Historical Artifacts

Constantine Desk 2005_156_000/tiles/non-collection/s/sh_historical_artifacts_house_chamber_desk_2005_156_000.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This desk was the sum total of a Member's work space.
Constantine Desk 2004_069_000/tiles/non-collection/s/sh_historical_artifacts_house_chamber_chari_2004_069_000.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Simple chairs on casters were upholstered in long-wearing horsehair.
Car of History/tiles/non-collection/s/sh_hall_of_the_house_car_of_histroy_aoc.xml
Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol The Car of History, Carlo Franzoni
<em>Liberty and the Eagle</em>, Enrico Causici, Plaster, 1817–1819/tiles/non-collection/s/sh_hall_of_the_house_liberty_and_the_eagle_aoc.xml
Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol Liberty and the Eagle, Enrico Causici, Plaster, 1817–1819

The Constantine Furniture

After the Capitol was burned in 1814 during the War of 1812, the building was gutted and all new furnishings were required. Four years later, funds were secured for the furnishing of the rebuilt Hall. Under the direction of Speaker Henry Clay, an advertisement was placed in the leading newspapers of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York in search of a cabinetmaker who could supply "chairs and tables…made out of the best St. Domingo mahogany, well seasoned, strong, neat and plain; without any superfluous ornament.” A New York cabinetmaker named Thomas Constantine was chosen for the contract. The Benton desk and the Constantine chair are surviving examples of the simple, well-made mahogany furniture that was in use in the old Hall of the House from 1818 until new furniture was made for the renovation in 1857. The furniture made by Thomas Constantine was sold at auction on June 28, 1858.

The House Chamber Desk

This desk was used by Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who also served 30 years in the Senate. He sat in this single-drawer version of the Constantine desk, in the front row, when he served in the House during the 33rd Congress (1853–1855). It has a bowed hexagonal shape to allow for the curved seating rows in the old Hall. All the Member desks had unusual shapes like this example, and some had two or three drawers. Benton’s desk was sold in the 1858 auction for $6.25. It was acquired by the American Antiquarian Society in 1886, who gave the desk as a gift to the Capitol in 1981.

The House Chamber Chair

In addition to being made of fine mahogany without superfluous ornament, the chairs for the Hall were to be straight-backed, with splay feet in back, turned legs in front, on brass castors, with “the bottoms and backs of the chairs…stuffed with hair and covered with the best hair cloth.” This chair, which was given as a gift to the U.S. House Collection in 2004, has been conserved to maintain the original intended appearance of the Member chairs.

Liberty and the Eagle

Above where the Speaker's rostrum was located when the Old Chamber was in use, the allegorical sculpture group Liberty and the Eagle, made by Italian sculptor Enrico Causici, still stands. The sculpture depicts a female figure of Liberty, who holds a scroll representing the Constitution over a bald eagle, which stands for America. A serpent loops around a fasces-like bundle, or the wisdom wrapping around the stength of unity. The group is carved in plaster.

The Car of History

The marble clock carved by Italian sculptor Carlo Franzoni in 1819, can be seen directly across the room from Liberty and the Eagle. Also part of the original ornamentation of the Chamber, this sculpture depicts Clio, the Muse of History, astride a winged chariot, with a clock on the face of the chariot's wheel. The clock was made by Simon Willard in 1837, and still keeps time today.