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Johnson’s chair: Well-worn history from top to bottom

February 24, 2015

Filed under Collections, Pennsylvania Treasures

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The supporter of countless bottoms during its lifetime, this chair shows the wear and tear of many generations of everyday use.

Plank chairs, such as this one, were popular utilitarian pieces of furniture during the mid-1800s. They were made in both rural and urban areas by furniture makers who utilized faster, mechanized reproduction methods. Typically covered in paint to hide the different types of wood, plank chairs were often ordered in sets. They were usually finished with simple, hand painted or stenciled decorations of lines and floral or fruit motifs on the seat, spindles and back.

This plank chair, which has been in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s collection since at least 1943, is stamped with a clue to its origins. Philadelphia city directories list several addresses for John D. Johnson, “chair maker,” between the years 1847 and 1870. Johnson marked this chair with his name and address, 179 F.8. North Front Street, a location he listed from 1849 to 1852. Later, this area in Philadelphia would be cleared to make way for the construction of Interstates 95 and 676. Johnson employed at least two other chair makers in his household, John R. George from Virginia and Charles Franklin from New Jersey. He also possibly housed Irish immigrants working in the plaster trade.

Although it might look a bit worse for wear, this chair is a reflection of the everyday lives of our ancestors.

Collections Advancement Project Curator Amy Frey selected this chair as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.



About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.