By Herb Lapp
I occasionally make Windsor chairs. Last year I completed a commission to make some fine and broken eighteenth century pre-Revolution Philadelphia Windsor chairs for the American Revolution Center that is being built in Philadelphia. I have studied hundreds of old Windsor chairs at museums all around the Delaware Valley; that research has allowed me to publish two articles on my findings and research. This posting was edited from one I did on my face book page. All this work has given me some exposure that lead to a wonderful email message from Karie Diethorn, head curator at Independence Hall and a good friend. She oversees a team of curators that are responsible for all the artifacts associated with Independence Hall and the national historic park that surrounds it. I like to tell folks that she “owns” the Liberty Bell for us! At the end of this blog you will read the message that I received from Ms. Diethorn.
A lady from Atlanta, GA contacted me months ago after researching a special Windsor chair that was made in colonial Philadelphia. She discovered me via the web site my friend Bob Fouracre created for me (Herb Lapp ) and an article about my chair research at Carpenters’ Hall. The family’s oral tradition indicated that an ancestor purchased the chair from Carpenters’ Hall about 1820. With my research at Carpenters’ Hall and its archives (now preserved by the American Philosophical Society also in that city,) I knew that it was not purchased from the Carpenters’ Company. But from my chair research I was absolutely sure it was made in Philadelphia and most likely by Joseph Henzey.
The chair passed through many generations of the family until it was owned by a descendant in Atlanta, who was in the late stages of terminal cancer. After viewing some cell phone photos of the chair, I told the caller all I could about its possible history from the photos. This opened up an opportunity for me to ask what was going to happen to it since the owner had no descendants, and it didn’t really belong in Atlanta, in my opinion. It seemed to me to be much more appropriate for it to be returned to Philadelphia and might even be donated to Independence Hall…..a long shot but I felt confident that that was an appropriate place for it. Prior to passing, the owner was excited about the idea of it being donated and agreed to have it done as part of his final requests. I contacted Karie Diethorn at Independence Hall and started a conversation with her about the feasibility of a donation of this special Windsor chair from Atlanta. She made no promises about whether it would be accepted into the collection and the estate also made no promises. But they did start a conversation that I facilitated. Recently the chair was brought to West Chester to be appraised by a famous antiques dealer, Skip Chalfont from West Chester, Pa. I gave him permission to post one of my Windsor chair articles on his web site.
Karie has informed me and the owners that they will gladly accept the chair and proudly display it in the Assembly Room within Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and signed! I have goose bumps all over and am over the top to have been able to play a small part in preserving this history. The chair will be displayed for generations of history lovers and people eager to learn about the origins of our government. Sometime this winter I will go down to Independence Hall and study this chair as I have so many others. I may even reproduce it! Here is a small part of Karie’s message: “… I talked it over with my colleagues, and we agree that Independence [Hall] would be most pleased to have the chair for its permanent museum collection. Upon receipt of the chair and processing the documentation for it, we would place the chair on exhibit in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall (the room in which the Declaration of Independence was signed.)”
Many E.A.I.A. members find themselves in similar situations and have an opportunity to facilitate the preservation of old artifacts. This is one story. I hope it encourages members to ask these kinds of questions where possible so that historical treasures will continue to be saved and displayed for others to learn and appreciate. Happy hunting.