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Civil War Era Chairs in Alexandria, Virginia Offer a Glimpse into the Life of a Civil War Veteran from York, Pennsylvania – George Hay – Chair, Cabinet & Coffin Maker

Posted by The Proprietor (Your Personal Curator) on

Collecting combines the thrill of the hunt, serendipity, research (that enables history to come alive) – and ultimately the opportunity to enjoy interesting and beautiful “objects” that tell a story. Each find offers a chance to get an additional and perhaps illuminating glimpse into another time, place and culture. Those who have a passion for collecting are especially fulfilled when the treasures they find come with a “history” or provide opportunities to do research and learn much more.

Whether it is an Epinal print of a Napoleonic battle scene, chairs made by a York, Pennsylvania furniture & coffin maker who served in the Civil War, or the 1944 letter from a father serving in World War II to the daughter whose college graduation (May 1944, UNC – Chapel Hill) he would miss ---- all offer small windows into other times when patriots were serving their countries.

Years ago we became the “caretakers” of four interesting 19th century painted chairs. They were actually two almost identical pairs – with just slight differences in the shape and painted decoration. When we purchased them, we very much liked the fact that they had the original paint. The paint was worn, showing wear from use in three different centuries. We much preferred this authentic “character” to the more usual option --- finding 19th century painted plank bottom chairs that have been “improved” and “refreshed” by later re-paintings (thus obliterating the authenticity, charm and value of chairs in their original condition).

Two of the chairs had an extra “bonus” that enabled us to learn a lot more about their history. The maker’s “label” stenciled on the bottom reads ---



We do not know if these were made by him before or after his 1861-1863 military service. Some of the few similar George Hay chairs (that usually suffer from later re-painting) that have come on the market in recent years were usually dated by the sellers to the 1840s or 1850s. Colonel Hay was 52 when he left his business in 1861 to serve as the Commanding Officer, 87th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. To learn more about the citizen-soldier who was a Pennsylvania craftsman and entrepreneur, you can read our listing description on our eBay store. The eBay item number is 182066211098 for listing

Please go to our eBay listing to read about George Hay, the American craftsman (1809 – 1879). His story – before, during and after the Civil War (he served from September 1861 to May 1863) – is fascinating (note his use of his coffins as hiding places for a York shoemaker’s inventory of shoes and boots – to protect them from the approaching Confederates in June 1863). As we wrote in that listing -- “As you know from our listings, we are passionate about the historical "documents" that we have collected.  We consider ourselves the caretakers of these special pieces.  It is especially wonderful, as in the case of these chairs, when historical and biographical information is available to enrich the splendid objects with a more detailed historical context.”

The popular PBS series Mercy Street is set in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War. Those familiar with the series know that James Green (of Carlyle House) ran a very successful furniture business as well as the luxurious Mansion House Hotel. We will never know if our four chairs made by York furniture maker George Hay have been in Alexandria since the 19th century or if they made their way to the area in subsequent years. We do not know if our Hay chairs were made before his military service or after he returned to York to resume his occupation as “CHAIR, CABINET & COFFIN MAKER” (and undertaker). Even without having all the historical pieces of the Hay chairs’ history and provenance, they are fascinating historical “documents” -- survivors from the mid 1800s that have been in Alexandria, Virginia with their current caretaker for the first years of the 21st century.

The two chairs that are currently available for sale are the only ones (in our original selection of four) that have George Hay’s stenciled “labels” on the bottoms. We are currently offering these at a drastically reduced price so that someone with a love of Civil War history can become their new “caretaker”.

We encourage history and antique buffs to do more research on these two furniture businesses, the more modest Hay firm in York and the enormously successful Green enterprise (c. 1820 - 1887) in Alexandria. There was an exhibition (with a catalogue) in Alexandria (at the Lyceum) on Green furniture in 1986. You can also read online about the fascinating annotated 1871 Green catalogue that is in the archives of the Library of Virginia.

The objects, memorabilia and art (with military connections and/or themes) that we currently have listed online (on several venues) include an interesting and eclectic selection ranging from the Civil War and the pre World War I years through both World Wars and beyond. The 1944 letter to a university senior from her father -- who was going to miss her graduation from UNC -- is especially poignant and reminds us of the many sacrifices of those who serve to protect their countries.

Feel free to contact us with questions about George Hay’s chairs or any other items of interest as you check out our websites and sales venues.

Please also read our other blog posts and share them with friends.   

When you are in the Washington, D.C. area, we strongly encourage you to visit extraordinary Alexandria – where you can explore a vibrant history that spans several fascinating centuries!

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