image of object
From: Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America , vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926) 246-248, fig. 270
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker, formerly attributed to John Carlile, Sr., American, 1727–1796, active 1751–96
Maker Unknown


105 42 26 in. (266.7 106.7 66 cm)



Current location

The Rhode Island Historical Society


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


Mahogany (primary); cherry (bookcase lining and shelves); pine (all other secondary wood)




“V” or “X,” in chalk, on exterior back of third exterior drawer from top; “X,” in chalk, on the exterior back of lower drawer; “B,” in chalk, on interior bottom board of desk; “3 [?],” in chalk, on top of drawer divider under third exterior drawer from top; “X,” in chalk, on most exterior backs and some exterior sides of interior drawers; “2” through “6,” in graphite, on interior front, sides, and back of lower interior drawers [no visible marks on proper-right drawer]; “1” through “6,” in graphite, on compartment bottoms of lower interior drawers


Joseph Brown (1733–1785), Providence, Rhode Island. Brown and Ives, Providence, by 1927. Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, by 1965

Associated names

Joseph Brown
Brown and Ives families


The front face of the plinths atop the bookcase section are face-nailed to their side faces. The nose-and-cove molding above is fixed with wood-filled fasteners to each face; a square fluted block at the corner of each plinth supports a turned, fluted, urn-form finial with corkscrew flame. Three convex-blocked plaques are fixed to the single-piece scrollboard with wood-filled fasteners. Single-piece serpentine crown moldings end in circular panels carved with double rows of stylized rosettes whose half-spherical centers have incised lines. These moldings, and the variants thereof which line the three-quarter round cutouts below, are fixed to the scrollboard with wood-filled fasteners. A matching finial and plinth (fluted only on its front) sits atop the cap which joins the two portions of molding. The joints between the bookcase?s front stiles and its single-board sides are concealed by engaged stop-fluted quarter columns, each consisting of separate abacus, capital, shaft, base, plinth and pedestal. The quarter columns are fixed in their flutes to the case with wood-filled fasteners. Of the three shell-carved bookcase doors, the two proper left are hinged together, the far left one consisting of thumb-molded stiles into which are tenoned and screwed, from within, upper and lower rails which enclose a separate convex-blocked shell-carved panel, further secured by an interior ogee frame molding. The middle panel is a single, concave-blocked board, flush on its interior face. Its exterior bottom rail is a separate piece secured to the frame with screws through the inside face. The proper left, single door is constructed similarly to the far proper right door. The backs of the blocked and shell-carved panels of these flanking doors are flat; the fronts of the stiles and rails are carved out in such a way as to provide a recessed half-round frame for the applied shell-and-panel and a flat surface for its attachment. Two-part horizontal plaques for the support of shelves are glued and nailed to the bookcase walls? interiors. Intermediate stiles (possibly replaced) are routed to align with the wall?s supports. The thumb-molded fronts of the candleslides in the bookcase?s bottom rail are fixed to their slides with wood-filled fasteners. A perimeter nose-and-cove molding is face-nailed with brads to the top of the desk section, which has two-board case sides. The front edges of these case sides, at their transitions from the diagonal to the vertical, include a slightly serpentine diagonal portion. The hinged thumb-molded lid consists of three boards ? a large horizontal, blocked and shell-carved board tenoned into narrow vertical boards. The joints between them are visible at the bottom of the lid when it is closed; at the top of the lid the boards meet in miter joints. The lid opens to an interior with a prospect section of two small drawers flanked by valanced open compartments, separated by serpentine uprights, set upon a molded rail. Below are six flat-fronted small drawers; the whole on a molded base. The interior drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, flat-topped sides in dovetail joints having finely cut narrow-necked pins with half-pins above. The single-board drawer bottoms, perpendicular to the front, are glued into rabbets in the front and nailed with brads through the lower portions of the drawer sides and backs. The tops of the drawer-backs are flat. The lower-case back consists of three half-lapped horizontal boards. In the front, the top rail/writing surface and the drawer dividers below are half-blind dovetailed to the case sides; the bottom rail does not sit in grooves in the sides. Within the case, half-height lopers are set into grooves cut out of full-depth, full-height lateral boards fixed with countersunk nails from within the case to the case sides. The loper fronts, thumb-molded on two sides, are fixed with wood-filled fasteners to their shafts. Drawer supports below are nailed with brads to the case sides. The thumb-molded, kerf-marked, convex- and concave-blocked upper drawer-front meets its slightly shorter, flat-topped drawer sides in concealed joints. There are nail holes in the upper portions of the drawer-front ends; the lower portions project beyond to surround the lopers. The drawer front?s inside face is deeply blocked. The bottom consists of several boards, perpendicular to the front, where they are fixed with nails into rabbets. The drawer bottom is fixed with a variety of nails to the flat-topped drawer back. It is slightly chamfered at the sides, where it fits into rabbets in the bottoms of the drawer sides and is held in by pairs of full-depth runners. At the bottom of the drawer-sides? outside faces are more full-length runners. On the underside of the upper drawer-front are multiple sets of scribe lines. A single-piece base molding is fixed with wood-filled fasteners to the case sides and bottom rail. Attached to the perimeter of the multi-board case bottom is a frame of boards to which are fixed, at each corner, a foot assembly consisting of a shaped vertical block flanked by shaped horizontal blocks, the whole faced with ogee bracket feet, the fronts of the front feet being also convex-blocked and scroll-carved. The back-facing brackets of the rear feet are simple, straight-profiled trapezoidal boards. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, June 25, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


This example is the only Rhode Island blockfront desk and bookcases onamented with nine shells. It is often discussed in the context of the examples with six shells (RIF230, RIF381, RIF1228, RIF1229, RIF1230, RIF1232, RIF1233, RIF1235, and RIF3601).


Joseph K. Ott, The John Brown House Loan Exhibition of Rhode Island Furniture, exh. cat. (Providence: The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1965), 106–7, no. 67, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 63, 334, 335, pl. 2, fig. 1.55, 8. 21, 8.2.
Wendy A. Cooper and Tara L. Gleason, "A Different Rhode Island Block-and-Shell Story: Providence Provenances and Pitch-Pediments," American Furniture (1999): 162, 186, fig. 1, 21.
Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), vol. 1, pp. 246–248, fig. 270.
Wendy A. Cooper, "In Praise of America," Antiques 117, no. 3 (March 1980): 609, pl. VII.
Joseph Downs, "The Furniture of Goddard and Townsend," Antiques 52, no. 6 (December 1947): 431, fig. 12.
Malcolm A. Norton, "Three Block-Front Secretaries," Antiques 11, no. 3 (March 1927): 192–194, fig. 3, 5.
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), 168–69, pl. 29.
John T. Kirk, American Furniture: Understanding Styles, Construction, and Quality (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000), 133–134, fig. 157.
Eleanore Bradford Monahon, "Catalog of The Rhode Island Historical Society Furniture Collection," Rhode Island History 18, no. 4 (October 1959): 126–27, no. 59, cover ill., ill.
Mabel M. Swan, "A Blockfront Secretary Presumably Made for Joseph Brown," Rhode Island History 7, no. 4 (October 1948): 120–25, 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), 313n4.
Helena Hayward, ed., World Furniture: An Illustrated History (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965), 191, fig. 718.