Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854), a Scottish-born American cabinetmaker, was one of the best-known and finest furniture makers in the United States.
In 1798, the Phyfe family emigrated from Loch Fannich, Scotland to Albany, New York. Soon after, Duncan’s father opened a cabinetmaking shop. There, Duncan worked with his family until 1792 when he decided to make his way to New York City.
Phyfe bought property on Partition (later Fulton) Street where he made his home and eventually purchased an adjacent lot that was made into a workshop. His high-quality furniture was sought after in New York, Philadelphia. It’s popularity even extended to the southern sates where he had agents brokering his inventory. In addition to developing an individual style and promoting high-quality workmanship, Phyfe introduced the factory method into American cabinetmaking. From “the apprenticeship system”, with no division of labor, he evolved a system where individual craftsmen performed specific duties. All of the work was executed under Phyfe’s supervision, and his personal genius was largely responsible for the excellence of his furniture.
By 1847, a very successful Phyfe decided to discontinue the business and sold his entire inventory at auction. He remained in his home, on Fulton Street, until he passed away in 1854.
The furniture, style and method of production in Duncan Phyfe’s workshop remains highly respected by collector’s today and are a reminder of the craftsmanship of this period in the history of American furniture.