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High chest of drawers


Object number

RIF812

Maker

Maker attributed John Townsend, American, 1732–1809

Dimensions

Height (without finial): 81 1/2 in. (207.01 cm) Width: 41 1/2 in. (105.41 cm) Depth: 22 3/4 in. (57.785 cm)

Date

1760–70

Current location

Private collection

Geography

Made in Newport, Rhode Island
(view a map of Rhode Island)

Medium

Mahogany (primary); yellow poplar (linings of upper drawers, bottom board of upper case, outside drawer support for proper-left lower drawer, central support for upper drawer of lower case, and top of pediment); maple (spring locks, drawer divider backing under upper drawer, and proper-right guide on exterior bottom of upper case); chestnut (back boards, vertical brace at back of upper case, backings of drawer dividers under top two long drawers, blocks at front of upper case, central support for upper drawers, drawer supports, backing of drawer divider under upper drawer of lower case, tip bars for upper drawers, guides for upper drawer of lower case, outside drawer support for proper-right lower drawer, backing of vertical dividers of lower case, supports for bottom drawers of lower case, front stiles of lower case, and proper-left guide on exterior bottom of upper case); pine (drawer guides of upper case and horizontal support for upper drawers)

Marks

None

Inscriptions

“B [twice],” in graphite, on exterior back of proper-left upper drawer; loop, in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-left upper drawer; letter [A or C?], in graphite, on exterior back of proper-left upper drawer; “C” “through “E,” in graphite, on exterior backs of long drawers [from top to bottom]; “A,” in graphite, on exterior back of upper drawer of lower case; faint graphite [A?], on exterior back of proper-right lower drawer; “W,” in graphite, on exterior back of proper-right lower drawer; “B,” in graphite, on exterior back of proper-left lower drawer; “M,” in graphite, on exterior back of lower middle drawer; “W,” in graphite, on exterior back of lower middle drawer; “A,” in graphite, on drawer divider under upper drawers of upper case; illegible graphite [B?], on drawer divider under top long drawer of upper case; “C,” in graphite, on drawer divider under middle long drawer of upper case; “Thousand [upside down],” in graphite, on interior back of lower case; “M,” in graphite, on upper front rail of lower case; illegible inscription beginning with “C,” in graphite, on exterior back of upper case; “/,” “//,” and “///,” incised on underside of top at front rail and on corresponding glue blocks at case front; “NP,” incised on proper-left interior side of lower case; traces of a paper label on inside center of central bottom drawer; "1759[?]," crudely incised on outside of top backboard

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

Willet-Seaman family. Charles R. Morson (died 1929) New York; sold to Mrs. J. Insley Blair (née Natalie Knowlton, 1884–1951), Tuxedo Park, New York, 1927; by descent in her family, until 2004

Associated names

Willet-Seaman family
Charles R. Morson
Natalie Knowlton Blair
Blair family

Construction

The upper-case roof consists of multiple thin boards shaped to align with the serpentine pediment and nailed with brads to the tops of the pediment scrollboard and backboard, to transverse blocking atop the single-board case sides, and to a transverse batten inside the pediment. The batten is half-lapped to a board behind the front of the closed pediment and set in a groove in the top of the pediment backboard. An empty cutout in the top of this front board indicates the former presence of a similar batten. One of the boards of the formerly closed pediment roof is missing. The single-piece pediment backboard is fixed with cut nails to the back edge of the upper-case ceiling; it is also secured to it by rectilinear longitudinal glue blocks within the pediment. The three rectangular horizontal, half-lapped, upper-case backboards below are fixed with rosehead nails into rabbets in the case sides and with various types of nails to a horizontal drawer support and a vertical batten within the case. Thumb-molded plaques are attached to the scrollboard by invisible means. The single-piece crown molding is toe-nailed from above to the case sides and fixed with wood-filled fasteners to the scrollboard. The lower portion of the molding surrounds the segmental oculi at the center of the pediment, joining the full crown above in a mitre joint just shy of the pediment?s upper termini. The oculi moldings are also mitered to the molded base of a rectangular, three-sided, fluted plinth, into whose molded cap is doweled a turned, fluted, and reeded urnform finial with corkscrew flame. At each front corner of the upper case is a shallow rectangular cavity indicating the former presence of similar plinths and finials. The scrollboard is half-blind dovetailed to vertical mahogany blocks fixed with cut nails to the inside faces of the upper-case sides. In each exterior corner joint between these blocks and case sides is an assembly of seven pieces. They are, from top to bottom, rectangular block, abacus, turned capital, fluted quarter-column shaft, turned base, plinth, rectangular block. The bottom of the lower blocks are visible in the front corners of the upper-case bottom?s underside, a single board half-blind dovetailed to the case sides above. The pins, aside from large half-pins visible at the front, are hidden by lateral transverse blocks held on by rosehead nails which lock the upper into the lower case. Within the case are tip bars nailed to the case sides with brads and rosehead nails. Longitudinal glue blocks at the joint between the back of the scrollboard and the underside of the upper-case top are set into grooves in these tip bars. The vertical divider between the upper small drawers is half-lapped to the bottom of the scrollboard above and fixed with a cut nail and a (later) screw through the joint between the divider and the scrollboard and longitudinal glue blocks in half-blind dovetail joints. Half-lapped to both the upper-drawer divider and a longitudinal support at the back of the case is a medial support for the two upper drawers. Lateral drawer supports are fixed with rosehead nails to deeper transverse blocks, which serve as guides for the drawers above and below and are half-lapped to rabbets at the back of the front corners? block and fixed with cut nails to the case sides. A medial vertical batten, nailed from within and without to the inside face of the backboards is set into a groove in the bottom of the longitudinal rear small-drawer support. It does not pass through the upper-case bottom. Several cut nails in the front of the case bottom?s underside fix it to the bottom rail. A single-piece unrabbeted waist molding is toe-nailed and fixed with wood-filled fasteners to the case sides and bottom rail. The two small and three long lipped, thumb-molded very slightly kerf-marked, graduated drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, slightly arch-topped drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with grooves below. The small-drawer bottoms are perpendicular to their fronts and have touch latches nailed to their undersides with brads. The large-drawer single-board bottoms are parallel to their fronts. All the bottoms are slightly chamfered at the fronts, where they fit into grooves in the drawer fronts and at the sides, where they are full-width, nailed with brads to the bottoms of the drawer side above, and fitted with later glued and nailed-on runners. The rear corners of the drawer backs? tops are slightly chamfered. The single-board lower-case back, whose skirt is flat-arched and ogee-ended, meets the two-board scallop-skirted case sides in dovetail joints having small, finely cut, thick-necked pins of largely uniform configuration, with half-pins above and below. Countersunk screws and rosehead nails in the outside face of the backboard?s lower corners reinforce its connections with the rear legs. Rosehead nails above reinforce connections between the backboard and interior supports and dividers. A transverse rail meets the top of each lower-case side in a dovetail crossed-lap joint in front, reinforced from above by cut nails. A mahogany strip is attached to the front of this rail, rabbeted in a half-dovetail to fit over, at each front corner, a vertical board set into a rabbet in the front of the case side, which joint is reinforced from above with a cut nail. At each lateral extremity of the lower-case front a vertical veneer strip conceals the joints between the case sides and their various horizontal elements. Lateral transverse supports for the long upper drawer are half-lapped to the drawer divider in front and set into grooves in the backboard. A medial transverse long-drawer support is tenoned into the drawer divider and set into grooves in the backboard. Drawer guides are nailed to the tops of these supports and also set into grooves in the backboard. The inside of each lower-case side is routed at both ends from top to bottom to receive the legs. Small-drawer transverse supports are dovetail cross-lapped to the skirtboard in front and their chamfered ends are set into grooves in the backboard. Lateral small-drawer guides are fixed to the case sides with rosehead nails. The inside face of the skirtboard on either side of the carved shell is routed to receive vertical small-drawer guides, fronted by vertical mahogany dividers. These guides are set into grooves in the dustboard above and in the back face of the skirtboard. They have diagonal bottoms with chamfered edges, quite shy of the bottom edge of the skirtboard. Transverse drawer guides are tenoned into the backs of these vertical guides and set into grooves in the backboard. The small drawers in the lower case differ from those above in their bottoms, which are flat, perpendicular to the fronts, where they are nailed into rabbets, and have no runners. The legs are of the ?detachable? sort, held into the case corners by vertical rectangular glue blocks whose bottoms are shaped to align with neighboring skirtboards. The front block at the proper left front corner is reinforced with countersunk screws. The legs are square at the knee; the rear legs have rounded ankles and full-disc shod pad feet and knee brackets, and the front have stylized-acanthus-carved knees, deeply carved tendons, toes, and claws grasping elongated ball feet. The rear legs project beyond the plane of the backboard. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, July 16, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), vol. 1, pp. 350–351, 354, fig. 19.
Joseph Downs, "The Furniture of Goddard and Townsend," Antiques 52, no. 6 (December 1947): 431, fig. 10.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 94–95, no. 10, ill.
Morrison H. Heckscher, "Newport in New York," Antiques and Fine Art 6 (Summer 2005): 138, fig. 7.