This one-horse open sleigh is known as an Albany Cutter. First made in Albany NY in the 1830’s this type of sleigh was made throughout the Midwest and North East as late as the 1920’s. This type of sleigh was also known as a courting cutter. In person, you’d see how tight the fit is for two people. Perfect for a 19th century date.
It’s made of white oak and sassafras with iron runners. The main structure is steam bent white oak. The side panels are steam bent white oak veneers, not plywood. The sassafras was used in the steam bent upper body of the coach (the single piece that makes up the upper back and sides). The use of veneers was to keep the weight low. Some craftsmen were able to keep the total weight under 100lbs. (not this one).
Because of the use of sassafras, and assuming wood was locally sourced that would place construction between Missouri and Ohio/Pennsylvania, rather than further east or North. That’s a big assumption as the railroads made raw materials like wood available anywhere cutters were made. I’m afraid we’ll never know.
The original S shaped front dash was early plywood, but the side panels were veneers. The original fasteners were limited in use and all soft iron standard screws. Early cutters used no screws, and later examples used more screws. Also in this time period, accessories like the boot scraper and unrestored remnants of a whip holder on this piece were added. Therefore, I’m dating this to the late 19th century, possibly very early 20th century.
The cutter was originally acquired by the Johnson family and used on their St. Alban’s estate. Oscar Johnson was one of the founders of the International Shoe Company. He and his wife Irene Walter Johnson used the estate as a weekend getaway, beginning in the very early 1900’s. Theodore Link, the architect of Union Station, designed The Studio, one of their homes on the estate. It was completed in 1904. (This also supports a late 19th/very early 20th century date for the piece)
The cutter was later acquired by Joseph Forshaw III (of Forshaw Furniture of St. Louis) as an anniversary gift for his wife Stella Elizabeth “Peppy” Forshaw. They married in 1948. Mr. Forshaw proposed to his wife in an identical sleigh, so he purchased it as a gift. Mr. Forshaw passed away in 2011. I believe Mrs. Forshaw is still alive. The Forshaw business in St. Louis dates back to 1871.
The Stockell family of St. Albans acquired the sleigh at a 2007 fund raising auction at St. Alban Roe.
Two years ago they asked if I could make a recommendation regarding its value and potential to be restored. Based on my research, I believed that a restoration costs would far exceed the realistic commercial resale value. But as a hobby project, I could do the work as the material costs were relatively small.
The restoration took the better part of 2 years, as the front dash needed rebuilding as well as some of the oak structure in the coach and on the runners. I’d estimate it’s about 80% original wood with all original iron fittings. The paint is a close match to the original red color. Having no idea of the original upholstery, I reproduced what Joseph Forshaw saw when he acquired it.
It was re-painted once before WWII with a red nitrocellulose lacquer paint. A later restoration in the 1960’s or 70’s repaired, repainted and reupholstered the sleigh. This date is based on a PROXLIN AUTOMOTIVE FINISHES paint stirrer under the upholstery. During this repaint, a maroon (blue toned red) thermoplastic acrylic lacquer was used. By this time the curve of the dash must have been failing badly and steel bar was used to reinforce it.