Defining the Tappan Chair
It’s common to hear a ladder-backed chair called a “Shaker Chair”— in the 19th century, the Shaker communities built beautiful chairs and sold many throughout the United States; so much so, that their name became synonymous with a style of chair that had been in common use for centuries before. Yet at the same time as the Shakers were marketing their chairs, a host of contemporaries also existed across our country, and as one of them the Tappan family was quietly cornering the local market with durable and appealing chairs. Simple and elegant, Tappan Chairs are similar in appearance to Shaker furniture, yet they developed independently and concurrently to that movement as a secular statement of handmade, homespun craftsmanship. And unlike many other manufacturers who have come and gone, Tappan Chairs have endured in nearly constant production, including continuing to use vintage equipment from the earliest days as the business has passed from one maker to the next over generations both in, and now beyond, the original family.
A Brief History
First made by Abraham Tappan, who in 1768 (at age five) was among the first settlers of Sandwich, New Hampshire, ladder-backed Tappan Chairs have become an iconic and treasured part of their town’s history since the first one was created in 1819. Through two subsequent generations of the Tappan family, from Abraham’s son Daniel to Daniel’s own sons Walter and Winthrop, Tappan Chairs continued to be crafted from stout rock maple and hardy white ash as the family made its livelihood by selling and trading them throughout the region.
Daniel Tappan, second Tappan Chairmaker ca. 1850-1887. Image courtesy of the Sandwich Historical Society.
It was only in the 1930’s that the business (already over 100 years old) moved out of the family and into private hands in the Sandwich community, first to Doctor Quinby and Albert Hoag, and then later to Cy Blumberg. Having survived floods that wiped out mills and washed away many patterns in the 1880’s, Tappan Chairs almost disappeared from the Sandwich landscape with the death of Cy in the early 1960’s--yet even then the business was saved at auction and placed in storage for two decades until Gunnar Berg revived and rejuvenated it in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Gunnar Berg (l) and Adam Nudd-Homeyer, sixth and seventh Tappan Chairmakers. Photo courtesy of Sean Hurley.
The seventh and latest in this nearly two hundred year-old dynasty of stewards, Adam Nudd-Homeyer has taken ownership of the title “Tappan Chairmaker” for this current age. Immersing himself in a study of the story and build of these singular chairs, he has returned models into modern production, such as a great five-slat rocker, which had not been crafted in a century or more. Moreover, he has introduced a range of fine, local furniture woods from which to expand the selection of the line, and offer to the modern world what this brand has become, both in elegant style and historic story: a line of fine furniture.