image of object
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's, New York
Click the image to enlarge

Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker Daniel Spencer, 1741–1796


71 x 38 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. (180.34 x 98.425 x 53.975 cm)



Current location

Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc.


Made in Newport, Rhode Island, or made in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, or made in Providence, Rhode Island
(view a map of Rhode Island)


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (sides and backs of the valance drawers, top of the desk); chestnut (backboards, linings of the exterior drawers, sides and backs of the interior drawers, bottoms of the valance drawers, glue blocks for feet, one glue block on the top on the desk, top of the bookcase, glue blocks for the top moldings on bookcase); pine (bottoms of the interior drawers, board below the desk interior, some of the blocks on the top of the desk, glue blocks between the front rail and bottom of the desk, supports for the bottom drawer of the desk, brackets on the rear feet, a vertical glue block on the PL rear foot); cherry (the back of the lopers); yellow poplar (bottom board on desk); maple (bottom of bookcase, original dividers in bookcase, although the latter are possibly cedar)


"Dan Spencer" and mathematical calculations, in graphite, on exterior bottom of proper-right interior shell drawer


"A" through "D," in graphite, on interior backs [center] of exterior drawers [from top to bottom]; "I [script]" or "1," in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] of top, third from top, and bottom drawers; "2," in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] of the second drawer from top; "1" through "11," in graphite, on the interior backs [center] and sides [at front corners] of interior drawers [from proper-right to proper-left]; "1" through "6," in graphite, on the interior backs [center] and sides [at front corners] of valance drawers [from proper-right to proper-left]; "/," in graphite, on underside of most of the interior desk drawers [often extending on to the bottom edge of the drawer front]; "/," "//," "///," and "4," in dark graphite, on the underside of each of the exterior drawer and the slashes only on the tops of the drawer dividers [probably later]




Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, December 8, 1984, lot 367; sold to John Walton, Griswold, Connecticut; estate of Mary Walton; consigned to Keno Auctions, New York, January 18, 2011, lot 169

Associated names

Sotheby Parke Bernet
John S. Walton
Mary Walton
Keno Auctions


DESK. The sides of the desk are single board and are fastened to the top and to the two-board bottom of the desk with dovetails; those on the top are half-blind. The bottom rail fits into grooves in the case sides and the joint of the bottom rail and the bottom board is reinforced with two horizontal glue blocks. The base moldings are nailed to the front rail and to the sides of the case. The drawer supports are nailed to the case sides. The drawer dividers are dovetailed to the case sides, as is the top rail. The muntins for the lopers fit in groves in the drawer dividers. The five horizontal backboards are fastened with rosehead nails (most now missing) to rabbets in the top and sides of the desk and to back edge of the bottom board. The fall has battens with open tenons at the bottom and is fastened to desk with two hinges. The drawer sides are fastened to the drawer fronts with half-blind dovetails; the top drawer has two dovetails with half keys at the top and bottom. The grain of the wood on the two-piece drawer bottoms runs from side to side; the drawer bottoms are chamfered and fit into groves on the drawer front and sides; four sprigs (some missing of supplemented with later nails) secure the drawer bottom to the back. The top edges of the drawer sides are rounded with a slight chamfer on either side of the crest; the top edge of the drawer back is flat with a slight chamfer at the back. The drawer sides are flush with the drawer front. The undersides of the drawer bottoms have vertical sawmill marks and the backs of the drawer backs and board under the interior desk section show imperfections in the wood. DESK INTERIOR. On the small interior drawers, the drawer sides are fastened to the drawer fronts with half-blind dovetails; the bottoms of the drawers are glued to rabbets in the fronts, sides and backs. On the valance drawers the bottoms fit into a groove in the drawer front and are glued to rabbets in the other three sides. BOOKCASE. The top and bottom board are dovetailed to the sides. The cornice moldings are nailed to the case through the top and from the sides with nails placed very close to the fillet molding. The joints of the cornice moldings and the top are reinforced with elongated blocks with chamfered edges. The five horizontal backboards are fastened with rosehead nails to rabbets in the top and sides of the bookcase and to the back edge of the bottom board. The upper row of pigeon hole dividers appear to be old with the sides of the bookcase showing evidence of a different arrangement of the lower shelves. The horizontal frame elements on the doors are tenoned through the stiles; the tenons are single-shouldered. The backs of the panels in the doors are flat. Examined by P. E. Kane, January 7, 2010.


"Bernard and S. Dean Levy, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 183, no. 6 (November / December 2016): 1, ill.
Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, Important American Furniture and Folk Art, sale cat. (December 8, 1984), 66–67, lot 367, ill.
Patricia E. Kane, "Yale University Art Gallery Seeks Info On 'Dan Spencer' Desk and Bookcase," Antiques and the Arts Weekly (December 4, 2009): 2, ill.
Keno Auctions, New York, American and European Paintings, Folk Art, Furniture, and Decorative Arts, sale cat. (January 18, 2011), 66–67, lot 169, ill.
Patricia E. Kane et al., Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2016), 308, 313n2, 449, fig. 10–11.