In April 2005, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will publish The 1772 Philadelphia Furniture Price Book: A Facsimile [ISBN 0-87633-188-6], a landmark publication that illuminates the inner world of Colonial Philadelphia's furniture trade while providing a lexicon of terms used by the journeymen and master craftsmen of the time. Primarily an example of price fixing, the book established standard costs for furniture and rates the master craftsmen should pay journeymen for the furniture so revered today for its design and carved decorations.
Serendipitously discovered in a box of books inherited by the donors in the summer of 2003, the single surviving printed copy of the price book passed into the Museum’s collection shortly thereafter. The existence of such a book was known through two manuscript copies in the collections of two Philadelphia-area institutions – The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Tyler Arboretum. In the Tyler Arboretum manuscript copy, the title page was copied and referenced that this list was printed "By James Humphreys…Philadelphia, MDCCLXXII ." The 36-page printed version is complete and extends pages beyond what the manuscript copies included. Furniture forms whose parts and costs are enumerated include desks, bookcases, high chests, chairs, sofas, beds, and other, more specialized pieces such as picture frames, ironing boards, and coffins. Each heading contains information on variations in the design and styling of each piece, with prices for each option depending on whether the piece was made in mahogany or walnut and the amount the journeyman should be paid for his work.
"In addition to serving as an economic barometer of the furniture trade in pre-Revolution Philadelphia, this magnificent book allows anyone who has an interest in American furniture to understand how Philadelphia craftsmen broke down their work into the simplest components," said Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley, Assistant Curator of American Art, who wrote the introduction and guide to the facsimile edition.
The pastedowns on the inside front and back covers are inscribed by the man who may have been the owner of the book. His name, Joseph Delavau, is penned along with an order for the fire screen for "Mr. Catwalater," no doubt one of the six surviving from the parlor of John and Elizabeth Cadwalader and of which the Museum owns one.
The facsimile edition will be printed in the same quarto-size (3 3/4 by 6 1/8 inches) as the original and can be used as a guide to the Philadelphia-made Colonial furniture in the Museum’s Cadwalader Collection. The 1772 publication, which is thought to have had a very small press run since it was likely not to be seen outside a close circle of artisans, was so successful in its organization and price structuring that it served as a model for furniture price books published in London, Connecticut, and New York in subsequent years.