Mechanical Easy Chair, Attributed to John Hancock, upholsterer
Frame possibly by Cook & Parkin (active1819-1833)
Philadelphia, circa 1830
The lotus-carved arched crest rail above a beaded frame holding an upholstered back, hinged at the base, allowing the back to recline as the upholstered seat slides forward. The padded arm rests terminating in scrolls decorated with tiered, concentric bosses and supported by water-leaf carved scrolls, above turned and reeded front legs terminating in important gilt bronze cup casters. The rear saber legs having brass caster wheels. Secondary Woods: White pine and tulip poplar.
H: 46½” W: 27¼” D: 29”
Condition: Excellent: The front casters have been restored to their original matte and burnished lacquer appearance. The rear casters may be period replacements. Repairs to backing ledges and small restoration to bottom of proper right rear leg. The upholstery is modern using the materials and methods of the period. The chair has a new shellac refinish.
Published: Carswell R. Berlin “‘A Shadow of a Magnitude’: The Furniture of Thomas Cook and Richard Parkin,” American Furniture, ed. L. Beckerdite (Hanover, Chipstone Foundation, 2013), 156-195.
The form of mechanical east chair is rare in American furniture of this period and this is among the finest examples of the form that is known. The present chair is the only Philadelphia-made example of the form that is known.
The rare and distinctive water leaf carved scrolled arm supports that also appear as part of the pedestal of a group of center tables marked by Cook & Parkin suggests their hand.
Cook & Parkin’s shop on Walnut Street was practically next door to that of Philadelphia upholsterer John Hancock, who with his brother William in Boston, advertised mechanical easy chairs. Because of their physical proximity and the documented relationship between the craftsmen, we believe that this chair frame was probably ordered by Hancock from Cook & Parkin. The design of the chair was undoubtedly derived from several English pattern book sources. Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts published four related designs to the present chair between 1810 and 1813, each of which clearly influenced the design of this chair. The Repository of Arts, published in London serially between 1809 and 1828, introducing all manner of fashionable apparel and furnishings, was very influential in the United States and nowhere more than in Philadelphia.
Another influential English pattern book published by Thomas King in 1829, Modern Style of Cabinet Work Exemplified, shows several mechanical and easy chairs including “Chairs with inclining backs” (pl. 10 of the Supplementary Plates), that illustrate the exact construction of the back of the present chair. Plate 45 of “A Sideboard Table” shows a back splash that could easily have provided the inspiration for the arched, lotus-carved crest rail of the easy chair. The makers were unquestionably familiar with this publication.
Thomas Cook & Richard Parkin, working at 56 Walnut Street were among the largest and most important cabinetmaking shops of the Classical period in Philadelphia, building one of the biggest export businesses in the city. Both Thomas Cook (1786-1868) and Richard Parkin (1787-1861), English born and trained, continued distinguished careers as cabinetmakers after the dissolution of their fourteen-year partnership; Parkin enjoying one of the longest careers of any Philadelphia cabinetmaker. The known work of these cabinetmakers consistently displays a deep knowledge of fashionable English and French pattern book designs and a keen sense of high style.