Few houses of historic interest and importance in the United States have as well-documented interior appointments as Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the last thirty years, the curatorial staff has mounted a sustained effort to use that documentation to interpret the rooms to give the modern-day visitor an astonishingly authentic view of the home as Andrew Jackson experienced it. This rich and fully developed window into the domestic past does not owe its existence solely to the efforts of the curators, however. They were fortunate that many of the furnishings miraculously survived, along with boxes full of original documents relating to them. Miraculous, perhaps, but thanks in part to the Union Army, which posted a guard at the house early in the Civil War to protect it.1 The State of Tennessee bought the Hermitage in 1856, but members of the family continued to live there until it became a museum in 1889. None of this would have mattered, though, if the hero of the Battle of New Orleans and stern seventh president of the United States had not been a bit of a decorator.
One might have thought that battling the British, the Creek and Cherokee Nations, the South Carolinians, the Second Bank of the United States, and the dramatic vicissitudes of the cotton market might have been enough to occupy any general. But Jackson, in addition, left hundreds of letters to his adopted son Andrew Jackson Jr. and to agents, friends, factors, and other purveyors of fine furnishings to carry out his thoroughly considered and often detailed plans for feathering his nest. This campaign was not to be deterred by several misfortunes that would have given pause to less determined men. The first was the untimely death of his beloved wife, Rachel, in December 1828, mere weeks after Jackson’s election to the presidency. The second, in October 1834, was the accidental burning of the house only three years after Jackson had added a classical colonnade to the front and single-story wings to each side, along with new furnishings, to accommodate his son and new daughter-in-law while he was resident in the White House. Much of the downstairs furniture somehow survived this calamity, but everything upstairs had to be replaced. Finally, in 1836, when the post-fire Hermitage was ready to be occupied again, twenty-three boxes of furniture, French scenic wallpaper, and other costly furnishings that had been shipped from Philadelphia burned on the packet ship Randolph, only yards from the wharf in Nashville.2
With the house and its furnishings as evidence, there is no doubt that Andrew Jackson possessed a clear vision of how he wanted to be perceived by his visitors—as a fashionable, urbane gentleman, not the warrior whom history recalls. The house was designed in the Federal taste in 1819, enlarged and given a facelift with the classical colonnade in 1831, and finally rebuilt and remodeled with a doublestory front portico in the fashionable Greek revival style in 1836. The appointments were made in France and England and by the best New Orleans and Philadelphia cabinetmakers. Working from Washington, largely through middlemen such as Philadelphia merchants Chaloner & Henry and George W. South, as well as his agent Henry Toland, Jackson created a torrent of correspondence to purchase and repurchase carpeting, china, mirrors from Paris, silk curtains, brass andirons and fireplace equipment, venetian blinds, candelabras, bronze lamps, clocks, silver, French wallpaper, and a great deal of furniture. Even with his family and agents at his command to execute his plan, it is remarkable that Jackson found time to see to the business of the nation.
There is little evidence that Jackson sought out the finest bespoke furnishings, but there is abundant evidence that top-quality makers and suppliers were important to him, and that his purchases were to reflect both the newest styles and a respectable and solid level of quality—the very best he could afford. As early as 1821 he had patronized French immigrant François Seignouret—the most famous of New Orleans cabinetmakers—and silversmith Anthony Rasch, who had arrived in New Orleans from Philadelphia the year before. Jackson’s glamorous redecoration of the East Room at the White House early in his first administration can be seen as both a continuation of his natural penchant to decorate and a developmental experience for refining taste and making contacts in the trade that he would use at the Hermitage. For example, in 1833 he bought furnishings for the Hermitage from Louis Veron and Company, a luxury emporium in Philadelphia that imported fabrics, fine English bronze lighting fixtures, French porcelains, and other deluxe offerings, and had been the principal contractor for the East Room redecoration in 1829.3
At the Hermitage the challenge for curators and historians alike is to match the documentary evidence with the extant objects, sorting out items for which there are no invoices and invoices for which there are no objects. This is made complex by a lack of detail in the documents and questions about which articles on invoices did not survive the fires at the mansion and on the Randolph, and the existence of pieces that should have perished. At least two of Jackson’s furniture purchases, where the documents seem to match the extant objects, should be of keen interest to furniture historians, curators, and collectors. The first took place on April 15, 1825, the date of an invoice from Chaloner & Henry for “2 Large Sofas” bought from Robert West for $140. The significance of this had been lost, until now, because West’s name appears in no twentieth-century publication about American furniture; his name is virtually unknown. Period publications, however, tell a different story. In a review of the second annual Franklin Institute exhibition of American manufacturers in 1825, under the category of “Cabinet ware,” West is identified with a small group of Philadelphia’s best cabinetmakers, including Anthony G. Quervelle, Michel Bouvier, Charles H. White, and Cook & Parkin, all of them well known today.4 Because they are very grand and masterfully carved, these two sofas easily explain West’s place in that exalted bracket (Figs. 1, 5). The documentation linking them to West opens a window on an important maker whose work can now be identified.
According to federal census reports, Robert West was born in Ireland about 1776 or 1778 and died a widower in Philadelphia at age ninety-two or ninety-four on July 1, 1870.5 He first appears in Philadelphia directories in 1814 as an upholsterer at 57 South Fifth Street.6 In 1816–1817 he is listed at 55 South Fifth as an upholsterer, but his trade card (Fig. 6) describes his business as a “Couch, Sopha [sic] & Mahogany Chair Manufacturer.” By 1818 he had relocated to 129 Walnut Street, where he remained until he retired in 1830.7 By 1819 West’s directory description had changed to “cabinet maker and sofa manufacturer,” although it is clear from his advertisements that he specialized in chairs and sofas. Representative of these, his February 1819 advertisement in Relf’s Philadelphia Gazette, and Daily Advertiser touts “Grecian sofas, chairs for sale and export, hair seating, [&] repairs.”8 This and other advertisements of the period 1817 to 1819 in which the terms “for exportation” and “packing” appear indicate West’s focus on the export market, an essential element of survival for the larger cabinetmakers in Philadelphia’s central business district. West offered his “elegant sofas” at a discount especially to attract buyers who would have to pay additional sums for packing and shipping. Indeed, it is clear that expertise in packing, advertised by West and others, was used to attract southern and western buyers. Outbound coastal manifests indicate that he shipped furniture to agents in Alexandria and Richmond, Virginia; Savannah, Georgia; and Havana, Cuba; and the physical evidence shows that he shipped furniture up the Mississippi and Cumberland Rivers as well.9 In addition to finished furniture, West provided raw materials to other makers outside of Philadelphia, providing an added dimension to his business.10
After the Panic of 1819 West complained of declining business in 1820, as many cabinetmakers did, but his business rebounded, and he reported employing five journeymen with both steady and occasional work, three boys, and a woman.11 By 1829 he had approximately doubled the size of his production facility by adding twentyseven feet to its depth.12 The size of his facility, almost five thousand square feet, and its location in the epicenter of the central business district indicate the importance of West’s operation. As late as May 5, 1830, he sold a set of twelve mahogany chairs at $7 each through Henry Toland to Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, it is unclear which, if any, of the chairs at the Hermitage today correspond to those on this invoice. Only one other piece of labeled or documented furniture by West is known, and it, like the sofas at the Hermitage, reveals in a stroke the importance of this unheralded maker (Fig. 4). This labeled bronze-mounted, bird’s-eye-maple-front mahogany worktable with a lyre base links West to a group of at least a dozen highly distinguished games tables and a like number of worktables, many in the collections of America’s great museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.13
A series of six invoices dating from 1823 to 1829 from West to James J. Skerrett (1784–1875) of Philadelphia is also known.14 Though the ten pieces represented on the invoices can no longer be identified and their whereabouts are unknown, the invoices are instructive, nevertheless, because they shed light on West’s pricing and the multiple forms of furniture he supplied, which included wardrobes, beds, bookcases, bureaus, easy chairs, and tables. A sofa West sold to Skerrett in 1825 was priced at $43, in contrast to the sofas for $70 each that he sold to Andrew Jackson in the same year. Skerrett was a rapidly rising and ostentatious officer with the Philadelphia Bank, and West’s furniture was intended for his town house at 153 South Tenth Street; it presumably later graced Loudoun, his wife’s ancestral home in Germantown and, later still, their posh town house on Colonnade Row on Chestnut above Fifteenth Street.15
It would seem, in any case, that West was both prolific and profitable, because when he retired in 1830 he had the capital to demolish his shop and build on the site a four-story purpose-built brick workshop and wareroom.16 Interestingly, West rented his impressive new facility to Joseph B. Barry, another of Philadelphia’s celebrated master cabinetmakers and a future supplier of furniture to Andrew Jackson.17 A pair of Philadelphia box sofas (see Fig. 8) at the Hermitage today suggests that Jackson started buying furniture from Barry shortly after he began renting space from West. These sofas share identical feet and seat and crest rails with a published example signed by G. W. Pickering, a journeyman in Barry’s shop, and dated September 5, 1833.18 Another published Philadelphia box sofa of closely related design is marked by the cabinetmakers Cook & Parkin,19 whose partnership broke up in that same year, establishing 1830 to 1833 as the likely date of manufacture for the examples at the Hermitage. There is no corresponding bill of sale for the Hermitage sofas, and it is not clear exactly when they arrived, before or after the 1834 fire. They must have pleased Jackson, for on February 9, 1837, the firm of Barry & Krickbaum (Barry took Louis Krickbaum on as a partner in the last two years of his career) issued an invoice for $707 for thirteen pieces of furniture and the concomitant boxes and packing to be shipped in sixteen boxes consigned to Maunsel White, Jackson’s New Orleans factor, for shipment to Nashville.
The invoice, made to Andrew Jackson Jr. reads:
1 Large Wardrobe, $75
2 Dressing Bureaus to Match, $110
2 Wardrobes. french pattern, $120
1 Eliptic front Bureau, $45
1 Secy & Book case complete, $50
2 Pier tables. Marble tops, $120
1 Work table Elegantly fitted up, $50
1 Wash Stand marble tray top, $35
2 Ditto do, $50
1 Marble Slab, $10
The handsome “Eliptic front” bureau (Fig. 9) is easily understood as a Grecian “plain” style version of the great hermcarved elliptic bureaus of the late 1810s and 1820s on which Barry’s reputation rests, yet the remainder of the pieces seem more generic and have less connection to Barry as he has been understood until now. This evolution in style in the early 1830s is not entirely surprising, considering the changes coming from Europe that were influencing the work of all American cabinetmakers. Highly influenced by the taste of Louis XVIII and Charles X, popular in France in the 1820s and referred to as French Restauration, the style began to enter the vocabulary of American cabinetmakers in the mid- to late 1820s but did not become fully developed and dominant until about 1833. It is characterized by the softening of the sharp edges of the Empire style that preceded it: curves were introduced into formerly flat and angled surfaces, and scrolled legs replaced columnar supports. In America carving was replaced by smooth, highly figured, veneered surfaces, and such decoration as bronze appliqués, gilding, and stenciling slowly disappeared. The abstracted result was a plainer, apparently simpler classicism known in the United States as Grecian plain style. The pieces at the Hermitage represent not only the largest single group of furniture documented to Barry but the first and only group in the Grecian plain style tied to him.
These pieces (Figs. 9–12,15) are interesting and challenging because, save for the “Eliptic front” bureau, they do not conform to the preconceived notions held by furniture historians and dealers of what Barry’s work should or might look like—while identifiably Philadelphian, they do not display his distinctive style and carving. Although scholarship on Barry is still thin and few documented pieces are known, this group of furniture with documentation may pose as many questions as it answers.20
This is true for two reasons. It is now apparent that Barry struggled, as most American cabinetmakers did, to bring a high level of artistic expression to the new abstracted style; and there is evidence to suggest that Barry & Krickbaum may have subcontracted some of these pieces. Perhaps it is unproductive to compare Barry’s work to that of New York cabinetmakers, but the stature of his known work of the 1810s and 1820s was every bit the equal of Duncan Phyfe’s. Yet, by some accounts, Phyfe succeeded in raising the bar in the new “Modern,” or Grecian, style to the best work of his storied career, whereas the Hermitage Barry group falls short of that standard.
A better comparison is the mid-1830s work of the celebrated Philadelphia master cabinetmaker Anthony G. Quervelle, as exemplified by a commission of twenty-two pieces made in 1835 for Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull of Rosedown Plantation in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. When the Rosedown furniture was published in The Magazine ANTIQUES,21 it revealed, to the surprise of many scholars, that Quervelle also departed radically from his earlier more ornamented style, adopting the more generic, abstracted Grecian style; without the accompanying documentation, the Rosedown furniture is similarly difficult to distinguish as his work. There are many stylistic similarities between the Turnbulls’ and Jackson’s furniture, made only a year and a half apart; but the most notable difference is that Quervelle charged considerably more for his products—$100 for a wardrobe versus $75 from Barry; $90 for a secretary bookcase versus $50 from Barry; and $40 for a marble-top washstand versus $35 from Barry & Krickbaum. Jackson knew Quervelle’s work from a magnificent set of four pier tables and three large center tables ordered at public expense for the White House East Room redecoration in 1829, and perhaps he was equally familiar with his pricing and determined to avoid it at the Hermitage.22
Students of Philadelphia classical furniture will need now to incorporate this body of Grecian work into their understanding of the oeuvre of this most exalted of Philadelphia makers, but we must also weigh the possibility that some of the pieces were subcontracted or bought from other cabinet shops. It is not clear why this would have been necessary or desirable for Barry & Krickbaum at this time, but there are certainly other known examples of this practice in the cabinet trade, and the relatedness of the two tables shown in Figures 13 and 14 can hardly be ignored. Figure 13 shows the “Work table Elegantly fitted up” priced at $50 on the Barry & Krickbaum invoice to Andrew Jackson Jr. The occasional table in Figure 14 bears the label of longtime Philadelphia master cabinetmaker Richard Parkin, and was recently published in my article ‘“A Shadow of a Magnitude’: The Furniture of Thomas Cook and Richard Parkin.”23 As distant as the worktable may seem from the other furniture traditionally associated with Barry, or even from the other pieces in this commission, it is close to the known style of Parkin. The “2 Dressing Bureaus to Match” on the Barry & Krickbaum invoice also relate closely to a maple dressing table attributed to Parkin (or Cook & Parkin) in the aforementioned article, suggesting strongly that they were made in the same shop. Whether they were made by Barry’s shop or Parkin’s is difficult to ascertain due to a paucity of documented examples from this period from either shop, but I have long suspected a working connection between Barry and Parkin. That Parkin rented his premises at 134 South Second Street from Joseph Barry begins a daisy chain of clues that winds its way back, through a two-block radius in Philadelphia to the president of the United States, Andrew Jackson.
I thank Marsha Mullin, VP Museum Services and chief curator of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage for assistance and unfailing cooperation in all aspects of the creation of this article. Bruce Laverty of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia was instrumental in locating fire insurance surveys and city maps.
1 Stanley F. Horn, “The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson,” The Magazine ANTIQUES, vol. 100, no. 3 (September 1971), pp. 413–417. 2 Nashville Union, March 19, 1836, p. 2. 3 Betty C. Monkman, The White House: Its Historic Furnishings & First Families (White House Historical Association, Washington, DC, and Abbeville Press, New York, 2000), pp. 83–84. 4 Niles’ Weekly Register, October 15, 1825, p. 107. Also mentioned are William Fling, George Stiles, and John Graham. 5 1850 and 1860 United States Federal Censuses; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificate Index, 1803–1915; Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 2 and 4, 1870. At the time of his death, West was living at 632 North 18th Street. His real estate was valued at $10,000 and his personal worth was recorded as $60,000. He appears in the 1820 Federal Census in the Locust Ward, with seven others in his household. Desilver’s Philadelphia Index, or Directory, for 1823 lists his home at 55 South 5th Street. 6 Kite’s Philadelphia Directory for 1814. It is possible that this is the same building as 55 S. 5th due to numbering changes on the street. 7 The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire Surveys of 1829 (4656) and 1834 (4989) for this building indicate that it stood on the east corner of a court between 4th and 5th Streets on the north side of Walnut. See Perpetual Fire Insurance Surveys, 1800–1840, Archives of the Philadelphia Contributionship, Philadelphia. By 1898 this site was occupied by the Imperial Insurance Company building. 8 Deborah Ducoff-Barone, “Check list of cabinetmakers and chairmakers of Philadelphia, 1816–1830,” The Magazine ANTIQUES, vol. 145, no. 5 (May 1994), p. 754. 9 Deborah Ducoff-Barone, “The Early Industrialization of the Philadelphia Furniture Trade, 1800–1830” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1985), pp. 41, 98, 110, 112, 133–134, 195–197, 200; and Page Talbott, Classical Savannah: Fine and Decorative Arts 1800–1840 (Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, 1995), pp. 165, 168. 10 A May 1821 printed bill of lading from West to Willis Cowling, a Virginia cabinetmaker and upholsterer, specifies “one bag Containing a hundred lbs of Hair” for $33.50 on the schooner Enterprise, Henry Swain, Master. I am grateful to Christian Kolbe, Archives Research Coordinator at the Library of Virginia, for finding this document for me in the Cowling Papers. See also J. Christian Kolbe, “Willis Cowling (1788–1828), Richmond Cabinetmaker,” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, vol. 27, no. 2 (Winter 2001), pp. 51–75. 11 Ducoff-Barone, “Check list of cabinetmakers and chairmakers of Philadelphia, 1816–1830,” p. 754. 12 In 1829 West insured a large cabinetmaker’s shop, measuring 21 by 80 feet with approximately 4,669 square feet of space, with two stories in the front of the building and three in the back; survey 4656, Perpetual Fire Insurance Surveys, 1800– 1840. 13 Henry Hawley, “Philadelphia Tables with Lyre Supports,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 75, no. 1 (January 1988), pp. 2–27. Beatrice B. Garvan, Federal Philadelphia, 1785– 1825: The Athens of the Western World (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1987), pp. 34–35. J. Michael Flanigan, American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1986), pp. 184–185. There are differences in construction and stylistic refinements between the table in Fig. 6 and those referenced in the Hawley article, preventing an ironclad attribution of Hawley’s examples at this time. Another closely related table is stamped by Philadelphia cabinetmaker Joseph Beale, working at 75 Dock Street, at least 1810–1820, indicating that more than one Philadelphia maker produced this model; see Allison Boor et al., Philadelphia Empire Furniture (Boor Management, West Chester, PA, 2006), p. 256. 14 The invoices are in Box 34 (1974), Loudoun Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. I thank Jeanne Solensky at the Winterthur Library for bringing them to my attention. Mark Arnold Bower points out, in “Loudoun, Germantown, Philadelphia: Country House of the Armat Family: The Years 1801–1835” (master’s thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1984), that Skerrett subsequently also had dealings with other highprofile Philadelphia cabinetmakers, including Charles White, Michel Bouvier, and Alfonse Le Jambre. 15 Some of the furniture may survive at Loudoun, 4650 Germantown Avenue, but the house was badly damaged by fire in 1993 and is not open to the public. I thank Theresa R. Stuhlman, preservation and development administrator, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, for assistance in attempting to track surviving Skerrett furniture at Loudoun. 16 Ducoff-Barone, “The Early Industrialization of the Philadelphia Furniture Trade,” p. 133. According to the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire Survey 1834, West’s new building boasted three folding sash doors in front, “finished outside with plain pilasters, Ionic caps, & a plain neat entablature across the whole front,” and the modern convenience of an interior “hoisting place through each floor to the fourth story” for a large cabinetmaking operation. The surveyor noted, “The 1st & 2nd stories are cabinet-ware rooms and the 3rd & 4th stories are occupied as work shops.” 17 Beginning in 1831, Robert West is described as a “Gentleman” in Philadelphia city directories. 18 Boor, Philadelphia Empire Furniture, p. 377. 19 Illustrated ibid., p. 378. 20 Donald L. Fennimore and Robert T. Trump, “Joseph B. Barry, Philadelphia cabinetmaker,” The Magazine ANTIQUES, vol. 135, no. 5 (May 1989), pp. 1212–1225. This is the only piece of scholarship that attempts to identify Barry’s earlier style, yet many of the examples illustrated are undocumented. 21 Thomas Gordon Smith, “Quervelle furniture at Rosedown, in Louisiana,” ibid., vol. 159, no. 5 (May 2001), pp. 770–779. 22 Monkman, The White House, pp. 84–85. 23 Carswell Rush Berlin, “A Shadow of a Magnitude’: The Furniture of Thomas Cook and Richard Parkin,” American Furniture 2013, pp. 156–195.
CARSWELL RUSH BERLIN is an antiques dealer and furniture historian focusing on American classical furniture.