Richard Parkin (c. 1787-1861) (active 1819-1860)

Philadelphia1833-1840

The curved flame walnut veneered crest rail with applied decoration and carved arched pediment supported by paneled styles surmounted by transverse-mounted Ionic-type capitals, above an upholstered seat with paneled front seat rail and paneled dies above the  turned, tapering front legs with Gothic-type decoration.  The inside seat rails of one chair bear the black paint inscription of the initials “J.Z.(?)P.” and “New York.” Woods: Walnut Veneer, Tulip Poplar.

H: 32¾”  W: 18”  D: 18”

Condition: Excellent; One chair with one carved leaf appliqué replaced, the other with the top half-inch of the fan crest replaced, both chairs with small sections of the molded edges of the Ionic capital “ears” replaced.  One leg with a crack at the top, now reinforced.  Both chairs reupholstered and re-finished with shellac in the manner of the period.

Published: Carswell Rush Berlin, “‘A Shadow of a Magnitude’: The Furniture of Thomas Cook and Richard Parkin,” Luke Beckerdite, Ed. American Furniture (Chipstone Foundation, 2013).

A set of eleven related chairs with identical seat rail and legs in the collection of the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, PA. bear the label of RICHARD PARKIN/ CABINET – MAKER/ EGYPTIAN HALL/ 134 South Second Street/ Philadelphia.[1]

This pair of chairs provides a critical key to attributing many other pieces of important Philadelphia furniture to this firm.  The highly distinctive seat rail and legs of these chairs link them to the labeled chairs by Parkin at Landis Valley and their crest rail establishes Parkin as the maker of chairs in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Yale Art Gallery with related crests whose maker has, until now, been unidentified.  This group of chairs also includes a set of six in rosewood and an almost identical pair in mahogany with console legs in the author’s collection.  The mahogany examples have a large turned boss at the top of the legs that relates to ones used on a pair of footstools published in The Antiquarian (March 1931), p.76, that bear Parkin’s Egyptian Hall label.[2]  The rosewood set have flat bosses at the top of the legs identical to those on a marble-top library table, after a design by Thomas Hope, also bearing Parkin’s Egyptian Hall label.

Atypically, the design inspiration for these chairs can not be found in the known English and French pattern books of the period.  Only a small number of firms produced genuinely original, high-style pieces while most of the furniture trade by 1835 had devolved into production of simple plain-style furniture in which the figure of the veneer was the primary decorative element, with few if any distinctive regional characteristics. Chairs of this caliber set Parkin apart from the majority of his competitors and establish him on a very high plain; arguably the best chair maker in the country at that time.

Born and probably trained in England, Parkin began his career in cabinetmaking in 1819 in partnership with Thomas Cook and moved shortly to 56 Walnut Street where they remained until 1833.  Although they each also operated from separate locations after 1829, their partnership was among the longest and most successful of any Philadelphia cabinet makers.  Theirs was also among the largest operations in the city.

Parkin continued to be listed, after the dissolution of his partnership with Cook, at 134 South 2nd Street known after its 1830’s redesign as “Egyptian Hall.”  He remained there until 1848.  Cook retired in 1837 but Parkin continued working until a year before his death in 1861.

The known work of Cook and Parkin consistently displays a deep knowledge of fashionable English and French pattern book designs and a keen sense of high style.

S-S-08111

[1] The label, now separated from the chair, has a corrected address changed from 123 South Second Street to no. 134 and is also inscribed “Whitfield,” a family name in the provenance of this set. The set descended in the Reigart family of Lancaster, Pa.; the original owner probably being Emanuel Carpenter Reigart (1796-1869) and Barbara Swarr (1800-1838). Emanuel Reigart’s granddaughter Mary Catherine Reigart married William V. Whitfield in 1874.

[2] A pair of rosewood arm chairs, probably en suite with the set of six rosewood side chairs, is also known.

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