Thomas Elfe (1719-1775) Premier Cabinetmaker

Thomas Elfe rarely gets a mention in books or on antique shows like Antiques Roadshow, but he remains one of America’s premier 18th Century cabinetmakers. His furniture represented several styles such as Georgian, Gothic, Rococo, Chinese and French.

Born in England in 1719, he immigrated to Charles Towne (Charleston), South Carolina in 1747 and established himself as a tradesman. By the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, personal wealth in Charleston was six times greater than in Boston or Philadelphia. Along with this boom came a desire for fine homes both at the plantations and in town. There were several cabinetmakers in Charleston during this period, but Elfe was the most respected becoming a millionaire in today’s currency.

When Elfe died in 1775, he left behind an Accounts Book that reveals over 1,500 pieces of furniture sold to many of Charleston’s wealthy merchants and planters. Today, you might be very lucky to find one of his pieces, but it is not likely. His surviving pieces are among the most valuable of American antiques. They can be seen in some of Charleston’s historic mansions as well as the Governor’s mansion in Columbia, SC, and in such museums as the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in North Carolina and the Charleston Museum.

His home at 54 Queen Street (see 12. Thomas Elfe House) has been preserved and is open to the general public. For information about the house and tours, visit http://www.thomaselfehouse.com/.

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