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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Chair Makers

In England the medieval joined chair (use of mortise and tenon joint) with a boxed-in under-frame, was followed in the 16th century by the joined chair with a panel back, topped by carved cresting, a flat seat, and turned front legs and arm support. The basic form of joined armchairs remained unchanged from the late 16th century until the mid 17th century. Until that time the joiner was the responsible maker, who employed turners and carvers.*

Chair making finally became a separate and recognized craft during the second half of the 17th century when the skills of the joiner, turner, carver and upholsterer were united.

Carpenters were also involved; they claimed to be the original over-all controllers of every form of woodworking, and regarded joinery and carving as branches of carpentry. Disputes arose during the 1630s and 40s that were about the relative functions of the three crafts, joiner, turner, and carver.

In 1632 the dispute was brought before the Court of Aldermen of the City of London, and in 1633 that Court decided that joining and turning were two distinct trades that must not encroach on each other. Their responsibilities were defined: joiners were not to undertake turned work, but must send such parts of the chair frames that required turning to a turner, but they were entitled to produce furniture with mortise and tenon joints, dove-tailed, pinned or glued. The mortise-and-tenon joint was widely used on chairs and other furniture from the Renaissance up to the Industrial Age.

Although the Court announced its decisions, the dispute was never formally settled. Nevertheless, specialization was established, turners and carvers secured their independence, and the structure of the furniture-making industry was reshaped.

*Note: The joiner, or joyner, was skilled in joining or fitting pieces of wood together; related to the word joint. Turners turned wood on lathes to create rounded shapes. For more information see, Gloag, John. A Short Dictionary of Furniture. George Allen & Unwin Ltd. London. Available at the Grand Rapids Public Library, Furniture Collection.

Early Grand Rapids Turners, Joiners, and Carvers

Joiners and carvers appeared in the 1868 Grand Rapids City Directory, but not in 1859. Workplace listed if provided.

Turners – 1859 City Directory

Helder, Ruett - C.C. Comstock

Huber, George W.

Kolvoort, Jno. - Geo. Widdicombe & Sons

Webster, Andrew J. – Wm. T. Powers

Woodworth, J. S.

Turners – 1868 City Directory

Bennett, George

Brown, Alfred D. – C.C. Comstock

Brown, Ezra D.

Clark, John - Berkey Bros.

Crouse, Charles

Fisher, Wm. A. – C.C. Comstock

Foote, E.H. – Nelson, Comstock

Hitchard, Garret

Jacobs, Albert L.

Lawrence, F. – Berkey Bros.

Leppingwell, Wendell – Widdicomb & Capen

Miller, H.B. – Budington & Turnham

Nash, Dwight - C.C. Comstock

Nash, Dwight E. - C.C. Comstock

Perlee, Abram

Place, H. – Berkey Bros.

Pugh, John W. – Atkins & Soule

Rademacher, Henry – E.W. Winchester

Stack, Richard

Toot, John F. – Berkey Bros.

Webster, Andrew J. – Berkey Bros.

Willoughby, H. – Budington & Turnham

Woodworth, J. S. – Berkey Bros.

Young, C.V. – Berkey Bros.

Joiners - 1868 City Directory

Carvers – 1868 City Directory

Baxter, Solon W.

Donnelly, James – Berkey Bros.

Cupernell, Eugene B.

Evans, William – Berkey Bros.

DeGraaf, Burend

Gay, Erastus L.

DeGraff, Garret

Mowat, John, Berkey Bros

Foster, Milton H.


Fretz, John


Gray, Joseph A.


Harkness, Charles


Jebb, John


Markle, Andrew


Sigler, Isaac


Stack, Maurice


Wildman, David S.




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