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Ramsey House Empire/Federal Style Sofa

This Federal style sofa, circa 1825, is an example of how furniture was used for many years and cherished within families. Anna Ramsey had this Bucks County, Pennsylvania family sofa shipped to her new home in Minnesota from the east coast. A more fashionable cotton blue velveteen with matching flat silk trim was applied circa 1875 by the family. Because this blue velveteen show cover was badly damaged due to age, fading and mechanical stress it was brought to the textile lab for conservation.

photo of the front of Federal style sofa

The blue show cover was easily determined to not be original by comparing the age of the sofa and style of upholstery covering. Once the show cover was deinstalled internal springing, curled horsehair, and tacking edges were examined as primary sources of information. Detailed analysis of the tacking edges revealed that the seat was originally stretched with linen webbing and built up with a curled horsehair cake, not springing. Springing had been added when the sofa was recovered with the blue show cover. Fortunately the original curled horsehair was not discarded but positioned on top of the secondary spring cover cloth as padding. This combining of old and new materials is a common find and evidence of an upholsterer's need to economize in costly supplies and time. Fragments of the first generation show cover of black horsehair, a common covering for sofas of this era, was found along the tacking edges.

photo of the back of Federal style sofa

While the seat foundation materials were a combination of first and second-generation applications, the arms and inside back foundations of horsehair and linen fabric are original. Closely spaced square tack holes line all tacking edges. Brass shanks were found within some of these holes, with partial fragments of gilding indicating decorative brass domed nails. A common form of edge finishing, these decorative nails were applied along the horsehair show cover. The outback, a second-generation application, is a very interesting piece of blue dyed canvas, possibly indigo.

Because the couch is to be exhibited in a room dating 1870-1880 a replacement blue cotton velveteen similar to the one chosen by the Ramsey family was applied. Since the seat springing was stressing the frame, it was documented and removed. Slides and a single spring have been kept for documentation purposes. A support plank of polyethylene Dow 220 foam was installed in their place. The original horsehair cake was placed on top of the plank, restoring the profile of the seat. All new materials were secured with hand stitching to sewing bases applied to tacking edges. A trim of silk flat tape similar in weave structure will be dyed to match the one removed. The outback, which is in good and stable condition, will be reattached where necessary.