Artifact Corner: 19th Century Couches

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at 3 couches that we have in our collections. The two maroon or burgundy colored sofas are from the Victorian era. They are booth on a wooden frame, with small brass wheels on the feet, and are upholstered with a braided trim. The other couch is an earlier piece, and was probably made some time in the 18-teens to the 1820’s. This couch is also a wooden frame, and covered in upholstery, but this couch does not have wheels on the feet. The two Victorian couches seem to have their original upholstery, but we are not so sure about the cream colored couch, we think that may have been re-covered. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of couches.

A couch, also known as a sofa, settee, futton, or chesterfield, is a piece of furniture for seating multiple people in a home. It is commonly found in the form of a bench, with upholstered armrests, and often fitted with springs and tailored cushion and pillows. The word “sofa” dates back to 2000BC in Egypt, and is derived from the Arabic word “suffah,” spelled s-u-f-f-a-h, which roughly translates to “bench”. The benches of the time were made of wood, and likely not nearly as comfortable as the couch currently gracing your living room. Wealthier people in the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman societies would have strewn pillows about their sofas as a way to add more comfort to their lounging. The average person likely just made due with their wooden benches. Unfortunately for us, fabric does not survive 2,000 years very well, so not many cushions from this era are still around. Wooden benches remained the ultimate in lounge furniture for the next 1,600 years.

All of this changes in the late 16th century. European craftsmen reimagined and revived the sofa as a comfortable addition to the newly weatherproof housing that was beginning to emerge all over Europe. In the half-century from roughly 1670 to 1730 is when virtually every kind of furniture now common in Western homes was invented. Suddenly, having a cushioned and upholstered sofa was all the rage for home decor. But, like most things, initially it was only really affordable for the wealthy. New technology often takes time to become more affordable and accessible to the masses. Throughout the 18th Century, sofas began to slowly work their way into more and more homes. By the time the Delord’s moved into their house on Cumberland Ave in 1811, couches were common in most peoples lives. During the Victorian period, sofas and couches were in pretty much every home, and in every color and textured fabric imaginable. Victorian’s loved color, and their homes were super vibrant, some might even call it garnish today. So it’s not surprise that their furniture was bright and striking, and used bold patterns too.

Our couches are in overall good condition, but if you come to visit us at the museum you will see signs asking that people not sit on them. This is because all of them are either approaching 200 years old, or in the case of the cream couch, over 200 years old. So, the body and the springs are fragile, and therefore, not something we want to test. They are a great example of what would be considered at their time to be the height of fashion and comfort in home decor. We are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,