Richard Parkin was born in England about 1787 and died in Philadelphia on September 16, 1861.[1]  He was buried in the American Mechanics Cemetery on Islington Lane at 27th Street.[2]  It is likely that he received his training in England and it is believed that he arrived in Philadelphia shortly before beginning to appear in city directories in partnership with Thomas Cook.  Thomas Cook also emigrated from England as a cabinetmaker and arrived in Philadelphia in 1817.  He died a “Gentleman” in 1868 having retired from the cabinet trade in 1837 to become a real estate investor.

Cook & Parkin was among the largest, most successful and long-lived cabinetmaking firms in Philadelphia of the Classical period.  Among the most significant and best known pieces by the firm is an important sideboard in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art bearing a paper label and dating, presumably, to 1826-1833. Inspired by a design in Thomas Hope’s 1807 Household Furniture, it is pictured in Wendy A. Cooper’s Classical Taste in America 1800-1840 (Baltimore Museum of Art, 1993), p. 56.   A center table by the firm is in the Sewell Biggs Museum in Dover, Delaware.  The only known piece by Thomas Cook, made after the dissolution of his partnership with Parkin, is a expandable circular dining table, now in the Telfair Museum in Savannah.  Chairs by Richard Parkin can be seen at the Landis Valley Farm Museum,  Yale University Art Gallery and at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Most of the surviving furniture by these cabinetmakers displays a keen sense of high fashion and demonstrates a deep knowledge of period English and French pattern book designs but it also manifests that level of creativity that enabled the very best American cabinetmakers to move beyond the pattern book to create a wholly original and successful design.

Cook & Parkin are listed in partnership in Philadelphia directories for the first time in 1819 at 26 Bank Street as Chair Manufacturers and then moving in 1820 to 56 Walnut Street, where the partnership would be listed as Cabinet Makers until 1833.  Cook also appeared alone as a cabinetmaker in 1819 in Paxton’s Directory at 4 Fromberger’s Court.  In 1829 both partners began working outside the partnership at separate addresses, Parkin at 94 South Third Street (at Chestnut) and Cook at 7 Pear (running East-West between Dock and Third, between Walnut and Spruce).[3]  By 1833 Parkin was listed at 134 South Second Street, known as “Egyptian Hall”, in a building he leased from cabinetmaker Joseph Barry, while Cook returned to 56 Walnut upon the total dissolution of the partnership.[4]   Parkin continued until 1848 to be listed at 134 South 2nd.[5]   He continued to work up until a year before his death, moving from Egyptian Hall to Lewis below Thompson in 1848 and was joined there by his son Thomas in 1853 through 1855 when Thomas died.[6]  For four years, beginning in 1856, Richard operated a steam sawmill first at 399 Broad then 683 North Broad and finally at Spring Garden where, it seems, he was joined by Richard, Jr.  Richard is last listed as a cabinet maker in 1860 on Spring Garden as Richard Parkin & Son (Richard Parkin, Jr.), when he was living with Richard Jr. at 540 North 12th.

An in-depth study of these important cabinetmakers can be found in, Carswell Rush Berlin, “A Shadow of a Magnitude”: The Furniture of Thomas Cook and Richard Parkin, editor Luke Beckerdite, American Furniture (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2013), 156-195. click here.

 

[1] Parkin’s year of birth is uncertain as the 1850 and 1860 census information is inconsistent and neither date comports with that given in his death notice in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, September 18, 1861 and his City Death Certificate.  He is recorded as being 60 years old in 1850, 68 years old in 1860 and 74 years old at his death in 1861.  The Death Certificate date has been used to calculate his birth year.

[2] His grave site in Div. B, Sec. 5, lot 30, grave 4, was moved in the mid-1950’s when this cemetery was closed.  The location of his remains and those of many family members is unknown.

[3] Robert DeSilver’s Philadelphia Directory

[4] Wendy A. Cooper, Classical Taste in America 1800-1840 (Baltimore Museum of Art, 1993) p. 270

[5] It is interesting to note that Parkin was working in close proximity to two of Philadelphia’s most famous cabinetmakers; Anthony Quervelle at 126 South Second Street (1825-1848), and Michel Bouvier at 91 South Second Street (1825-1844) and James MacDonald’s Cabinet, Chair and Sofa Warehouse was across the street at 135 S. 2nd.

[6] Because a Richard is also listed from 1853 and ’54 at other addresses it is logical to assume these must be the first listings of Richard, Jr., Richard’s third son and the youngest of his six children.