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Photo: Courtesy Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth, 36.006; photo by Erik Gould
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Desk and bookcase


Object number

RIF564

Maker

Maker Job Townsend, Sr., 1699?1765

Dimensions

82 1/2 40 24 1/2 in. (209.55 101.6 62.23 cm)

Date

1745–60

Current location

Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design

Geography

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

Medium

Mahogany (primary); mahogany (horizontal blocks of feet and vertical blocks of rear feet); yellow poplar (sides and backs of drawers, supports for two middle drawers, and sides, fronts, and bottoms of secret drawers); pine (bottoms of drawers, backs of secret drawers, and vertical brace at back of desk interior); chestnut (top, bottom, and back boards of desk, bottom and top boards of bookcase, backs of drawer dividers, blocks on upper surface of desk top, board under desk interior, brackets of rear feet, supports for top and bottom drawers, and vertical blocks of front feet); cherry (backboards of bookcase)

Marks

"Made / by / Job Townsend / in Newport.," in ink, on a paper label glued inside prospect door

Inscriptions

“1” and “2,” in graphite, on interior backs on proper-right shell drawer and proper-right middle drawer; “4,” in graphite, on interior back and bottom of drawer to proper-right of prospect; “5,” in graphite, on exterior back of drawer to proper-left of prospect. “6” through “8,” in graphite, on interior back of proper-left interior drawers [from top to bottom]; “6,” in graphite, on exterior bottom of proper-left shell drawer; mathematical calculations, in chalk, on proper-left side of drawer marked “7”; “1” through “3,” in graphite, on interior backs of prospect drawers [from top to bottom]; “Dr [r in superscript] / LM,” in graphite, on underside of upper prospect drawer; “Top,” in graphite, on exterior top of removable prospect compartment; “2” and “3,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of two of proper-right valance drawers; “4” through “6,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of proper-left valance drawers; “3” and “4,” incised on top fronts of valance drawers marked “3” and “4”; the valance drawers marked “4” through “6,” have incised dots on the tops of their fronts corresponding to their numbers; the valance drawer marked “3” has a single dot incised on the top of its front; counting marks, in chalk, on exterior backboard of bookcase

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

James Davidson, New London, Connecticut, by 1919; sold to the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1936

Associated names

James Davidson

Construction

The single-board top of the bookcase section meets the single-board case sides in dovetail joints with pins of varying configuration, with half-pins in front and in back. The wider ends of the pins are slightly rabbeted, indicating the former presence of a pediment structure. A single-piece crown molding is face-nailed and toe-nailed to the case sides. A matching crown molding of later date is face-nailed to the top rail of the bookcase section. The back consists of four horizontal half-lapped boards, fixed with rosehead nails to rabbets in the case top and sides, and directly to the single-boards case bottom, which meets the sides in dovetail joints with pins of varying configuration, with half-pins in front and in back. The case sides are routed to accept the ends of two fixed shelves, the upper one with a slightly concave-blocked center. These shelves, as well as the bottom of the ceiling board and the top of the bottom board, are routed to accept vertical partitions of graduated heights with rounded-edge serpentine fronts. The bookcase doors are of the full overlay sort, the outside edge of the stiles being flush with the case sides. The arched upper rails are tenoned and double-wood-pinned to the stiles, the lower rails are tenoned and single-wood-pinned to them, and the panels are applied to the doors? outer faces. The panels? arched, single-board faces have molded edges; the inside faces are accompanied by a cove molding nailed to the frames with brads. The connections between the single-board desk top and its single-board case sides are concealed by a single-piece nose-and-cove molding face-nailed with brads at the sides and fixed with wood-filled fasteners at the front. There are five longitudinal rectangular blocks behind the molding; on top of the proper left lateral block is a shim nailed with a single brad. The desk?s lid consists of a large horizontal board tenoned into narrow flanking vertical boards, the whole with a quarter round molded edge. The joints between the boards are visible at the bottom of the lid when it is closed. It opens to an interior which centers a single-concave-blocked, shell-carved prospect door flanked by double-beaded stiles. It opens to a removable compartment containing three concave-blocked small drawers. The compartment?s walls meet in dovetail joints; its back is glued on. It conceals three small "secret" drawers whose walls also meet in dovetail joints; their bottoms are glued into rabbets and their pulls are scraps of leather. The prospect section is flanked by banks of three quarter-spherically concave-blocked, beaded, valanced small drawers with serpentine dividers, over convex-blocked drawers, these flanked by banks of three concave-blocked drawers, the upper ones shell-carved, all on a molded base. The interior kerf-marked drawer-fronts meet their slightly shorter, arched-top sides in dovetail joints, having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The single-board drawers bottoms, parallel to the fronts, are set into rabbets in and glued (occasionally nailed with brads) to the elements above. The valance drawers? sides are flat-topped. The forward portion of the writing surface is half-blind dovetailed to the case sides, as are the drawer dividers below; the bottom rail sits in grooves. The lateral boards of the writing surface are tenoned into the front board and are routed at their inner edges (as is the front board) to receive the rabbeted edges of a sliding well-cover. Within the case the lateral boards of the writing surface support the ends of longitudinal board below the desk-interior drawers. A vertical batten at the interior?s midpoint is set into grooves in this longitudinal board and in the case bottom, and is fixed to the case back from the outside with rosehead nails. The lopers are full-depth and half-height, with uprights beside them set into grooves. The upper-drawer supports are tenoned into their drawer divider. At the back end of each is a (replaced) shaped block fixed with a rosehead nail to the case back. Drawer supports below are fixed to the case sides with rosehead nails. There is a single longitudinal, rectilinear glue block behind the bottom rail. The four lipped, graduated, thumb-molded, kerf-marked long drawers meet their slightly shorter, arched-top drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and large half-pins with grooves below. The single-board, full-width drawer bottoms are parallel to the front, where they fit into grooves, and at the sides, where their connection to the drawer sides is concealed by full-depth, glued-on runners. The bottoms are nailed with brads to their flat-topped drawer backs. At the rear corner of each drawer the top of the drawer side is marked with a diagonal incision. The inside upper corner of each drawer front is slightly rounded. In each front corner of the upper long drawer is a wood lock, consisting of a bolt (with a carved fingerhold) which passes through a bracket (attached to the inside of the drawer front with rosehead nails), then into the side of the drawer itself, to lodge in a recess in the case sides. The lower-case back consists of three half-lapped boards fixed with rosehead nails in rabbets in the top and sides, directly to the back of the case bottom, to the back of partitions and the longitudinal boards at the bottom of the desk interior. The single-board case bottom is fixed at the front with four nails to the underside of the bottom rail. A single-piece base molding (which slightly overhangs the case back) is fixed with wood-filled fasteners to the bottom rail. The case sides meet the case bottom in dovetail joints having pins of slightly varying configuration. The feet consist of shaped vertical blocks attached directly to the case bottom, flanked by shaped horizontal blocks, the whole faced with ogee brackets. The rear-facing brackets of the back feet are simple, straight-profiled incurvate boards, set into grooves in the side-facing brackets, whose rear-faces project slightly beyond the face of the case back. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, June 23, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

Malcolm A. Norton, "More Light on the Blockfront," Antiques 3, no. 2 (February 1923): 63–66, fig. 6.
Rhode Island Tercentenary Exhibition, exh. cat. (Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1936), 18, no. 12.
Joseph Downs, "The Furniture of Goddard and Townsend," Antiques 52, no. 6 (December 1947): 428, fig. 2.
"Some of Antiques Famous Firsts," Antiques 62, no. 6 (December 1952): 483, ill.
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., "The Newport Exhibition," Antiques 64, no. 1 (July 1953): 43, fig. 21.
Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., The Arts and Crafts of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640–1820 (Newport, R.I.: Preservation Society of Newport County, 1954), 71–72, no. 44, ill.
Helen Comstock, American Furniture: Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Century Styles (New York: Viking Press, 1962), no. 201, ill.
Wallace Nutting, Furniture Treasury (New York: MacMillan Company, 1963), no. 693, 695, 716, ill.
Hedy B. Landman, "The Pendleton House at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design," Antiques 107, no. 5 (May 1975): 935, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 139, 248, 254, 273, figs. 3.64, 6.1, 7.1–7.1a.
Christopher P. Monkhouse and Thomas S. Michie, American Furniture in Pendleton House (Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1986), 94–96, no. 38, fig. 38a-d.
Jeanne Vibert Sloane, "John Cahoone and the Newport Furniture Industry," Old-Time New England 72 (1987): 103, fig. 4.
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): 44, 45, 46, fig. 8, 9.
William C. Ketchum Jr., American Cabinetmakers: Marked American Furniture, 1640-1940 (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 343.
Luke Beckerdite, "The Early Furniture of Christopher and Job Townsend," American Furniture (2000): 20, fig. 35.
Christie's, New York, Important American Furniture, Silver, and Folk Art: Featuring English Pottery from the Collection of the Late Robert J. Kahn and the Lafayette-Washington Pistols, sale cat. (January 18–19, 2002), 223 (comp.cit.), fig. 4.
Margaretta M. Lovell, Art in a Season of Revolution: Painters, Artisans, and Patrons in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 248–250, fig. 101–102.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 37, fig. 23–24.
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), 202–204, 208, 452–53, no. 28, fig. 1–3.