The other night my wife and I watched William Wyler’s 1956 picture, Friendly Persuasion, starring Gary Cooper an Doroty Maguire. It’s a wonderful picure and it made Tony Perkins a star (and teen heartthrob). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a Quaker family in rural Indiana at the time of the American Civil War.
At one point during a shot inside their house I turned to my wife and said “Do you notice anything about their furniture?” She replied “You mean that it’s exactly like our furniture?”
That’s not entirely a coincidence. The Civil War marks a sort of turning point in American furniture. Prior to about 1840 all American furniture was made with hand tools. nails when present were cut nails, and furniture was frequently oil stained and handrubbed. The old fashioned styles tended to persist in the country but by the time of the Civil War boards were cut with circular saws, machine-made nails were used, dovetails were generally machine cut, surfaces were sanded, and finishes were frequently sprayed on.
Much of the furniture other than overstuffed pieces in our house is country furniture made before the Civil War, mostly what’s called “country Sheraton” although we have some Shaker pieces, too. Even our modern furniture is mostly handmade. There’s a picture of one of our cupboards in the background of this picture. I had the table and chairs made to order by a craftsman in Minneapolis more than 30 years ago.