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Home | Articles | Furniture Facts: The Loudon Connection

by Ted Jones

When the Bachelder family possessions were auctioned off in a series of sales in 1988 and 1993, dealers, collectors, and scholars gathered in droves at the Loudon, New Hampshire, homestead.1 Attendees were thrilled at the prospect of having access to furnishings that had remained in one family for generations. During the preview for the first auction, dealer Peter Sawyer recognized that a card table and a pair of matching chests of drawers appeared to be made by the same hand, forming a rare cohesive group of stylistically related furniture; a desk in the second sale was also made by the same craftsman. Recognizing their importance as a group, Sawyer purchased all four pieces. The furniture was of the federal period with turned legs and inverted pear-shaped feet, had delightfully scalloped aprons, and an unusual form of fluting that featured rounded versus sharp edges, seemingly combining fluting and reeding.

Donna-Belle Garvin, a decorative arts scholar and editor of Historical New Hampshire, the journal of the New Hampshire Historical Society, notes, “The discovery was important because collectors and scholars are always trying to tie furniture to stories of real people—those who made and lived with the objects we now view as antiques. Known family histories animate antiques and further our understanding of objects and the societies in which they were created.”

Cabinetmaker: Possibly Joshua Emery (1788–1870)

Area Worked: Loudon, New Hampshire

Time Period: Known to have worked in Loudon as a cabinetmaker from 1813–1835

Style Period: Federal (Sheraton elements)

Types of Known Furniture: Chests of drawers, desks, card tables

Clients: Rural New Hampshire families

Marks: None yet identified

Distinctive Elements: Turned legs with inverted pear-shaped feet; scalloped aprons; unusual rounded flutes

The Bachelder family has a long history in New Hampshire. The family founder, Abraham Bachelder, settled in Loudon around 1740, and built a one-and-a-half-story Cape that served as both a home and tavern, later erecting another Cape exclusively for his family. When the Bachelders found themselves in need of new furniture, it was logical for them to access a local source, according to Garvin and decorative arts scholar William Upton, the two of whom are collaborating on researching this group of furniture. Both say that while farmers in the area could be quite prosperous, they would not necessarily have had the social aspirations to purchase high style furniture from urban areas such as Boston, the North Shore, or Portsmouth, sixty miles to the east. They would have wanted modern stylish furniture similar to that owned by family and friends, which would have likely been purchased locally.

Over the next century, the family grew progressively poorer as the local economy switched from farming to manufacturing. The furnishings remained in situ until the auctions, which were filled with Revolutionary and Civil War mementos, early local post office equipment, Sears and Roebuck oak furniture, and the Loudon furniture group—the remains of an old New England family’s long history.

Chest of drawers, ca. 1820, Loudon area, New Hampshire, attributed to Joshua Emery (1788–1870). Cherry, maple, mahogany veneer and white pine secondary wood. H. 421/2", W. 421/2", D. 191/2" Courtesy of Peter Sawyer Antiques.
Shortly after the second auction in 1993, Sawyer made a house call to inspect the last few pieces of federal furniture owned by another old family in the area, the Sanborns. The objects included another Sheraton chest of drawers with the unique fluting found on the Bachelder pieces. The two homes were only three miles apart and the new discovery further indicated that the furniture was made in the immediate vicinity. Since then, about twenty related pieces have been identified in various collections, museums, and dealer inventories.

Upton and Garvin say there were several talented craftsmen in the Loudon area, including members of the Ross family in nearby Gilmanton, but they suspect the maker of this furniture group was Joshua Emery (1788–1870). Emery was born in Loudon and had family ties with the seacoast, his ancestors having lived in Hampton, New Hampshire, and Newbury, Massachusetts. No records yet discovered disclose his apprenticeship, but he is listed in deeds from 1813 to 1835 as a Loudon cabinetmaker, and his shop was located within five miles of the Bachelder and Sanborn homes.

Staff members at the New Hampshire Historical Society were aware as early as 1980 of the existence of a group of Loudon furniture. However, no cabinetmaker’s name came to light until 1990, when Garvin traced the likely descent of a related chest in the Society’s collection from its later owners in Grafton, New Hampshire, back to the cabinetmaker’s sister, Susannah Emery Brown of Loudon. Another chest, known to Historical Society staff since 1972, remains in the family of the original owner, who was related to Emery’s brother by marriage. By association, there seemed to be a link between Emery and the furniture. Research by Garvin and Upton in local history repositories showed that Emery kept a well-equipped cabinet shop and once filed a lawsuit for payment against a local man for a group of furniture, including a chest for $10, a table for $4, and a stand for $1, indicating he made furniture of this sort.

(at left) Desk, ca. 1820, Loudon area, New Hampshire, attributed to Joshua Emery (1788–1870). Cherry, maple, mahogany veneer; pine secondary wood. H. 46", W. 391/2", D. 191/4". Courtesy of Peter Sawyer Antiques.

(at right) Card table, ca. 1820, Loudon area, New Hampshire, attributed to Joshua Emery (1788–1870). Birch, maple, bird’s-eye veneer, and pine secondary wood. H. 29", W. 37", D. 171/2". Courtesy of Peter Sawyer Antiques.

While none of this evidence proves conclusively that Emery is the maker of this group of furniture, Garvin says, “Emery is the strongest contender right now, but firm documentation is still lacking. The information comes in slowly and over time.” Both Garvin and Upton admit that finding the final pieces of the puzzle has become a minor obsession, but they know what it will take to solve it—written records, such as an Emery shop account book, a family receipt, or a signed piece of furniture. Apparently Emery did sign at least one object, but it is in the Chippendale style and doesn’t relate to the federal pieces. All it proves is that one of Emery’s clients wanted a chest made in an outdated style. The mystery continues.

Ted Jones writes about antiques, art, and architecture. He is the author of Carnegie Libraries Across America (1997).


  1. Christopher L. Wallenstein, Sept. 24, 1988; John F. and Harold F. French, September 11, 1993.

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