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Duncan Phyfe has become a generic term for common furniture type

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What does the term “Duncan Phyfe” really mean? Duncan Phyfe was a Scottish cabinetmaker who emigrated to the U.S. and settled in New York City in 1791. He was a master craftsman whose chairs, sofas, and wardrobes were in high demand throughout his working life. He died in 1848, having created a body of work that was, for the most part, unmarked. He incorporated neoclassical elements into his designs and historians sometimes label his style as Empire.

Today “Duncan Phyfe” has become a catchall phrase for wooden furniture manufactured in the twentieth century exhibiting design elements such as curved legs and claw feet. These items have absolutely no connection to Duncan Phyfe the cabinetmaker nor any company or corporation ever associated with him or designated to continue using his name and designs.

A genuine piece of Duncan Phyfe furniture dating from the early 19thcentury and originating in Mr. Phyfe’s New York workshop is truly a valuable and historic treasure. The wooden dining room sets many Cincinnatians grew up with or saw at their grandparents’ homes and are often referred to as “Duncan Phyfe” are most likely common but sturdy items made much more recently. They might have a charm of their own but should not be confused with the prominent and important early American furniture that truly represents the Duncan Phyfe name.

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