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Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, 1940.320
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker attributed Daniel Spencer, 1741–1796


107 1/4 x 44 11/16 x 25 3/16 in. (272.4 x 113.5 x 64 cm) open: 37 3/8 in. (94.9 cm) Upper case: 39 5/8 x 12 5/8 in. (100.7 x 32.1 cm) Lower case: 41 5/8 x 23 3/16 in. (105.8 x 58.9 cm)



Current location

Yale University Art Gallery


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


Mahogany (primary); American black cherry (interior of bookcase and sides, backs, and bottoms of valance drawers); chestnut (drawer linings with one exception); eastern white pine (bottom of bottom exterior drawer and other elements)


“1” through “4,” in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] and interior backs of proper-right drawers of interior desk; “5,” in graphite, on interior sides and interior backs of upper cabinet drawer of interior desk; "6," in graphite, on interior back of lower cabinet drawer and "6 / 7," in graphite, on interior front corners of that drawer; “7” through “10,” in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] and interior backs of proper-left drawers of interior desk; illegible chalk [sometimes in shape of a “C” or an arc], on exterior drawer backs of interior desk drawers; “C [or arc] I” and “C [or arc] II,” in chalk, on exterior backs of cabinet drawers of interior desk; “1” through “6,” in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] of valance drawers [“5” written as “V”]; “I” through “VI,” stamped on interior backs of valance drawers [“IV” stamped as “IIII”]; “A” through “C,” in graphite, written on interior backs of exterior drawers; "1" or “I [for interior?],” in graphite, on interior sides [at front corners] of exterior drawers; "Bottom," in chalk, on the undersides of desk and bookcase; "1" through "3," on exterior of vertical backboards of bookcase; "COLLINGS & COLLINGS / Antiques / 528 Amsterdam Ave. / NEW YORK," printed in blue letters on a white octagonal label with a blue border glued to underside of middle exterior desk drawer, on top of corresponding dust board, on proper-right interior desk side, and on underside of desk bottom




John Brown (1736–1803), Providence, Rhode Island; by descent in the Brown family to his great-granddaughter, Mrs. Ebenezer Stanton Chesebrough (née Caroline L. Herreshoff, 1837–1924) , Bristol, Rhode Island; sold to Collings and Collings, New York, 1918; sold to Francis P. Garvan (1875–1937), New York, 1918; by descent to his wife, Mabel Brady Garvan (1886–1979); given to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, 1940

Associated names

John Brown
Caroline L. H. Chesebrough
Collings and Collings
Francis P. Garvan
Mabel Brady Garvan


Beginning at a height of 40 cm, the sides of each compartment are grooved for adjustable shelves at intervals of 3 cm on center. Nine adjustable shelves remain. The center unit of the three compartments is slightly wider than the side compartments. The roof of the bonnet top is enclosed with boards nailed to the vertical backboards of the bookcase, and the bookcase is of dovetailed board construction. There is a full dustboard behind the center finial. The desk is of dovetailed board construction, with the backboards applied horizontally. The drawer dividers are dovetailed to the desk sides, with the joints exposed; they are faced with mahogany, with a thin pine strip and then a full chestnut dustboard behind. The ends of the lopers are rabbeted to accommodate the front of the top drawer, which extends beneath it. The base moldings are applied to a front rail that is located above the desk bottom. The rear feet are diagonal brackets; each foot is reinforced with a central vertical block and horizontal blocks shaped in conformity with the brackets. On the large desk drawers, the blocking is applied and reinforced with blocks within the drawers. The sides are dovetailed to the front and back, the bottoms are beveled on their sides, nailed to a rabbet in the front, fitted to a groove in the sides, and nailed to the underside of the back, with small chestnut blocks located behind the front. The top edges of the drawer sides are rounded, and the top edges of the backs are beveled. On the top and middle drawers, the grain of the chestnut bottom board runs from side to side; on the bottom drawer, the grain of the white pine board runs from front to back. On the small drawers in the desk interior, the sides are dovetailed to the front and back, and the bottoms are let into a rabbet in all four sides and secured with glue and, occasionally, nails. The top edge of their sides is rounded, and the top edge of the backs beveled. Source: Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery), 340.


This example is one of nine Rhode Island blockfront desk and bookcases ornamented with six shells.

See also


Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), vol. 1, pp. 248–249, fig. 271.
Loan Exhibition of Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Furniture and Glass, exh. cat. (New York: American Art Galleries, 1929), n.p., no. 638.
Thomas H. Ormsbee, The Story of American Furniture (New York: MacMillan Company, 1934), 136–138, fig. 59.
Edgar G. Miller, American Antique Furniture: A Book for Amateurs, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press, 1937), vol. 1, 490–491, no. 897.
Charles Nagel, Jr., American Furniture: 1650–1850 (New York: Chanticleer Press, 1949), pl. 15.
Meyric R. Rogers, "Garvan Furniture at Yale," Connoisseur Year Book, 1960 (1960): 58, fig. 10.
Meyric R. Rogers, "The Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of Furniture," Yale Alumni Magazine 25, no. 4 (January 1962): 10.
Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury (New York: MacMillan Company, 1963), no. 708, ill.
Louis B. Wright, The Arts in America: The Colonial Period (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966), 316–17, pl. 233.
John T. Kirk, Early American Furniture: How to Recognize, Evaluate, and Care for the Most Beautiful Pieces: High Style, Country, Primitive and Rustic (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), 34–35, fig. 19.
Katherine Neilson and Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, Selected Paintings and Sculpture from the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), introduction.
Wendy A. Cooper, "The Purchase of Furniture and Furnishings by John Brown, Providence Merchant, Part 1: 1760–1788," Antiques 103, no. 2 (February 1973): 334, 338–339, pl. 2.
Charles F. Montgomery, "1776–How America Really Looked: Furniture," American Art Journal 7, no. 1 (May 1975): 52–67, ill.
Sydney V. James, Colonial Rhode Island: A History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), 246, ill.
Barbaralee Diamonstein, "What Would You Choose if You Could Choose Any Object?," Artnews 8, no. 74 (October 1975): 48–51, ill.
Charles F. Montgomery and Patricia E. Kane, eds., American Art: 1750–1800 Towards Independence, exh. cat. (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1976), 150-152, 294, fig. 100.
Charles F. Montgomery, "And of Early American Art," Yale Alumni Magazine 39, no. 7 (April 1976): 14, ill.
Charles F. Montgomery, "Regional Preferences and Characteristics in American Decorative Artts: 1750-1800," Antiques 109, no. 6 (June 1976): 1196–1211, pl. 1.
Simon Jervis, "The Americanization of American Art?," Apollo (September 1976): 186, fig. 7.
John Cornforth, "The Birth of American Art," Country Life (July 22, 1976): 221, ill.
Christopher Gilbert, "The Victoria and Albert Museum, American Art, 1750–1800: Towards Independence," Decorative Arts Society Newsletter 2, no. 3 (Summer 1976): 6, ill.
Sarah B. Sherrill, "Current and Coming," Antiques 115, no. 1 (January 1979): 36, 40, ill.
Robert Bishop and Patricia Coblentz, Furniture 1, Prehistoric through Rococo (New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, National Design Museum, 1979), 114–115, 117, fig. 93.
Patricia E. Kane, "American Furniture in the Yale University Art Gallery," Antiques 117, no. 5 (June 1980): 1317, pl. 4, ill.
Gerald W. R. Ward, Patricia E. Kane, and Helen A. Cooper, Francis P. Garvan, Collector, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1980), 28–30, fig. 5.
John T. Kirk, American Furniture and the British Tradition to 1830 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 5, fig. 3.
Charles F. Montgomery, "Francis P. Garvan," Antiques 121, no. 1 (January 1982): 248, fig. 5.
Bill Dulaney, "Wallace Nutting: Advocate of the Pilgrim Century," Fine Woodworking no. 39 (March/April 1983): 72, ill.
Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983), 46–47, ill.
"Giving an Elephant to Blind Men? The Cross-Disciplinary Role of a Desk and Bookcase," Arts Magazine 59, no. 2 (October 1984): 87–99, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 325–327, fig. 8.16a–c.
Gerald W. R. Ward, American Case Furniture in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988), 11, 45, 327, 339–344, no. 177, pl. 15.
Margaretta M. Lovell, "Such Furniture as Will Be Most Profitable: The Business of Cabinetmaking in Eighteenth-Century Newport," Winterthur Portfolio 26, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 32, 37, fig. 7.
Jeffrey P. Greene, American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique, Structure (Newtown, Conn: The Taunton Press, 1996), 69, ill.
Wendy A. Cooper and Tara L. Gleason, "A Different Rhode Island Block-and-Shell Story: Providence Provenances and Pitch-Pediments," American Furniture (1999): 168–170, fig. 6.
John T. Kirk, American Furniture: Understanding Styles, Construction, and Quality (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000), 131–133, fig. 155.
Brock Jobe, "The Lisle Desk-and-Bookcase: A Rhode Island Icon," American Furniture (2001): 129, 140–141, fig. 11–12, 33–35.
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), 3, 53, 63n98, 298, 308–313, 358, 373n1, no. 60, fig. 1–2, 4.