A Rare and Important Pair of Housatonic Valley side chairs inscribed “H.M. Swift”

Home/Research/A Rare and Important Pair of Housatonic Valley side chairs inscribed “H.M. Swift”

A Rare and Important Pair of Housatonic Valley side chairs inscribed “H.M. Swift”

A rare and important pair of Chippendale cherry side chairs from the Housatonic Valley, Connecticut, 1775 to 1800, featuring a shell and vine carved crest, pierced splat and ball and claw feet.

The chairs feature the period ink inscription on the seat frames, “H.M. Swift”, possibly related to the family of General Heman Swift (1733-1814) of Cornwall, Connecticut. With an additional early 20th century jelly label bearing the inscription, “Mrs. Prescott Lunt.”

This fine pair of Chippendale chairs features the most elaborate combination of elements offered on seating furniture in the Housatonic Valley during the 18th Century. The boldly carved serpentine crests feature a projecting and carved scallop shell flanked by scrolled vines suggestive of carved decoration associated with more urban centers such as New York, Philadelphia and Boston. The pierced carved splat shows a sophisticated Gothic influence and displays extra attention with numerous scrolled returns placed throughout the design. The serpentine shaped lower edges of the seat rails, the large c-scrolls that begin on the knee returns and continue down the leg, as well as the oversized ball and claw feet are all additional elements that combine to create a chair of strength and beauty.

The crest of the chair shows a relationship those found on some seating furniture attributed to the Woodbury area and discussed in “Fiddlebacks and Crooked-backs” by Edward Cooke. The Chippendale side chair shown in Figure 14, page 53, features a simplified form without the carved details, however, similarities can be seen in the serpentine shaped crest rail, as well as the pierced splat featuring a well balanced design and a pierced quatrefoil design at the bottom. The serpentine shaped crest can also be seen in turned chairs from Woodbury illustrated by Cooke in Figures 11, 12 and 13. Interestingly, the scallop shell and vine carved crest have some relation to furniture made at the mouth of the Housatonic River in Stratford. The quality of craftsmanship and a similar aesthetic are found on a fine dressing table illustrated in “The Furniture of Historic Deerfield,” by Dean Fales, figure 442, page 217. The Deerfield dressing table shows a great attention to carved decoration, showing a deeply carved and complex fan, similar c-scrolls on the legs flanked by vine carving. The dressing table also features ball and claw feet, loosely related but featuring a more refined form.

The chairs both feature 18th or early 19th century ink inscriptions on the seat frames, “H.M. Swift.” The inscription is possibly connected to the family of General Heman Swift (1733-1814) of Cornwall, Connecticut. The son of Son of Jabez Swift (1701-1767) and Abigail Pope (1710-1767), Heman Swift was born in Kent, Connecticut. He became a prominent leader in the Connecticut Militia and was rewarded with the rank of Colonel and command of his own Regiment. Swift was involved in the battles at Brandywine and Germantown and wintered at Valley Forge. He was appointed Colonel to the Connecticut Line of the Continental Army and was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati. After the War ended Swift followed a career as a prominent lawyer and Representative to the General Assembly. He died in Cornwall in 1814 and the Sermon read at his funeral was published in 1815.

The second inscription is found on an early 20th century jelly label and reads “Mrs. Prescott Lunt.” One reference to Mrs. Lunt is found in the records of the Daughters of the American Revolution from 1921, “The bugle call, given by Mrs. Wheeler, announced the opening of the Conference at 3 o’clock, when the State and National Officers, with distinguished guests, entered, escorted by thirty pages. The personal page of the State Regent was Mrs. Prescott Lunt, one of the young matrons of Rochester Chapter.”

Mrs. Prescott Lunt appears to be Ida Barrington Vought Lunt who was born September 24, 1893 in Rochester, New York, the daughter of Grandin Throckmorton Vought, who was born on Oct. 31, 1858 in Pittsford, NY. Grandin Vought was married second on July 13, 1886 to Mary E. Loud (1859-1895). Grandin Vought was the son of James Throckmorton Vought (1814 – 1894) of Duanesburg, NY and Freehold, NJ. and Mary Jane Tracey (1836-1868), and the grandson of Christopher Vought (1787-1825) and Mary Johnson Throckmorton (1787-1849), also of Duanesburg and Freehold. She was married to Prescott Lunt who was born on Jan. 29, 1895 in Rochester, NY, the son of Clarence S. Lunt (b.1867) and Edith M. Prescott (b. abt. 1869) who were married on October 22, 1889 in Rochester, NY. It is interesting that the Vought and Lunt families do not appear to have a direct connection to the Swift family. Perhaps it was Mrs. Prescott Lunt’s activities in the DAR that led to her acquisition of these fine chairs.

Combining beauty, rarity and historical significance, these chairs stand out as important examples of the Chippendale design as interpreted in the Housatonic River Valley. With boldly carved shells on the crest, intricately carved splats and over sized ball and claw feet, these chairs survive as symbols of the wealth and success enjoyed in western Connecticut at the end of the 18th century.

Leave A Comment