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Photo: Courtesy Diplomatic Reception Rooms, United States Department of State, Washington, D.C.
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Slant-front desk

Object number



Maker John Townsend, American, 1732–1809


42 x 45 1/4 x 24 7/8 in. (106.68 x 114.935 x 63.183 cm)



Current location

Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Department of State


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


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (lining of valance drawers, sides and backs of other interior drawers, bottoms of some interior drawers); cedar (bottoms of some interior drawers); yellow poplar (linings of exterior drawers, back boards, horizontal support for well, vertical brace at case back, drawer supports, blocks for lopers, case bottom, drawer runners)


"Made by / John Townsend / Rhode Island / 1765," in ink, on a paper glued inside top exterior drawer


“A” through “D,” in chalk, on exterior back of proper-right interior drawers [top to bottom]; “A” through “D,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of proper-right interior drawers [top to bottom]; illegible chalk, on exterior backs of proper-left interior drawers; “H,” in graphite, on interior bottom of drawer to proper-left of prospect; “E” through “G,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of prospect drawers [top to bottom]; “Cabinix,” in graphite, on exterior back of prospect drawer marked “G”; “I” or “J” through “L,” in graphite, on exterior bottoms of proper-left interior drawers [top to bottom]; illegible graphite, on exterior bottom of drawer marked “K”; "A" through "F," in graphite, on interior and exterior bottoms of valance drawers; “A” and mathematical figures, in graphite, on interior bottom of valance drawer marked “A”; "50:8 oz ["oz" above "8"], in graphite, on underside of valance drawer marked "B"; probably "Penny," in graphite, on interior bottom of valance drawer marked "C"; scribbles and doodle of a face, in graphite, on exterior bottom of valance drawer marked "C"; illegible graphite, on exterior bottom of valance drawer marked "D"; illegible graphite, on exterior backs of upper and lower exterior drawers; illegible graphite, on interior proper-left side of upper exterior drawer; possible “B” and other illegible graphite, on exterior back of middle exterior drawer; “A” and “B,” in graphite, on top of dividers for upper two exterior drawers; “[?] /35/ Stout [possibly] / Pay,” in graphite, on upper surface of bottom rail; illegible graphite, on interior case bottom; “Bottom,” in chalk, on interior case bottom




Robert Y. Townsend (1827–1878) and Emily M. Cleland (1842–1875, married 1865). John S. Walton, Inc., New York, 1960. Israel Sack, Inc., New York, 1972; sold to Stanley Paul Sax (1925–1997), Birmingham, Michigan; bequeathed to the U. S. Department of State, Washington, D. C.

Associated names

Robert Y. Townsend
Emily M. Cleland
John S. Walton, Inc.
Israel Sack, Inc.
Stanley Paul Sax


The one-piece case sides are fasten to the top with half-blind dovetails; there is a half pin at the front and a half tail at the rear and twelve full dovetails between them. The drawer bottoms pass under the sides, back and front and are nailed in place; the front of the drawer bottom fits in a rabbet in the drawer front. The battens on the slant front have open tenons at each end; the slant front has two locks and is secured to the case with three hinges. Half-blind dovetails fasten the drawer fronts to the drawer sides; on the lowest drawer there are half pins at the top and bottom and five full dovetails between them. The drawer dividers and the top and bottom rails are fastened to the case sides with half-blind dovetails. The ogee bracket feet are glued to the case bottom. The vertical blocks on the feet rest on the case bottom and the horizontal blocks abut them. The rear of the rear foot abuts the side of the rear foot and that joint is strengthened with a book applied at the rear.


American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, 10 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Highland House Publishers, 1957–1989), vol. 3, pp. 784, 790–791, no. P3448, ill.; vol. 4, p. 854–855, no. P3448, ill.; vol. 9, p. 171, ill.
"Israel Sack, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 101, no. 1 (January 1972): frontispiece, ill.
Clement E. Conger, "Decorative Arts at the White House," Antiques 116, no. 1 (July 1979): 116, ill.
Wendy A. Cooper, In Praise of America: American Decorative Arts, 1650–1830, Fifty Years of Discovery since the 1929 Girl Scouts Loan Exhibition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 26, fig. 22, 23.
Morrison H. Heckscher, "John Townsend's Block-and-Shell Furniture," Antiques 121, no. 5 (May 1982): 1145, fig. 2.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 88, 96, 100, 102, 131, 174, pl.10, fig. 3.2, 3.8, 3.49,.
Harold Sack, "The Furniture," Antiques 132, no. 1 (July 1987): 171, ill.
Clement E. Conger, Alexandra W. Rollins, and Mary Itsell, Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991), 132–133, no. 51, ill.
Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), 161, ill.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 108–11, no. 17, 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), 5n11, 64n101, 290n4, , 453–454.