Not long after America won its independence from England, Thomas Jefferson was appointed the U.S. ambassador to France and John Adams was appointed the U.S. ambassador to England. In 1796, Jefferson traveled to England to work with Adams in negotiating commercial treaties with some other countries. As those efforts dragged on, the two Americans decided to take time to tour the English countryside together. Their travels included a visit to Shakespeare’s home at Stratford-on-Avon, as noted in David McCullough’s 2001 book John Adams.
“Told that an old wooden chair in a corner by the chimney was where the bard himself had sat, the two American tourists cut off souvenir chips … ,” McCullough writes. McCullough also reports that Adams himself later wrote, in describing the visit, that the American tourists’ souvenir-taking act was “according to the custom.”
Despite the continuing damage the chair might have suffered at the hands of like-minded visitors, did it survive? Possibly, if in fact it is the same Shakespeare’s chair sold at auction in London for $223, as noted in the March 25, 1877 edition of The New York Times. Or could it have been another chair, such as this “courting chair”? And what became of the chips that Jefferson and Adams cut? Did they make it back to America?