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Photo: Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund, inv. no. 2013.877
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Fall-front desk


Object number

RIF5797

Maker

Maker Unknown

Dimensions

66 x 39 3/4 x 18 1/2 in. (167.64 x 100.97 x 46.99 cm)

Date

1700–1730

Current location

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Geography

Probably made in Swansea, Massachusetts (later Warren, Rhode Island)
(view a map of Rhode Island)

Medium

Walnut and walnut veneer (primary); white pine (interior drawers fronts, drawer dividers, drawer runners, bottom and top boards of upper and lower case, glue blocks on bottom of lower case, and well tray); chestnut (drawer linings and upper removable compartments); maple (back board of upper case)

Marks

None

Inscriptions

Upper case: Drawers on the left and right sides of desk interior labeled "1" to "5" and "10" to "15," in graphite, on interior fronts and backs and upper surfaces of drawer dividers; later numbers, in graphite, on exterior drawer bottoms and upper surfaces of drawer dividers; "l," in graphite, on all interior drawer and compartment sides; drawers 1–5 and 10–15 have secret compartments that are correspondingly numbered, in graphite, on exterior sides; “Samuel Child” and “Nathan Child,” in ink, on exterior of secret compartment "10"; “Gardner Child [month] 1795,” in ink, on exterior of secret compartment "11"; “Rosabella Child,” in ink, “44[twice],” in chalk, and “Borrowd [followed by mathematical computations],” in chalk, on exterior of secret compartment "12"; “Samuel Child,” in ink, on exterior of secret compartment "13"; "Nathan Child,” in ink, on exterior of secret compartment "14"; there are four sections of removable compartments over desk drawers labeled "6" to "9," in graphite, on exterior compartment tops; math calculations, in chalk, on underside of compartment "6"; compartments 6–9 each have a secret drawer labeled "6" to "9," in graphite, on drawer fronts and backs; "6," in graphite, on interior compartment, “Garden Seeds” [later], written in ink on tape, affixed to exterior drawer front, and “Ra[illegible]/[illegible]/1804, in chalk, on exterior drawer back of secret drawer 6; “Nails" [later], in graphite, on exterior front of secret drawer 7 [replaced]; “Hooks" [later], in graphite, and “Small Bo[?]” [later], written in ink on tape, on exterior front of secret drawer 8; “V[inverted],” in graphite, on interior back of cornice drawer and long drawer over lower central compartment; illegible inscription, in chalk, on bottom of cornice drawer; illegible inscription [probably a name], in ink, on exterior back of well tray; there are secret drawers under well tray labeled "0" to "4," in graphite, on interior drawer fronts and backs; there are secret drawers behind prospect case labeled "1" to "3," in graphite, on interior fronts and backs; “Notes & Bonds,” written in ink on tape, on front of secret drawer 1; “Dee[ds],” written in ink on tape, on front of secret drawer 2; illegible inscription, in ink, on drawer front and “May 21 1777/400/to/[?],” in chalk, on exterior bottom of secret drawer 3 Lower case: “l,” in graphite, on all interior drawer sides; “^,” in graphite, on interior drawer front and back of lower drawer; “^,” in graphite, on interior front and back of middle drawer (much of interior covered with newspaper); “2” within inverted “V”, in graphite, on interior back, and “/[rest of inscription illegible, probably the same as on drawer back],” in graphite, on interior front of proper-right upper small drawer; “1” within inverted “V,” in graphite, on interior front and back of proper-left upper small drawer

Style

William and Mary

Provenance

Probably originally owned by John Child (1672–1739) or his son James Child (1708–1737/8), Swansea, Massachusetts; by descent to James’s son John Child (1732/3–1819), Warren, Rhode Island; by descent to his daughter Rosabella Gardner (née Child, 1778–1855) and her husband, Edward Gardner (1770–1824), Warren, Rhode Island; by descent to their daughter Mary Miller Gardner (1816–1888), Warren, Rhode Island; by descent to her great-niece Abby Child Bradford (née Gardner, 1831–1902) and her husband, Martin Luther Bradford (1821–1903), Boston; by descent to their daughter-in-law Cornelia Howland Bradford (née Myrick, 1866–1955) and her husband, George Gardner Bradford (1863–1952), Boston; by descent to their daughter Hope Bowden (née Bradford, 1908–1995) and her husband, Frederick Prescott Bowden, Jr. (1908–1976); by descent to their son Paul Converse Bowden (born 1941), North Providence; consigned to Skinner, Boston and Marlborough, Massachusetts,(sale held Marlborough, Massachusetts), August 11, 2013, lot 38; sold to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,

Associated names

John Child
James Child
John Child
Rosabella Gardner
Edward Gardner
Mary Miller Gardner
Abbey Child Bradford
Martin Luther Bradford
Cornelia Howland Bradford
George Gardner Bradford
Hope Bowden
Frederick Prescott Bowden Jr.
Paul Converse Bowden
Skinner, Inc.

Construction

The single-board upper-case top meets the two-board upper-case sides in half-blind dovetail joints. At the top of the case is an entablature consisting of a veneered cornice with two-part blocking atop a pulvinated frieze and a small architrave molding fixed with brads. The upper-case back is a single-board, the proper right side of which has been replaced. The boards are fixed with later nails into rabbets in the case sides and directly to the case top and bottom. Below the entablature is a frieze drawer with a pulvinated front; its square-topped drawer sides are flush with the drawer front and set into half-dovetail joints therein. The drawer front is a "laminate" of sorts, being a pulvinated front with a plain pine backing, at either end of which are rectangular blocks, through which are nailed the corners of the frieze, fitting over the corner of the case sides. The multiple-board drawer bottom is perpendicular to the front and nailed into rabbets in the drawer front and back. Below the entablature is a fall-front writing surface: its outside face is veneered and crossbanded; its inside face has a veneered and crossbanded border centering a leather inset. The writing surface is raised and lowered by means of hardware consisting of folding brass arms attached to the inside of the upper-case sides above, and the inside face of the writing surface below. Beneath its inner and outer veneered surfaces, the fall-front writing surface appears to consist of a single board, into which are tenoned, at the sides, internal vertical stiles. The upper-case sides are substantially thicker at their veneered front corners, providing spaces for the hidden drawers inside. They join the single-board upper-case bottom in half-blind dovetail joints, having large, thick-necked pins, with half-pins and rabbets at the back. Within the upper case is an elaborate array of cubbies and drawers ? four pairs of open compartments above two banks of three large drawers centering an open compartment above a small shallow drawer, with two banks of two small drawers centering a wide shallow drawer over an open compartment. The drawer and compartments are framed by a half-round bead. A removable panel in the lowest open compartment, assembled in the "bread board" manner, conceals a storage well and "secret drawers." The open compartments above are removable, concealing more removable compartments. The central open compartment also is removable and has three drawers. The side drawers conceal small compartments within the case sides. The small "visible" drawers have veneered and crossbanded fronts which meet their flush, flat-topped drawer sides in dovetail joints, having large-thick-necked pins with large half-pins above and large half-pins with rabbets below. The two-board drawer bottoms are perpendicular to the front and fixed with rosehead and other nails into their rabbeted fronts and glued into their rabbeted sides and backs. The removable compartments are fitted with tape or string "hardware" and are assembled without nails, their bottoms being glued to the elements above. The single-board top of the lower case meets the two-board lower-case sides in joints concealed by a three-part, partially veneered molding. The joints between the single-board lower-case bottom and its sides are similarly obscured by a three-sided frame and glue blocks around the case bottom perimeter. The lower case back consists of six (later) horizontal boards. Within the case are upper drawer supports fixed with rosehead nails to the case sides and replaced lower drawer supports and drawer dividers set into grooves in the case sides. The two upper, smaller drawers also have drawer supports fixed to the case back. The front edge of drawer dividers, case sides and the vertical element which separates the two small drawers have a half-round bead glued to them. The beads meet in V-joints. The cross-banded and veneered lower-case drawer fronts meet their flush, flat-topped sides in dovetail joints, having large, thick-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The multi-board drawer bottoms are perpendicular to the fronts and backs where they are fixed with a variety of nails. The bottoms are full-width; later full-depth runners are nailed to them with brads. A single-piece base molding is face-nailed with brads to blocks at each corner of the case bottom and longitudinal glue blocks between the corners. At each corner blocks is a later bun foot, fitted with a caster. Examined by P. E. Kane, August 5, 2013; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

Skinner, Inc., Boston and Marlborough, Mass., August Americana and Americana Online, sale cat. (August 10, 2013), 16–17, lot 38, ill.
Virginia Bohlin, "MFA Top Bidder for William and Mary Desk," http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2013/08/24/mfa-top-bidder-for-william-and-mary-desk/GMvEPPy4o4iSfLbVWoXtFK/story.html (accessed August 25, 2013).
"Skinner Americana Auction Led by Rarity of New England Furniture," Antiques and the Arts Weekly (August 30, 2013): 34, ill.
"William and Mary Winner," Maine Antique Digest (September 2013): 12-A, ill.
Peter M. Kenny, "Ark of the Covenant: The Remarkable Inlaid Cedar Scrutoir from the Brinckerhoff Family of Newtown, Long Island," American Furniture (2014): 5–6, 8, fig. 5–6.
Dennis Andrew Carr, Patricia E. Kane, and Jennifer N. Johnson, "Recent Discoveries in Rhode Island Furniture," The Magazine Antiques 181, no. 1 (January/February 2014): 216–217, fig. 1–1a.
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), 2, 16–17, 19, 157, 168–171, 205, 242, 371, no. 14, fig. 1, 2, 7.