Furniture Styles

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Spindle Back Chairs

Called "thrown", because they were shaped on a lathe, and emanating again from Tudor or Elizabethan models in the mother country, spindle back chairs were lightly, and easily, made, certainly compared to the labour and time needed to make wainscot chairs. In America there were two main types, Carver and Brewster, named after two of the most pre-eminent men of Plymouth.

Carver Chairs

The simpler from of spindleback was Governor Carver's chair in Pilgrim Hall, seen pictured. It is little ornamented, with four turned uprights. The back of the carver chair has two cross rungs into which are fixed three vertical spindles. Front and back uprights support plain round arms. Underneath are double tiers of turned stretchers at front and sides.

Governor Carver's chair and early spinning wheel
Governor Carver's chair (and early spinning wheel).
American white ash and maple.

Brewster Chairs

A little later, and a little more elaborate, is Elder Brewster's chair, shown below beside the cradle of the first born baby at Plymouth. It has similar arms and uprights but differs sharply in the back and sides where are to be found double tiers of baluster turned spindles. At the back are three cross rungs, one at seat level, into which are fixed two tiers of spindles, in rows of four. Three tiers of spindles decorate the sides, extending almost to the floor. In total 36 spindles were needed for Brewster chairs and this may give a clue as to why relatively few Brewsters were made in contrast to Carvers. The Pilgrim Hall site, has more information on early American chairs.

Elder Brewster's Chair
Elder Brewster's Chair.

The emergence of these two types of colonial chairs had a great impact on the course of American chair making with the great range of slat back and rod and banister back chairs tracing their origins back to them. The period of their making extended about 200 hundred years and geographically they were made as far south as the Tennessee River and as far west as the Ohio Valley.

Even today we may catch a glimpse of their form in the ordinary run of porch and patio chairs with rattan or slatted seats and backs.

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