Southern Antiques/Chapter 15
THERE is no piece of furniture of the olden days around which more intimate associations clung, and to which more fond memories were wont to revert, than the old Southern cupboard. On every plantation there was some high genius from the colored quarters, constituted the particular guardian of the family cupboard, who saw to keeping it trim and clean, an old Mother Hubbard that went to the cupboard to get whatever might be wanted from the family store—sure of the supply, from ear muffs and hoods to some herb or toothsome dainty, and herself of a nature made for small confidences, to whom the children brought their troubles.
Although there is nothing which has retained about it more of the atmosphere of the home, the cupboard was, as a rule, often easily the most impressive piece in the house; and from the early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries showing fine decoration. Southern makers have not neglected their opportunities for refinement of the piece. The cupboard has received various designations, and it has been possible here to present a wide variety of types.
The earliest cupboard found in the South is the court cupboard. The word "court" coming from the French word meaning short, is accepted as referring to the carved-oak cupboard of the early seventeenth century. There are in America less than twenty cupboards of this type known. A cupboard, found in Virginia, illustrated in this chapter, is stamped in style and construction as having been made very early; and it is safe to assume that as the Virginia workmen followed the English style of cupboard, that this piece was one of the first pretentious pieces made in the early settlement of Virginia, and, as far is can be determined, one of the earliest pieces of furniture found, made in the United States.
Following the court cupboard came the kas or kasse—1700-1740. Although the piece resembles the wardrobe as we know it, the piece is so large that it holds little appeal to the collector. A panel-door cupboard on a frame, with a cabriole leg, was made during this same period in the South, but examples are scarce, and are rarely found outside the Southern states. The open, pewter cupboard, the delight of many, is also found in the South, in Southern pine and walnut, made during the same period as the first-mentioned cabinets. Many have been found in the Piedmont section of North Carolina, and in the Valley of Virginia. They were used in inns and taverns as well as homes for the display of china and pewter, a vogue which, so lovely was it at that time, has returned at this day.
A unique type of cupboard found in the South, made during the Chippendale period, was that with the drawers at the base, and paneled, glass doors at the top. It was presumably a china press. This type is rarely found outside the states of Virginia and North Carolina. Standing, or wall cupboards, were made in Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles, but their number is so limited that it is useless to define their characteristics, as they had been superseded by the corner cupboard in these periods.
The corner cupboard, so much desired today, was introduced about 1710, and was changed to the moveable type in the 1750's. These are found in quantities throughout the South, ranging from the built-in type to the elaborate mahogany examples. The earliest specimens have the open top with shelves and paneled doors below. The sides of the top opening are scalloped in ogee scrolls, and the shelves are cut in design.
Some of the built-in cupboards made in Virginia and Maryland between 1730-1740, are very fine, with the shell top, although the workmanship varies. Often made by local or traveling craftsmen, the cupboard took the architectural features of the room in which it was built. The quality of the work was, in fact, often determined by the amount of money being put into the building of the house, or the cupboard. The moveable corner cupboard gave the maker further opportunity to display his skill, and to make a base and cornice more elaborate. Many fine examples in mahogany are found, and these were made with Hepplewhite and Sheraton characteristics, such as inlay and tracery. With the Empire period the corner cupboard was declared obsolete in style.
PLATE I. Top—Court Cupboard—Oak. (Virginia—c. 1620-1630). Two views of a cupboard found in the vicinity of the first settlement at Jamestown. According to its style as compared with the English examples, it was made in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The top, which is original and pegged, is of Southern pine, as is the interior lining. The drawer below the doors, one of the doors and the shelf in the base were missing. This is one of the earliest pieces made in America, and is believed to be the oldest piece of furniture of American origin. (Photograph, courtesy of J. L. Brockwell).
PLATE I. Bottom—Court Cupboard—Oak. (Virginia—c. 1640). This old court cupboard has much about it which speaks for itself. It is of no moment to give space to a study of the type for the benefit of the average collector, as little chance stands out before him for such as it is. Such cupboards as are known, are rarely offered for sale, and those that are known are very few. This cupboard, originally from Yorktown, has an interesting history. It was removed to North Carolina during the Revolutionary War, and was owned by Isaac Collier whose wife, Anne Vines Collier, inherited it from her family. Her father, Thomas Vines, mentioned the cupboard in his will. Isaac Collier was a prominent colonial gentleman who had four sons in the Continental Army. One son, Myhill Collier, married Tabby Harrison, daughter of Benjamin Harrison, the Signer. The cupboard is believed to have been the property of Nathaniel West, brother of Lord Delaware. (Property of Mrs. J. L. Brockwell).
PLATE II. Cupboard Enclosing Chest—Pine. (Virginia—c. 1680-1700). This unique example shows the early wardrobe type of cupboard. There is a lid inside which encloses a chest or compartment which, we may be sure, made it generally useful. The paneling is of a peculiar type, and the decorative hinges are also out of the ordinary. The piece is massive, but not as heavy and impressive as it appears in the A piece of this type offers little to hope for the collector, as it is rarely found.
PLATE III. Queen Anne Linen Cupboard—Walnut. (Virginia—c. 1710-1740). This cupboard is very small compared to the general vein of cupboards as they appeared during this period. It encloses shelves which give point to its being used as a linen closet. Arched panels are seen, such as are found on pieces of this type made in the Queen Anne period. (Property of Charles Watkins).
PLATE IV. Top—Open Cupboard—Pine. (Maryland—c. 1730-1750). Here is represented the open type of cupboard which was often called a pewter cupboard, due to the fact that it was made to hold household utensils, as indicated by the spoon rail. The sides are cut in ogee scrolls and the top is cut in decorative scalloping. The later cupboards showing this style, which are often very large and elaborate, and have paneled doors below with more elaborate base, are made of walnut. This is, however, a recognized example of pine open cupboards. (Property of Francis D. Brinton).
PLATE IV. Bottom—Queen Anne Cupboard on Frame—Walnut. (North Carolina—c. 1730-1740). This Queen Anne cupboard of the early eighteenth century shows arched paneled doors that are particularly pleasing in design, and the cabriole legs are a distinctive feature. Due to its small size, this piece was used as a linen cupboard. It is a rare example of a little-known type of cupboard, found, as far as research and study has shown, only in the South.
PLATE V. Chippendale China Press —Walnut. (North Carolina—c. 1760). In this Chippendale china press, showing the Dutch influence, the tulip design is shown on each side of the eagle. The eagle holds the Masonic emblems in both claws. The designs are slightly raised, and carved. China presses of this general type are rarely found outside the South. From eastern North Carolina five pieces, carrying the same design on the cornice top, and with the scroll pediment, in mahogany and walnut, have come within the ken of this book. It it were possible to narrow down the field of search and locate the maker of this cupboard, the identity of some cabinetmaker of high ability in those distant days might be disclosed. (Property of Joe Kindig, Jr.).
PLATE VI. Paneled Door Cupboard—Cherry. (North Carolina—c. 1780-1800). Although not constructed by a finished workman, much care was given to the decorative effect of the panels of this cupboard. Turned quarter-posts are inserted at the corners. It is one of three cupboards, exactly alike, found in the vicinity of Salem, and made from native cherry. It is a unique type, found only around Salem, remaining to us from Wachovian days, where craftsmanship, as descended from Ingebretsen and Feldhausen, was often fine. (Property of Ralph P. Hanes).
PLATE VII. China Press—Walnut. (South Carolina—c. 1780-1800). This local-made production of the Hepplewhite-Sheraton period, though a china press, still indicates the first shape, as such presses did until 1800. The Pennsylvania Dutch influence, which was carried with the settlers into South Carolina where the piece was found, is to be remarked. The inlay adds a distinctive feature along with paneling of the doors, which show the Sheraton influence. (Property of Ralph P. Hanes).
PLATE VIII. Shell or Sunburst Built-In Corner Cupboard. (Maryland—c. 1730-1740). This type of cupboard is rare, although found at times in houses built around 1730 throughout the South. Frequently made by the builders of the house, as they show themselves to have been, and often of finer workmanship than the houses in which they were built, the indication is that they were the work of local cabinetmakers or traveling craftsmen. A paneled house in South Carolina containing one of this type of cupboard has been found, and while the surrounding paneling was of pine, the cupboard was of walnut and painted to match the wood. It must not be thought, however, that the cupboard was always a part of the original construction of the house. This cupboard is one of high lineage, having come from the house of Colonel Tench Tilghman, on the Eastern Shore of old Maryland, dating as it does, to 1738. Colonel Tilghman is remembered as a member of Washington's staff, and the house in which the cupboard stood, was inherited by the Colonel from his grandmother. (Property of William B. Goodwin).
PLATE IX. Chippendale Corner Cupboard—Mahogany. (North Carolina—c. 1770-1780). Again we find the eagle and Masonic emblem shown here with the ogee pediment, as it was called by early craftsmen, on a mahogany cupboard of fine quality from the same section as the china press illustrated in Plate V. The eagle decoration is identical with Plate V, but the cupboard has the finely scalloped shelves and a variation of the thirteen-pane door design, with eighteen panes shown here. The piece is made of fine mahogany. Features introduced advance the theory that the maker of these pieces was a very versatile worker. The scroll or vine-design on each side the eagle resemble the decoration on the cellaret in Plate III, Chapter XII. These pieces are all of exceptional type.
PLATE X. Chippendale Corner Cupboard—Walnut. (North Carolina—c. 1770-1780). This very large, inlaid walnut cupboard loses nothing from its excessive size. Inlay of rope design is shown in the ornamentation. The finials also show inlay. The arched door is a pleasing feature found on cupboards of this type. Some cupboards are of very generous proportions, but like this one, are so made that the beauty of line is not overcome by the unusual size of the piece. The piece was originally owned by General Joseph Graham, of Lincolnton. (Property of Mrs. Paul Chatham).
PLATE XI. Top—Chippendale Cupboard— (Maryland—c. 1765-1775). A mahogany cupboard of the finest type found in the South. The cornice top is particularly fine, with its band of carved fretwork below. The scalloped shelves, the pattern employed in the doors, and the choice of wood used on its lower doors all add to the distinction of this excellent piece. (Property of Joe Kindig, Jr.).
PLATE XI. Bottom—Corner Cupboard— (North Carolina—c. 1780-1800). Native cherry is used in this piece which has the stamp of fine workmanship upon it. The twisted-rope inset columns at the corners, the scroll top and decorative door stamp it as something that could not have been done by any but an accomplished workman. It was made in the vicinity of Salem, and reflects the character of what was done by the many fine cabinetmakers that worked there during the latter part of the eighteenth century. The date of the piece shows it is late for Chippendale influence. (Property of Ralph P. Hanes).
PLATE XII. Hepplewhite Corner Cupboard—Mahogany. (South Carolina—c. 1790-1800). A finely inlaid and veneered cupboard showing the inlay as mentioned in Chapter XII, Plate VI. These cupboards show the thirteen-pane glass doors said to represent the thirteen original colonies. However, this design was used before the thirteen colonies came into being. Cupboards of this type show both Hepplewhite and Sheraton influence. (Property of Carroll H. Fowlkes).