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Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker

comments (9) February 1st, 2012 in blogs

Ed_Pirnik Ed Pirnik, Senior Web Producer
thumbs up 27 users recommend

Two exhibits boasting original works by Duncan Phyfe are currently running in New York City.
Learn about the secret to authenticating early 19th-century card tables. Hint: its all about the crack.
Two exhibits boasting original works by Duncan Phyfe are currently running in New York City. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Two exhibits boasting original works by Duncan Phyfe are currently running in New York City.

Photo: Hirschl & Adler

Never in my life, did I think I could possibly pair the word "blunder" with the name "Duncan Phyfe." The Scottish-born artisan's work as a cabinetmaker in the first half of the 19th century is beyond reproach. Let's be quite frank: my own abilities will never equal those of Phyfe, period.

Tool chest inspired by Phyfe
That said, while working on a new audio slideshow on Phyfe, I was surprised to learn that card tables put out by the master and his contemporaries in New York, all suffered from the same structural problem which has resulted in cracks which, according to Hirschl & Adler Gallery's Elizabeth Feld, are a telltale sign of the "genuine article." OK, alright, I'm being a bit dramatic. Duncan Phyfe didn't "blunder" anything. Knowing, however, that even one of the most gifted woodworkers ever to crank out a piece from the new world, made what some might consider "mistakes" makes me feel a heck of a lot better every time I utter a four-letter word after mis-cutting a dovetail or cracking a tenon. I guess even Duncan Phyfe was human.

Watch the audio slideshow below for a complete explanation regarding what I am now dubbing "New York Card Table Syndrome." And to see Phyfe's work up close and personal, New York City is currently home to two wonderful exhibitions:

The World of Duncan Phyfe

Hirschl & Adler Gallery
The Crown Building
730 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
December 15, 2011 - February 17, 2012

Duncan Phyfe, Master Cabinetmaker in New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
December 20, 2011 - May 6, 2012


Special thanks to Hirschl & Adler's Elizabeth Feld, who so graciously allowed us to photograph, fondle, and admire a variety of original pieces by Phyfe and his New York contemporaries.

posted in: blogs, period furniture, Duncan Phyfe, Hirschl & Adler, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Comments (9)

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: Hey Dennis,

I'm not familiar with Linke but did have the pleasure of going through a great deal of information about Lannuier while working on this slideshow. Hirschl & Adler also has pieces by this maker on display as well.
Will have to Google Linke today.



Posted: 8:45 am on February 9th

DennisZongker DennisZongker writes:
Hi Ed,
This is a great video about Duncan Phyfe. I'm a big fan of furniture history, his style is very similar to the French Empire and Regency Britain around the early to min 19th century. Have you ever heard of Francois Linke?

Thank you for showing some history of a great master furniture maker. It would be very cool if you did a lot more of this kind of thing.
Posted: 9:39 pm on February 8th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: Hi outdated: I believe you may have mis-heard what was stated in the slideshow: What Miss Feld speaks of is the fact that Phyfe does not appear to have been trained at all before his arrival in the United States, nor did he come from a cabinetmaking family or background. Mere statement of fact. Cheers, -Ed
Posted: 9:20 am on February 8th

outdated outdated writes: Epirnik what I was referring to in the video to be exact is when it is said that Duncan Phyfe "does not appeared to have been trained". Not only does his skill in cabinetmaking indicate he would have been trained in the art of cabinetmaking which is self evident in itself but he was in fact trained in Albany New York and not only did he Apprentice in the trade he opened his own shop in Albany New York prior to moving to NYC. Duncan Phyfe moved to NYC worked for a furnituremaker there and sold his design to Mrs. Dorothee Langdon the daughter of John Jacob Astor one of the richest men in America and Mrs. Dorothee Langdon was a great customer to Phyfe and this was key to his decision to open his own shop in NYC which he did and had great success and all of this prior to even meeting his wife. The video I reffered people to watch is on youtube with citations to historical books at the end. I personally feel it is a diservice to Duncan Phyfe one of the greats in the history of furnituremaking to not respect the fact he earned his skills and was at work doing this for his livelyhood. The skill which Duncan Phyfe attained was more than someone merely crossing his path later in life whom happen to be a cabinetmaker and inspiring him.
Posted: 8:13 pm on February 7th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: SFGaloot, rburwell, and vance: Many thanks. The Hirschl & Adler exhibit is closing soon, do try and catch it!

outdated: Not sure what you are referring to in your response. Did you actually watch the slideshow?


Posted: 7:30 am on February 7th

SF Galoot SF Galoot writes: Thanks for posting the video. I wish I could make it to New York to see the exhibit. My wife did buy me the exhibit catalog book which is quite good for my birthday.
Posted: 6:35 pm on February 6th

rburwell rburwell writes: I had the great pleasure of visiting the Metropolitan Museum exhibit in NY last Friday. What a show of beautiful technique, wood and design. Definately worth a visit.
Posted: 9:11 am on February 6th

outdated outdated writes: Do not know if you can post video responses from YouTube here so I will mention a video on YouTube titled "Duncan Phyfe Cabinetmaker.wmv" if you type that in YouTube it will take you to a video about Duncan Phyfe and a brief history about him. Duncan Phyfe was one of the greats of furnituremaking . I have a basic grasp of furnituremaking history and was shocked by this videos ignorance of Duncan Phyfe. For anyone interested just type "Duncan Phyfe Cabinetmaker.wmv" on YouTube. For anyone familiar with Duncan Phyfes work it is obvious that he would have been trained in the art of furniture making as nearly every last furnituremaker was during this period in American history. This is hard to stomach considering the source involved here. WOW
Posted: 3:34 pm on February 5th

vance vance writes: Excellent. please do more of these slide show articles to enlighten us all!
Posted: 6:22 pm on February 4th

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