The simplest designs of line and dot inlay on Southeastern Pennsylvania furniture are found on framed, or wainscot, chairs. Several surviving chairs, possibly from the same set, have stringing in the form of a quarter of a circle inlaid in the corners of the back panel.
A single chair has pairs of arcs ending in three dots springing from the corners of the back panel. Initials and a date are inlaid in lightwood on the crest rail. The inlaid date is 1704 or 1714. Furniture historians disagree on whether the zero was changed to a 1 or vice versa. I have not personally examined the chair. In either case, this is likely one of the earliest dated inlay with stringing ending in a cluster of three dots.
Simple stringing designs appear on a few surviving early eighteenth-century joined chests of drawers made in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The designs consist of straight lines and sections of circles, it’s easy to discern how the designs were laid out.
One chest of drawers has the lightwood initials “PG” with a single dot between them inlaid on the top. The early date may have been added later. It has hard pine drawer sides and backs and Atlantic white cedar drawer bottoms. The chest could date to the first decade of the eighteenth century.
Three black walnut framed chests of drawers with turned feet may have been produced by the same shop in the first or second decades of the eighteenth century in Chester County, Pennsylvania. They have a distinctive horizontally oriented bi-lateral inlay pattern. A singular motif fits on the short drawers and the motif is doubled on the long drawers. The designs have either a central oval or diamond device that surrounds the brass pulls. (Other chests attributed to this shop survive, an unpublished chest is in the collection of Winterthur Museum.)
The elaborate line and dot inlay designs present on the drawer fronts of these chests has long been associated with central and southeastern Chester County. Similarities of the chests include overall dimensions, joinery, inlay, moulding profiles, secondary wood species, and the use of single-pull brass fittings. The chest in the collection of the Dietrich American Foundation is the only chest that survives with its original front ball feet.
An auction catalogue entry suggests the “SO” initials inlaid in the top of the first chest above refer to Sarah Ogden (b. 1691), a member of the prominent Ogden family of Chester County, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of David Ogden (1655-1705) who immigrated from England with William Penn in 1682. He later settled in Middletown, Chester County. (Middletown remained part of Chester County until 1789 when Delaware County was created from the southeastern portion of Chester County.) David and his wife, Martha Houlston (married 1686) had 9 children. Sarah married Evan Howell (died 1734) in 1711 in Whiteland, Chester County. A related chest of drawers with the initials “MO” has a history of descent in the Ogden family of Chester County and may have originally been owned by Sarah’s sister, Martha (born 1689). That chest is in the collection of the Gloucester County Historical Society in Woodbury, New Jersey (acc. No. 1916.41). If this information about the ownership of the chests is correct, we can assume the chests were made around the time of Sarah and Martha Ogden’s marriages. Incised lines made with dividers on an interior surface of the “SO” chest shows the joiner working out a drawer front stringing design. Interestingly it does not correlate with the drawers of this chest as closely as it does with others produced in this shop which employ diamond shapes at the center of the pattern where they surround the single-drop brass pulls. The incised vertical lines are very much a part of how these designs are constructed. The radii and divisions of the circles they create are used to locate the fixed leg of dividers when creating the designs. As I mentioned previously, dividers are used to design stringing inlay patterns, but a different tool is used to cut the channels for the stringing in the wood surface.
The layout of type of stringing design seen on these chests begins with a horizontal line drawn through the center of the drawer and a vertical line where the brass pull will be placed. One leg of the divider is placed where these lines intersect, the other leg is placed at the determined height of the central element as the first step in creating the design. Various means are used to deal with the graduated heights of the long drawers. The center element is typically enlarged, the other elements may or may not change in size. At times the two lower drawers have inlay designs of the same size, the ones above slightly smaller.
Several objects attributed to Chester County, Pennsylvania in William “Bill” du Pont’s collection have related line-and-dot inlay on their facades.