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Duncan Phyfe
1768 - 1854

Immigrant Becomes America's
Leading Cabinetmaker, Furniture Designer

Duncan Phyfe is considered by many critics as America's greatest cabinetmaker and one of its foremost furniture designers. His name is still a household word to a large segment of the American public. ■ He was born in 1768 in Loch Fannich near Inverness and came to America about 1783. He settled in Albany but was later to move on to New York City where he set up his own furniture designing and manufacturing business. In 1837, he took his sons into partnership in the business listed in a New York directory as "Duncan Phyfe and Sons." ■ It was in New York that he changed his name from Fife to Phyfe. Although he was considered more of an adapter than an innovator, he perfected along his own lines the finest forms of Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture. ■ He made chiefly sofas, tables and sideboards. His lyre-back chairs and tripod-base tables are distinctive. His best designs are characterized by excellent proportions and delicate curves. ■ Phyfe was particular about the materials he used, importing the finest Cuban and Santo Domingo mahogany to his expanding plant in New York City. He also used sandalwood, rosewood, maple and walnut as well as other woods. ■ He maintained the highest standards and exercised close supervision over his 100 or so employees. The beauty and excellence of his style enhanced his reputation. ■ Although he designed furniture in the popular American Empire style of the times, he considered it inferior. His critics believe that Phyfe's best pieces were produced before 1825. ■ As he grew older, Phyfe gradually withdrew from the business of designing and building furniture and lived quietly in retirement until his death August 16, 1854, in New York City.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546