Sofas, couches, and settees were luxury items in early nineteenth century houses. According to federal period estate inventories, these items were mostly found in the homes of the wealthy.
The Federal period sofa, one of a pair, retains its original under-upholstery. On the wooden frame of one of the sofa’s cushions appears the inscription “Wm Neal Sculp” the first that was ever made in Boston.” This most likely refers to the unusual design of the back, consisting of three fixed cushions separated by strips of reeding. The back cushions, as well as those beneath the arms, have wooden frames much like slip seat frames for side chairs. Thomas Sheraton, the English furniture designer, illustrated a sofa with similar block cushions in his Appendix to the Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book (published in 1793), but New England upholsterers rarely imitated the design. William Neal is listed in the Boston Directory only for the year 1809. His stay in Boston was probably short. He may well be the same William Neal who advertised in Petersburg, Virginia in 1817, that he could male “all kinds of FURNITURE In a Superior Manner.”
Thomas Seymour (1771-1848), maker
William Neal, upholsterer