This sofa by William Hancock is an extremely important example of late neoclassical Boston furniture. Until this one turned up recently at a small south shore auction house, there were four known examples, one in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, and three in private ownership. Two of the surviving sofas in this style have labels by Hancock. A third is signed. This example is neither labeled nor signed, but it is clearly made and designed by Hancock. The sofa descended in the Dunbar family of Canton.
William Hancock, born in 1794, appears in Boston directories as a cabinetmaker and/or upholsterer from 1820 to 1849. Hancock appears to have made and upholstered his own pieces as well as upholstering items made by others. The fashionable widow Elizabeth Salisbury of Worcester commissioned new furniture from Hancock when she updated her house in the 1830s.
Boston neoclassical furniture tends to be more restrained than furniture of this period made in New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore. There tends to be greater emphasis on the quality of the mahogany veneers and on well-articulated carving, and less on opulent gilding or applied brasses.
While Historic New England has several sofas from this period, this is the most high style example, and along with the Grecian sofa on the landing at Otis house, made by Vose, one of only two with known makers. We have no other furniture known to have been made by Hancock, but we do have a labeled pair of cushions that were used to determine the fabric we chose for reupholstering the sofa.
William Hancock (b. 1794), maker
Boston, Massachusetts, 1826-1828