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Desk and bookcase


Object number

RIF242

Maker

Maker Christopher Townsend, 1701-1787
Maker of hardware Samuel Casey, American, 1723–1773

Dimensions

272.42 x 112.4 x 57.79 cm (107 1/4 x 44 1/4 x 22 3/4 in.); Width, at feet: 115.57 cm (45 1/2 in.; Depth, at feet: 62.23 cm (24 1/2 in.)

Date

1745–1750

Current location

Private collection

Geography

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

Medium

Mahogany (primary); sabicu(?) (bottoms of interior desk drawers); mahogany (all other secondary wood); silver hardware

Marks

“Made By / Christopher Townsend,” in graphite, on interior bottom of upper exterior drawer; “M [concentric circles] / By / Christopher Townsend,” in graphite, on interior bottom of second drawer from top; “SC,” stamped in screw plate of round hinges of bookcase doors and of both exterior sides of lopers; “S. CASEY,” stamped in screw plates of hinges of fall front

Inscriptions

Bookcase interior: Illegible chalk [1?], on proper-right side [upper front corner] of proper-right document drawer; “A,” in chalk, on interior back of drawer between document drawers; “2,” in chalk, on proper-right side [upper front corner] of proper-left document drawer; double loops, in chalk, on exterior drawer backs; “1” though “4,” in chalk, on interior backs of lower drawers Desk interior: “A” through “C,” in graphite, on interior fronts of proper-right drawers [from top to bottom]; “A,” in graphite, on interior back of proper-right shell drawer; illegible chalk [LR or B?], on exterior back of proper-right middle drawer; “F,” “G [twice],” and “H,” in graphite, on interior fronts of proper-left drawers [from top to bottom]; “A,” in graphite, on interior front of proper-right long drawer; “B,” in graphite, on interior bottom of proper-left long drawer; “A” and “C,” in chalk, on interior fronts and exterior backs of upper and lower prospect drawers; “B,” in chalk, on interior back and front of middle prospect drawer; “T,” in graphite, on exterior sides of removable compartment behind prospect door; “A” through “C,” “in graphite, on exterior front and backs of three secret drawers behind prospect compartment; “Milieu [later],” in graphite, on exterior back of middle secret drawer; “2,” in graphite, on exterior proper-left side of middle secret drawer behind prospect compartment; “A” through “F,” in graphite, on interior and exterior bottoms of valance drawers [from proper-right to proper-left] Desk exterior: Double loops, in chalk, on exterior back of all drawers except second from top; “A” through “D” [“B” mostly worn away], in graphite, on exterior drawer backs [from top to bottom]; “1” through “4” [multiple times], in graphite, on exterior drawer bottoms [from top to bottom]; “D,” in graphite, on exterior bottom of lower drawer; “B,” on interior bottom of lower drawer; “1” through “3”[later?], in graphite, on top of drawer dividers [from top to bottom]; "B," in graphite on top of desk section; "A," "B," and "C," in chalk, from top to bottom on exterior backs of back boards

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

Probably Mary Fayerweather Carpenter (1717–1791) and Nathan Carpenter (died 1771), Boston, Newport, Rhode Island, and Cambridge, Massachusetts; by descent to her brother Thomas Fayerweather (1724–1805), Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts; by descent to his daughter Mrs. John Appleton (ne้ Sarah Fayerweather, 1759–1839), Cambridge, Massachusetts; by descent to her step son, John-James Appleton (1792–1864), Rennes, France; by descent to his son, Charles-Louis Appleton (1846–1935), Lyon, France; by descent to his son, Henri Appleton; by descent in his family; consigned to Sotheby's, New York, January 16–17, 1999, lot 704

Associated names

Mary Fayerweather Carpenter
Nathan Carpenter
Thomas Fayerweather
Sarah Fayerweather Appleton
John-James Appleton
Charles-Louis Appleton
Henri Appleton
Sotheby's

Construction

The roof of the upper bookcase section consists of boards shaped to align with the open, arched, broken pediment which is decorated by a crown molding. The three-quarter round openings in the front are reflected by a conforming cutout in the backboard. The openings in front center a simple molded plinth upon which sits an urn-form finial with corkscrew flame. Below are molded scroll board plaques which follow the outline of the pediment and are flanked by matching finials supported on molded, fluted plinths. The rectangular doors below are fitted with silver ball hinges, screwed into the upper and lower rails of the bookcase section, thus allowing them to open against the single-board case sides. The lipped, thumbmolded door frames, help together by mortise and tenon joints with no visible pins, each center a fielded, molded concave-blocked and shell-carved panel, above two unmolded candleslides. The bookcase interior consists of three sections divided horizontally by shelves with scalloped, double-beaded fronts. The upper, tallest portion, contains four compartments separated by scrolling dividers, with valances above, flanked by two larger compartments. Below, a smaller portion has at its center a bow-fronted section consisting of arched valances over open compartments with scrolling dividers, flanked by pilaster-fronted "secret" drawers above and a bow-fronted "secret" drawer, flanked by storage compartments with scrolling dividers. The lower, smallest portion consists of a wider central section consisting of four compartments with scrolling dividers above two small drawers with blocked and serpentine fronts, flanked by smaller sections with two compartments above a single drawer. The bookcase sits within a molded frame attached to the top of the desk with brads. At the bottom of the diagonal portion of the two-board lower case sides are separate, trapezoidal pieces attached with brads. The hinged, thumb-molded lid consists of three boards, a large longitudinal one attached with mortise and tenon joints, visible at the top and bottom, to the flanking vertical "breadboard" ends. Flanking the upper drawer of the case below are silver "parrots," the upper part of which are attached to the lopers which support the lid when open. The desk interior consists of a concave-blocked and shell-carved prospect door with beaded stiles, flanked by three open compartments with scrolling dividers with quarter-spherically concave-blocked valance drawers above and convex-blocked drawers below, in turn flanked by banks of three concave-blocked drawers, the upper ones shell-carved, all above a molded base. The interior drawer fronts are secured to their drawer sides with dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with a half-pins above. The inside edge of the drawer front tops are slightly chamfered and slightly proud of the arch-topped drawer sides, which are slightly shy of the flat-topped drawer backs. The bottoms of the small drawers are glued in place. The top rail and drawer dividers in the case below are attached to the case sides with half-blind dovetail joints. The bottom rail fits into a groove in the case sides, into which are carved slender quarter columns. The underside of the writing surface is supported by two transverse battens, into which fits, in a groove, a longitudinal batten. Within the case are horizontal chamfered glue blocks behind the bottom rail and full depth drawer supports, secured to the case sides with rosehead nails. The lipped, thumb-molded and graduated drawer fronts are secured to their drawer sides with dovetail joints, having finely cut pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The arch-topped drawer sides are just shy of the drawer fronts, which are in turn just shy of the flat-topped drawer backs. The single-board drawer bottoms are parallel to the drawer front, where they fit into grooves. Drawer runners are applied. The molded base, whose bottom is flush with the case bottom, is joined to the case sides and bottom rail with wood pins. The feet consist of straight ogee bracket feet with conforming glue blocks, now raised on bun feet. Examined by P. E. Kane, January 13, 2006; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.

See also


Bibliography

Gerald W. R. Ward, "American's Contribution to Craftsmanship: The Exaltation and Interpretation of Newport Furniture," American Furniture (1999): 227–228, fig. 4.
Sotheby's, New York, Important Americana, Furniture, and Folk Art, sale cat. (January 16–17, 1999), 201–8, lot 704, ill.
Thatcher Freund, "Oh, the Tales that a Secretary Could Tell!," New York Times (February 11, 1999), B12, ill.
Bill Van Siclen, "Why Would Anyone Pay $8.25 Million for a Desk?," Providence Sunday Journal (February 14, 1999).
John T. Kirk, American Furniture: Understanding Styles, Construction, and Quality (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000), 159–161, fig. 190–192.
Luke Beckerdite, "The Early Furniture of Christopher and Job Townsend," American Furniture (2000): 18–19, 21–22, fig. 33, 34, 37, 38,.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005), 50–51, fig. 40, 41.
Sotheby's, New York, Property of the Goddard Family, sale cat. (January 22, 2005), 42, fig. 14.
Christie's New York, New York, Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, and Chinese Export, sale cat. (January 19–20 and 23, 2012), 98, fig. 2.
Erik Gronning and Amy Coes, "The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition," American Furniture (2013): 15–18, fig. 30–33, 35–36.
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), 205–209, no. 29, fig. 1–3.