History Lesson: Claw and Ball Foot

The inspiration for the design of the claw and ball foot came from a Chinese motif of a dragon’s claw clutching a pearl or crystal ball. Often associated with the cabriole leg (a symbol of 18th century furniture), good examples of the claw and ball foot can be found in Chippendale and Queen Anne furniture, as well as some Georgian pieces. It was first developed in Europe by the Dutch in the early 1700’s, and made its way to America about 30 years later. The style of the carving generally seen in England is a lion’s paw, and an eagle’s talon in America.

Burled walnut Queen Anne dressing table, England c.1760


Irish Chippendale armchairs in mahogany, late 18th c.


Chippendale mahogany drop-leaf table, America c.1780


(Images via 1stdibs)

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2 Comments to History Lesson: Claw and Ball Foot

  1. Mary's Gravatar Mary
    July 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I inherited a wing back chair with ball and claw feet. I was told that it has been in the family for generations. I know that it was part of my great grandparents’ living room furniture circa 1910 but believe it to be older. What should I be looking for to substantiate this? I believe it came from England.

  2. Tristan's Gravatar Tristan
    December 17, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    Hello – in my experience, furniture that has been in a family “for generations” usually hasn’t. People make assumptions (or tell fibs) and those become “fact” over time. Doesn’t mean that your chair isn’t the exception of course. Reproductions of 17th and 18th century furniture were all the rage in the U.S. after the centennial in 1876, and were made into the 1930′s/40′s. Some copies were good, some were loose interpretations of historical styles. Does your chair have a manufacturers label under it? Is its construction pegged or mortised and tenoned (possible signs of real age) or is it held together with metal screws? Screws weren’t widely used in furniture until the mid 19th century, and they were sometimes covered with wooden plugs to make them look like pegs on “colonial” reproductions. Look under the chair. If it’s covered with fabric, remove it, in can always be re-tacked or stapled. Are there wooden braces at each corner, held in place by screws? If so, your chair is “colonial revival”, early 20th century no doubt.

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