July 25

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jul 25 - 7:25:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1766).

“Where likewise may be had the mathematical GOUTY CHAIR.”

What was a “mathematical GOUTY CHAIR”? The gouty chair was a precursor to the modern wheelchair (though what made this particular model “mathematical” remains unclear). In Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England, 1754-1851, Akiko Shimbo indicates that it is not exactly certain when gouty stools and gouty chairs first appeared: “the earliest example in published pattern books was Hepplewhite’s Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide (first edition, 1788).”[1]

Those who suffer from gout experience painful inflammation of the joints, notably in the hands and feet (and especially the toes), which would indeed make standing or walking difficult. Shimbo further indicates that elite men were especially prone to gout in the eighteenth century; the malady was associated with an increase in luxury. The term “gouty chair” was likely intended “to convey a luxurious and superior image.”[2]

That made the gouty chair ideal for Benjamin Bucktrout, CABINET MAKER, from LONDON,” to promote in his advertisement. Bucktrout arrived in Williamsburg in 1766; his advertisement was the first time his name appeared in any sort of public records in the colony. He seized upon the occasion to make a memorable first impression. Not only did he have the cachet of migrating from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, he also promised that he produced furniture “in the neatest and newest fashions.” What better way to demonstrate the fashionable aspects of his work than to construct gouty chairs, a product already linked to luxury and refinement? In highlighting this particular piece of furniture, he signaled to the local elite that he understood their concerns and was prepared to serve them well.

Jul 25 - Gouty Chair
Gouty Chair (Unknown Maker, ca. 1800).  Victoria and Albert Museum.

**********

[1] Akiko Shimbo, Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England, 1754-1851: Design as Interaction (Routledge, 2015). See chapter 4, “Forming Taste and Style: Consumers’ Needs and Participation.”

[2] Shimbo, Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England. See chapter 4.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s