Vincent Cerniglia, an antique collector for over 30 years, believes he has one of the earliest surviving Colonial chairs from Annapolis.
He collects antiques from the 18th century in the Maryland area and before the Revolutionary War. While attending an estate sale in Lutherville on April 11, he came upon a chair from the early years of Annapolis.
“The unusually shaped shepherd’s crook arms. The chair sat well disguised in the corner of the Opfer Auction House amongst other household goods from the estate sale,” Cerniglia said. “The auction was well attended by dealers and collectors, including some who were familiar with the possessions of the estate. After moderate interest from others, I was the successful bidder of the early armchair.”
After the auction, Cerniglia researched whose estate was sold and found out it was Diana Hyde’s. She was the wife of Bryden Bordley Hyde, a descendant of Stephen Bordley, state attorney general from 1756 to 1763, who lived in the Bordley Randall House in Annapolis. Hyde was also the founder and president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, a member of the Ancient South River Club and vice president and trustee of the Maryland Historical Society.
Chairs in the Colonial period were generally made in large sets of 12 to 16 for the dining rooms in large houses such as the Brice House, William Paca House or the Hammond-Harwood House.
Armchairs were made for the heads of the household and usually one or two chairs were made per set. The rest were side chairs, without arms, so there are far fewer surviving armchairs than side chairs. The arms also had a tendency to break and the chair would be discarded, Cerniglia said.
“This was a really cool discovery, the Bordley family chair,” Cerniglia said. “The original, authenticated and unusually shaped shepherd’s crook arms date this chair to 1749 or 1750, prior to the Sands family CWF side chair (1750-1760) and the Brice family armchair (1760-1775). Annapolis was the only center in Colonial America that was producing a chair with these very distinctive qualities,”
There is an effort to determine which Stephen Bordley was the owner of the original chair.
Because it belonged to an ancestor of Bryden Bordley Hyde, it could be Stephen Bordley Jr. (1709-1776), not the Stephen Bordley (1710-1764) of Annapolis, who did not have any children, said Rachel Lovett, assistant director of Hammond-Harwood House Museum.
They were first cousins, she said. The actual ancestor Stephen Bordley did not live in Annapolis but on the Eastern Shore, but his cousin Stephen Bordley, the attorney general, did. It is possible the chair was picked up on a visit from the Eastern Shore to Annapolis, Lovett said.
The most likely candidate who produced these early and important chairs is John Anderson, a cabinetmaker and chairmaker who arrived in Annapolis from Liverpool in 1746 and worked in Annapolis until 1759. He is the only recorded chairmaker in early Annapolis who had the longevity to have his style emerge and evolve in this town.
Cerniglia said is unaware of any other chair in any private collection or museum that predates the chair he has found.
“It is highly probable that this is one of the earliest surviving chairs made in an Annapolis cabinetmaker’s shop,” Lovett said after looking at photographs. “The attribution to John Anderson is very likely, given the splat [back of the chair], lobed ears on the crest rail [top], and crook-shaped arms, which is an English form and typical of Anderson’s work. Anderson would have seen similar crook-shaped arms during his training in England. I would date the chair to the late 1740s. Further investigation, and looking at the chair in person after pandemic concerns subside, can reveal more information.”
One day, Cerniglia plans to donate the chair to the Historic Annapolis foundation or Hammond-Harwood House.
“I think it is an important piece of Annapolis history, and Annapolis is embedded in history,” Cerniglia said. “Annapolis has so many surviving structures and homes, but there is not a lot of furniture that has survived.”