Sunday, September 7, 2014


The simple corner chair sits before a white background ready to be photographed for our catalog.  It is a study of stark contrast, of wood turned ebony black from three hundred fifty years of oxidation.  Simple turnings with unassuming lines, pragmatic, humble, Spartan.  This beautiful simplicity was crafted in seventeenth century New England by a believer, created by a man who saw man's need for decoration as the sin of pride, decadence or simply unimportant when compared to his belief in god.  What he achieved is a masterpiece of understated design and straightforward utility.

Age has been kind to this simple chair.  It has survived hundreds of frigid New England Winters and stifling hot Summers, voracious insects, accidents, children, moves, poor attempts at preservation, even the late twentieth century mania of "restoration".  It is a survivor and remains a testament to another age.  The passage of time has worked gentle changes upon its honest frame.  The expansion and contraction of the wood has made its geometry wonderfully imperfect.  The top rail leans precipitously to the left, it sits a bit off kilter, the stretcher is uneven and the turnings are no longer spherical.  But it is a survivor!

This chair was created in the primitive woodworking shop of a colonial joiner or cabinet maker in the second half of the Pilgrim Century.  It is a contemporary of those courageous souls who risked all to build a new Jerusalem on the American shore.  It likely sat at a desk, its occupant busily writing or studying by candle light.  Could it have borne silent witness to the pursuits of an examiner at the Salem witch trials? Perhaps a Minister crafted his most inspiring sermon, or might it's owner have rested heavily in it after weeks in field fighting Indians?

This work of art would have been out of style by the early 18th Century.  American furniture began to adopt the refined lines and curved legs of the "Queen Anne" style.  Maple and Walnut were the preferred wood then, the turnings were executed in ring and vase design.  A Spanish foot would replace a simple straight leg.  More fashionable pieces may have relegated this simple chair to a back room or quiet corner.

This chair would have been a relic of another age by the time of the American Revolution.  It may have been viewed as a curiosity and was kept no doubt for nostalgic family attachment.  At the close of the 18th Century, American cabinet makers were building masterpieces.  Workshops turned out highly carved pieces with beautiful proportions bringing the English Chippendale style to American homes in exotic Mahogany.   

By the 19th Century the corner chair had run its course.  There have been many reproductions of early styles, but no innovation or original design for any broad market. By the second half of this century, furniture would become mass-produced and machine made.  It would devolve into a mix of many styles, with no clear form.

This  remarkable chair is a  survivor.  I wonder at how many examples of Pilgrim century furniture exist Today.  A rare opportunity is at hand, you could be the next chapter in the story of this simple chair, what will the twenty first century hold for it? Please join us and it on the eighth of November for the Mayflower society auction.  Until then I'll see you at the auction.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Once in a while an event comes along which is truly unique, in this case you could call it the ultimate house call.  J. James Auctioneers & Appraisers has been invited to conduct the select museum deaccession of the Mayflower Society House, in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  

Upon my initial tour of the beautiful Georgian mansion of Edward Winslow, I was struck by the incredible diversity of objects it held. The collection begun in 1946 encompasses three centuries of art and antiques and represents nearly every possible category in collecting.  Many of the items are of extreme rarity, even unique and they will be offered for sale at auction, November 8th, 2014.

We have begun the work of researching and cataloging this collection in detail.  This process lets us "live" with each piece for a time.  I am always impressed by certain items which speak to me, figuratively of course.  They may not be the rarest or certainly the most valuable, but they posses a history or quality which draws one in a bit closer.  These objects seem to transcend the material world and make one contemplate  a deeper meaning.
  This week a simple silver spoon has made an impact on this humble auctioneer.  It was created in Boston during the second half of the Seventeenth Century and bears the date 1685 with its owners monogram pounced.  This piece has all of the characteristics we love, it is a "Trefid" design with a rat tail back and a deep circular bowl.  It would have been a cherished piece and a mark of wealth and distinction for its owner.  It was crafted of coin silver, by a master silversmith,  in a relatively primitive workshop.  It is a masterpiece, the simplicity of design carries an authentic grace and beauty which compliments its rarity.

I sometimes indulge in a bit of fantasy when I am working with a piece like this.  I try to imagine what was happening during its early life, what did this spoon witness?  The late seventeenth century was a tumultuous time in the colony of Massachusetts Bay.  The colonists had prosecuted a successful campaign against their Indian neighbors during King Phillips war, but were battling increasing resistance to the strict and heavy handed rule of the Puritan church.  Massachusetts was engaged in fierce economic competition with it's neighboring colonies, while coping with the aftermath of a destructive war.  It was a period of transition for the English colonies, a time for soul searching, rebuilding.  How did the owner of this spoon fit into this complex world?

As this project unfolds and our cataloging moves forward, I am excited to see what is next uncovered. I look forward to sharing this unique experience.  Until then I'll see you at the auction!