President James Monroe ordered this pair of mahogany armchairs for the East Room of the White House in 1818. The order was placed with Georgetown cabinetmaker William King Jr., and the set originally consisted of 24 chairs and four sofas. The chairs cost $33 each, and the purchase of the set was financed by the “furniture fund” that had been appropriated by Congress in 1817 to refurnish the White House after the British burned it down three years earlier.
Originally supported upon brass casters, the chairs were not upholstered. They were described in the 1825 inventory of furniture in the President’s house as “unfinished.” The chairs were made usable in 1829, when the East Room was decorated by Louis Veron & Co. of Philadelphia. According to an invoice, the set was “stuffed and covered, mahogany work entirely refinished, and cotton covers [supplied].” At that time they were upholstered in “blue damask satin,” and the reference to “cotton covers” suggests that the set was provided with slipcovers used to protect against sunlight and dirt during the summer months.
In 1873, the set was sold at auction when Boston decorator William J. MacPherson redecorated the East Room under President Ulysses S. Grant. The DAR Museum purchased the chairs from an antique store in 1961.
American Spirit, Volume 141, No. 1, January/February 2007, Page 11
Photo by Mark Gulezian/QuickSilver