In Focus

Windsor settee, 18th century

The following essay is from the 1989 publication American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, by Charles L. Venable.

Philadelphia was the colonial center of Windsor chair production. English Windsors were first imported into the town in the 1720s. By the 1740s, Philadelphia chairmakers were producing their own chairs and exporting them to other colonial towns.

Before the Revolution, a Windsor chair cost two to three times the amount of a simple, rush-bottom chair. Consequently, Windsors were primarily purchased by the wealthier members of society. Windsor furniture was used along with more elaborate furniture in many of the finest homes, as well as in taverns where durability was of great concern. Windsors were easy to repaint and their seats never had to be renewed.

By 1775, Philadelphia Windsor makers were mass-producing chairs. In large shops, several turners might supply parts to the chairmaker who would stockpile them until they were needed to fill an order. The chair could then be assembled and painted or the parts could be shipped "knocked down" for assembly by the purchaser. During the last quarter of the 18th century and in the early 19th century, Philadelphia makers produced thousands of Windsor chairs which were sent to customers from Maine to New Orleans.

Windsor settees were designed for structures in which large numbers of people gathered, such as public buildings, churches, and taverns. Due to their large size and high cost, such settees were much less frequently made than Windsor chairs in the 18th century. Consequently, Windsor settees are extremely rare today, especially those with ten, rather than eight, legs.

Judging from the character of its turnings, the Bybee settee was probably made around the time of the American Revolution. The short, thick-necked turnings of the legs, for example, were popular during the 1770s and 1780s. Since numerous chairmakers purchased turnings from the same turner, it is difficult to identify the shop(s) which made and assembled the Bybee settee. However, a closely related example by Francis Trumble is known, as are related chairs by William Widdifield.

Excerpt from

Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, published in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 68-69.