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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Cabinet Makers Assistant: Pillar and Scroll Design

Happy New Year! I have been working on two American Empire pieces which I have written several previous posts about. The first is a pedestal table and the second is a drop leaf two drawer stand. In researching these pieces I discovered that they are both part of a sub-category of American Empire which is called "Pillar and Scroll" furniture. This style of design came about during the later years of the American Empire movement and seems to have come into fashion around 1840. This coincided with the publication of "The Cabinet Makers' Assistant, Embracing the Most Modern Style of Cabinet Furniture" written by Baltimore Maryland architect and cabinetmaker John Hall in the same year. In doing my research I came across a reprint from 1944 of this publication and purchased it.

This publication of John Hall's design book in 1840 marked several firsts in the manufacture of furniture in America. First, This was the first design book published in the United States that promoted American designs. This being said, the "Pillar and Scroll" style was heavily influenced European styles but the particular construction methods and overall design of the pieces were something new.

Another first is that this marks a change in direction in furniture manufacture. As it became easier to produce furniture in a mass production setting with the use of mechanical tools like a band saw it became necessary to design furniture that could be constructed in this fashion with ease. The "Pillar and Scroll" style answered this calling. The forms were cut (using a band saw) out of a secondary wood like Pine or Poplar. The Mahogany veneers were then applied to the forms to produce an individual section. Usually there was no decorative carving and pieces could be put together rapidly and efficiently.
Below I have included some pages from the reprint I obtained. they deal with the design elements of the pieces I am working on.
The inside cover of the book.
This page shows different shapes used for the base of tables and the feet. It is interesting to note that Hall designed these pieces to have separate feet. In most of the examples I have seen of this furniture, the feet were cut from the same form as the base. The page also shows some pillar designs.

This page shows dimensional drawings of the base and also some more pillar designs.
Hall refers to these tables as Ladies' Work Tables. The piece I am working on is a mixture of the two. the top half resembles the drawing on the left while the bottom half the drawing on the right. One other point o interest. I notices that on the four bottom corners of the top section, the piece had been turned and then something sawed off. My guess is that they may have originally built the piece with legs and then decided to put on a base instead or that the piece had drop finials like the piece on the right which were later cut off.
Here are two designs for what hall calls Center Tables. The piece I am working on resembles the piece on the right.

1 comment:

  1. What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!

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