The Campbell chariot was built around 1797 by William Ross, a New York City coachmaker, for Engeltie 'Angelica' Bratt Campbell (1733-1812) of Schenectady, New York. Daniel Campbell (1730-1802), one of the wealthiest men in New York Colony, had the chariot built for his wife when she was in her 60s. The chariot, one of only two known vehicles of its type, is a rare survivor among only a handful, of 18th century American carriages and perhaps the only vehicle that remains in original, unrestored condition. Typically carriages were usually only owned by the wealthy and were heavily taxed as luxury items; therefore, one would assume that many of the earliest carriages were likely scavenged for parts, or destroyed at the end of their serviceable life utilizing useful components and removing them from the tax rolls. The sleek, two passenger, closed vehicle with its intricately crafted detail, impeccable finish and luxurious wool and crimson “Russia” leather interior easily rivaled the European examples that were described by William Felton as being “the height of fashion” in his Treatise on Carriages, published in London in 1795. In fact, the Campbell chariot incorporated many of the design features and decorative motifs that Felton used to describe such a vehicle illustrating the rapid spread of fashion and the ability of American craftsmen to compete with their European counterparts. Angelica Campbell's monogram adorns either side of the chariot, accompanied by a coat of arms and a boar's head crest painted on the lower and mid panels of the doors. The crest, also painted on the front and rear body panels, was used to convey her social status and wealth. The coat of arms and boar's head crest, recognized as a symbol of hospitality, were taken from another Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, who was most likely of no relation to Angelica or Daniel.
The chariot, while structurally stable, had suffered the effects of age, damages caused by extreme environmental fluctuations, and insect and rodent infestation. The running gear had minor splits and cracks in the hubs and areas of flaking paint were found on the reach, wheels, axle blocks, and many horizontal cross members. The iron components exhibited isolated areas of paint loss caused by the expansion of corrosion products which had formed on the iron substrate. The paint and varnish layers were severely disfigured by the heavy accumulation of dust, dirt, and grime, most noticeable on the upper surfaces of all horizontal running gear components. Many of the body panels had been structurally compromised by large splits running along the grain of the tulip poplar, which in turn allowed large gaps to form along the fractures. Over time, the splitting caused major misalignment of the fractured door panels and the upper rear quarter panels. The paint and varnish layers were in poor and unstable condition with numerous areas of actively flaking paint and associated minor losses. In addition, the paint and varnish layers had crazed, cracked, and had been covered by a disfiguring layer of embedded dirt and grime. Although structurally non threatening, another major concern and focus of treatment was the stabilization of the leather roof covering which had been damaged by exposure to water, causing the leather to shrink and pulled away from the proper left side at the point where the leather topping joined the drip edge and upper edge of the upper quarter panels. The original interior, upholstered with buff or off white wool broadcloth, (RC.7) trimmed with a finely woven, multicolored coach and pasting lace had been severely compromised by insect and rodent infestations. It is estimated that 60 % of the original wool textile had been lost and much of the horsehair support/stuffing had been ingested by carpet beetles, leaving only piles of frass and insect carcasses. The interior seat cushions and headliner had been removed and were missing.
After removing any exterior hardware and fittings and selectively removing the burlap and hide glue reinforcing strips that joined the interior surfaces of the panels to the carriage frame, the fractured panel sections were repositioned to close the gap caused by shrinkage of the tulip poplar. They were reattached to the sawn chestnut framing using hot hide glue. Modern burlap saturated with hot hide glue was once again applied to the interior of the panels to reinforce and secure them to the wood framing, as originally constructed. Treatment of the body included microscopic cross-sectional analysis of the paint and varnish layers of the chariot. Upon close examination of these samples, conservators were able to determine that the vehicle had been repainted once over an early, if not original, paint and varnish layer. Therefore, it was decided to remove the later layer of varnish and green over paint. It appeared that the green paint was an attempt to match and repaint the vehicle in its' original body color. However, the original body color had been a dark blue with black upper quarter panels, protected by a clear varnish. Yellowing of that original varnish layer shifted the appearance of the underlying dark blue to a dark forest green. Once the later varnish and green over-paint were selectively removed, a protective isolation varnish was applied to the panels using a reversible copolymer resin designed for this type of application. Deep gouges and areas having significant paint loss were filled with a water soluble filler and toned using an acrylic resin based in-painting palette. The panels received a final isolation varnish; the hardware that was removed was polished, degreased, lacquered, and reattached in their original locations. Conservation of the leather roof covering and front boot began with the consolidation of torn and friable edges of enameled or painted leather and the removal of plated moldings to facilitate the required treatment procedures. Patterns of the area of loss or wooden substrate exposed by shrinkage of the leather were created; inserts were cut and the losses and tears were filled or repaired using a non woven polyester fabric, flock sprayed with a reversible heat set adhesive. The repairs were finished with a pigmented wax resin mixture, textured to match the original cracquelure pattern using molds taken from undamaged section of the leather. The metal strips were polished, degreased, lacquered, and reattached using their original nails in the original tack holes. Accumulated grime and grease were removed from the fifth wheel (pivot point on the front axle) and interior surfaces of the wheel hubs using solvent mixtures and aqueous gels formulated to selectively clean these surfaces without damaging the original paint and varnish layers. The heavy accumulation of dirt was reduced overall and the darkened varnish was minimized on all of the running gear components (RC.6). Areas of active iron corrosion were chemically and mechanically treated and then selectively lacquered using a reversible synthetic resin formulated for improved adhesion to metal. The largest splits in the wheel hubs were filled with an epoxy and carved to blend with the surrounding surfaces. The four wheels, loose from shrinkage, were stabilized using an expanding adhesive; the wheels and running gear were given a protective isolation varnish for consolidation and isolation prior to in-painting. After in-painting, a final isolation varnish was sprayed on to protect the in-painting and adjust the overall sheen of the wheels. Leather straps and buckles on the running gear and the pole were removed prior to treatment. Silver plated iron buckles were cleaned, polished, degreased, and lacquered. Leather components were cleaned and repaired prior to being reinstalled with original hardware where possible. All interior textile and leather components were removed by the Henry Ford conservation staff and contracted textile conservator, Karen Klingbiel. The wool broadcloth, woven coach and pasting lace and burlap lining were wet cleaned in de-ionized water and neutral pH detergent. The original wool elements were carefully sewn to a custom dyed consolidation fabric; these components were lightly stuffed using a loose polyester batting and then sewn to a secondary backing textile. Areas of tufting, found on the seat backs and upper “russia” leather panels were recreated using reproduction yarn “buttons” attached through original holes and tied to the backing textiles (RC.8). The conserved textile components were then secured to acid free mat board panels or custom formed ethafoam supports, mimicking the original contours and profiles of the under upholstery. These “upholstered” elements (upper and lower panels, armrests, and rear seat back cushion) were attached to the interior framing using loop and hook tabs (Velcro), eliminating the use of nails or tacks; this allowed the interior upholstery to be easily removed for study of the chariot's construction details and materials. This approach to upholstery conservation, sometimes referred to as a “tackless upholstery system”, has been utilized by furniture conservators since its introduction by Leroy Graves of Colonial Williamsburg in the mid 1980's. This method was first used for the conservation of horse drawn vehicles by the conservators of B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc. during treatment of the Concord Coach in the collection of the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, CA.