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Photo: Courtesy The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of the estate of Marian M. Britton
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker, probably by Edmund Townsend, American, 1736/7–1811


98 × 40 1/2 × 23 3/4 in. (248.921 × 102.87 × 60.325 cm)



Current location

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


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


Mahogany (primary), eastern white pine (secondary); chestnut (top of desk, backing for two drawer dividers, and bottoms of exterior drawers); yellow poplar (backing for one drawer divider and sides of the exterior drawers); cedar (shelves in bookcase)




"3," " 4," and "5," in graphite, on backs of fronts of prospect drawers; "1," "2," "3," and "4," in chalk, in corners of fronts, sides, and backs of exterior drawers; "1" and "4," in graphite, on interior front and sides of larger interior drawers; "1" through "6," in graphite, on interior backs of valance drawers; v-shaped notches numbering one through five on top interior edges of valance drawers


Possibly owned by Raymond H. J. Perry (1789–1826), Newport, Rhode Island. Ginsburg and Levy, Inc., New York, 1943; sold to the family of Julia Perry (née Esty); sold to Israel Sack, Inc., New York, 1973; sold to Marian M. (died 1998) and James L. Britton, Jr. (1908–1988), Houston; given by her estate to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1999

Associated names

Israel Sack, Inc.
Ginsburg and Levy, Inc.
James L. Britton, Jr.
Raymond H. J. Perry
Marian M. Britton
Julia Esty Perry
Family of Julia Esty Perry


The closed pediment roof consists of multiple boards shaped to align with the serpentine pediment and nailed with brads to the pediment backboard, the pediment scroll board, and to blocking within the pediment. The pediment backboard is a single horizontal board with a hole at its latitudinal center line. There is a board, visible at the rear, which comprises a ceiling of the upper section. The crown molding profile is a single piece, attached with countersunk nails to the bonnet, case sides and scroll board. The scrolling pediment centers a pair of three-quarter round molded reserves with applied edge molding. This edge molding merges with the lowest molding on the scrolled cornice and they both continue until they terminate toward the urn finial. The reeded and fluted urn sits on a turned base atop a small square plinth. The urn has a removable spirally fluted finial. The upper-case back consists of two vertical sections consisting of two vertical boards apiece glued together, half-lapped at the middle of the back, nailed with roseheads in a rabbet at the top and sides, and nailed with roseheads to the bottom board of the upper sections and to vertical and horizontal stiles within the upper case. The upper case is divided into three vertical sections by two continuous stiles with double astragal-carved fronts. The central bay contains two compartments of shaped dividers and shelves let into grooves therein, over a small open area. The flanking bays are similarly arranged, with larger open areas below. The front of the upper case consists of two framed doors with molded edges and blocked, shell-carved panels. No pins are visible in the doors? mortise and tenon construction. Each door bears two brass hinges, each having two screws on the door side and three on the case. The proper right door is secured to the frame by two brass push latches in the left-hand stile, a larger one with scrolling back plate at the top, a smaller one with arched back plate at the front. The corners of the upper case contain five-fluted quarter columns with separate turned capitals and bases, which terminate the flutes. The single-board bottom of the bookcase section is dovetailed to the case sides with a half-pin at the front and a half tail at the back. The single-board top of the desk section is attached to the two-board case sides (each fitted with a carrying handle) with a joint concealed by a molding attached thereto with brads. The lid has batten ends and a thumb-molded edge on the top and sides. The tenon joint between the horizontal center board and vertical ends is visible at the top and bottom of the lid. The lid is fastened to the desk with three brass hinges. At the center of the desk interior is a shell-carved prospect door, flanked by cock-beaded stiles, which opens to a convex-blocked and shell-carved shelved interior. The door is flanked by three upright document reserves separated by shaped dividers, surmounted by concavely half-round carved and valanced "secret" drawers, with a single convex-blocked small drawer below. Flanking these are double cock-beaded stiles with banks of three concave-blocked small drawers, the upper shell-carved, beyond. The interior drawers? sides have rounded tops just shy of their drawer fronts. The larger drawers have fine, narrow-necked dovetails with a half-pin above and a half-pin with rabbet below. One drawer behind the prospect door is fitted with a carved wood sliding locking mechanism. The "secret" drawer fronts contain a single dovetail, half-pin above and below. Their bottoms are glued to the sides, back, and fronts above. The desk interior has a molded base which reflects the blocking above. A sliding panel in the writing surface has a thumb-molded edge and opens to the upper drawer below. The lower-case drawer dividers and top and bottom rails join the sides in half-blind dovetails. The half-height thumb-molded lopers are fitted with dowel stops and supports. There is a proper right loper guide, missing proper left. Each of the thumb-molded, graduated long drawers has drawer supports nailed to the case sides with roseheads. There is a vertical brace at the case back below the transverse boards of the writing surface. There is also a vertical brace nailed with brads to the midpoint of the case back interior. The upper case drawer is fitted with serpentine-shaped wood sliding locking mechanisms. The drawer sides have full-height, chamfered tops. The drawer back tops are flat. The dovetails are narrow-necked and finely cut, with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below; there are prominent scribe lines on the drawer sides and kerf marks on the fronts. The two-board drawer bottoms, perpendicular to the front, are feather-chamfered and let into grooves at the front, flat and fitted into grooves in the running strips (replaced) at the sides, and attached with T-headed (and later) nails to the drawer backs. The desk case back consists of two horizontal boards lapped together and nailed with roseheads to a rabbet in the sides and directly to the bottom board. The case bottom is attached to the sides with dovetails and flush with the base molding, which is attached with brads. Behind the front ogee bracket feet are full-height, vertical, rectangular glue blocks and horizontal, shaped blocks. Behind the rear feet are full-height vertical, chamfered glue blocks with horizontal shaped glue blocks at the ogee bracket sides and horizontal rectangular glue blocks at the serpentine bracket backs. Examined by P. E. Kane, W. S. Braznell, and M. Brown, March, 2004; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.

See also


"Israel Sack, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 103, no. 6 (June 1973): ill. inside cover.
"Ginsburg and Levy, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 44, no. 4 (October 1943): 155, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 342–43, pl. 18, fig. 8.27, 8.27a.
American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection, 10 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Highland House Publishers, 1957–89), vol. 4, pp. 852–53, 971–73, no. P3755, ill.; vol. 6, p. 6, no. P3755, ill.; vol. 8, p. 2145, ill., ill.
Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett, "A Houston Collection of American Antiques," Antiques 108, no. 3 (September 1975): 504, ill.