknown hands. Some pieces shown are unusual specimens, unattainable, and highly guarded in museums and private collections, and not the average of what the collector might be able to discover and become possessed of. There is charm, of course, connected with elaborate pieces representing large values, but the furniture of the South of the period covered by this book is not generally expressed in such rare examples. I am offering here what is typical, rather than the rare.

No attempt has been made to gloss the types, and the examples in this book are presented as found. The aim of the study has been to unearth the representative pieces. It has not been possible to present elaborate pieces, such as those made at Philadelphia by Randolph, Gostelowe and Savery, but each piece for consideration must, of course, have had merit of its own, and more and more has the study revealed that the individual artist at work can often produce results unattainable in the shops of the more expert craftsmen.

In making presentations in this book, conclusions have been reached after closest scrutiny and consideration. Opinions, in some instances, where available, have been called in. Besides proof afforded by the general situation affecting each particular case, judgment has been based on the quality of the particular type, and the fact that this type has been seen nowhere else has operated as a major influence. In all cases where Southern pine is used in construction, it has been assumed that it could not have been made anywhere else, and in the case of furniture made of curly cherry, it has been accepted as coming from in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and as made by the Moravians.

With exception of four pieces only, what has been actually seen is shown here, and was personally brought to light, or seen in dealers' and collectors' public and private collections.

I am offering some pieces with labels, yellowed by age, as silent witnesses of authenticity, but with no idea of pressing the importance of the label itself, recognized generally as it is, that leading American cabinetmakers did not always label their pieces, and that the labels of many of them that did, have long since been removed in cleaning by the diligent Southern housekeeper or maid from the quarters at work, or by those attempting to refinish the piece.

I have been given valuable aid by the well-founded knowledge of many dealers and collectors. I wish especially to thank The Antiques Magazine, The Antiquarian Magazine, Dr. Henry Berkley, W. S. Ahern, J. K. Beard, J. Pope Nash, Joe Kindig, Jr., and J. L. Roseman, together with many others living in the five states covered in this book, who have furnished information that helped in the preparation of the first book about Southern Antiques. If this effort to cover a large and interesting field serves in any way to stimulate others in the search for further data concerning the furniture craftsmen of the old South, then it will have fulfilled its mission.

Richmond, Virginia,
August, 1931.

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Introduction xi
I The Five Colonies 1
II Southern Cabinetmakers 5
III Woods Used in Southern Furniture 13
IV Furniture of the Pioneers 15
V Style Development in Furniture 19
VI Chippendale and Revolution 22
VII Classicism and the Republic 26
VIII Seeking Southern Antiques 31
IX Sideboards (Eleven Plates) 35
X Gate-Legged and Dining Tables (Seven Plates) 50
XI Hunting Boards (Five Plates) 61
XII Cellarets (Six Plates) 68
XIII Tables (Twenty-one Plates) 76
XIV Desks and Secretaries (Sixteen Plates) 105
XV Cupboards (Twelve Plates) 127
XVI Chests (Eleven Plates) 144
XVII Chairs (Seventeen Plates) 159
XVIII Beds (Five Plates) 182
XIX Miscellaneous Pieces (Six Plates) 190

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) before 1964, and copyright was not renewed.

Works published in 1931 would have had to renew their copyright in either 1958 or 1959, i.e. at least 27 years after it was first published / registered but not later than in the 28th year. As it was not renewed, it entered the public domain on 1 January 1960.

The author died in 1967, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.