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Slant-front desk

Object number



Maker, attributed to John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809


41 1/2 × 42 1/8 × 23 1/8 in. (105.41 × 106.998 × 58.738 cm)



Current location

Newport Restoration Foundation, Rhode Island


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


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (sides and backs of interior drawers, bottoms of valance drawers, bottoms of interior proper-right and top proper-left interior drawers, and blocks between rear feet and brackets); cherry (bottoms of proper-left middle and lower interior drawers); pine: (bottoms of interior drawers flanking prospect, bottoms of exterior drawers [except upper], horizontal support for well, drawer supports, drawer divider backings, glue blocks at case front, and backboards of case); chestnut (bottom of desk interior, vertical brace at case back, bottoms of upper exterior drawer, and bottom boards of case); yellow poplar (sides and backs of exterior drawers); maple (rear foot brackets)




“A” through “C,” exterior backs and interior bottoms of proper-right interior desk drawers [top to bottom]; “D” and “E,” exterior backs and interior bottoms of drawers flanking prospect [proper-right to proper-left]; “F” through “H,” exterior backs and interior bottoms of proper-left interior desk drawers (drawer “F” is also marked “H”) [top to bottom]; “A” and “C” through “F,” in graphite, on interior and exterior bottoms of valance drawers (graphite not visible on second drawer from proper-right) [proper-right to proper-left]; “A” though “D,” in chalk, on exterior backs of exterior drawers; “A” to “C,” incised with faint graphite, on upper surfaces of drawer dividers [top to bottom]; “H,” in chalk, on the exterior case back


John Townsend (1732-1809), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to his daughter Mrs. Thomas Brinley (née Mary Townsend, 1769-1809), Newport, 1809; by descent to her nephew and heir, Christopher Townsend (died 1881), Newport, 1856; by descent to his sister Ellen F. Townsend (1809-1887), Newport, 1881; bequeathed to her friend, William P.Sheffield (1819-1907), Newport, 1886; by descent to his son, William P. Sheffield (1857-1919), Newport; by descent to his son, Samuel S. Sheffield, Cincinnati; given to the Samuel Whitehorne House Museum, Newport Restoration Foundation, Rhode Island, 1969

Associated names

John Townsend
Mary Townsend Brinley
Christopher Townsend
William P. Sheffield
S. S. Sheffield
William P. Sheffield
Ellen F. Townsend


The single-board top meets the single-board case sides in half-blind dovetail joints, having finely cut narrow-necked pins with half-pins in front. The case back consists of two horizontal half-lapped boards fixed with rosehead and other nails into rabbets in the case sides and top and directly into the case bottom. The back boards are also nailed directly into a vertical batten within the case, a horizontal member within the case, and vertical elements (blocking or stiles) in the fitted interior. The desk lid, joined to the case by three sets of brass hinges, is assembled in the "breadboard" manner, containing two narrow vertical boards joined by a large horizontal board, the whole with a thumb-molded edge. The tenons which join the boards are visible at the bottom of the lid. The interior includes a concave-blocked and shell-carved prospect door flanked by beaded stiles. On either side are banks of three-quarter-spherically concave-blocked scallop-skirted small drawers above open compartments with scallop-fronted dividers and convex-blocked small drawers. Beyond these are banks of three concave-blocked small drawers, the upper ones shell-carved. The interior sits upon a molded base. Before it is a sliding well cover, with circular beaded concave finger holds, open to the case below. The drawer fronts of the interior meet their sides in dovetail joints, having finely cut, narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The drawer-side tops are rounded and shy of the drawer-front tops. The drawer bottoms are glued into rabbets in the fronts, sides, and backs. The tops of the drawer backs are flat. In the bottom rail of the proper right bank of concave small drawers, just behind the base molding are two countersunk nails. The top and bottom rails, as well as the drawer dividers and the top end of the loper stiles all meet their adjacent element in half-blind dovetail joints. Behind the bottom rail are four horizontal chamfered glue blocks. Each drawer has full depth supports fixed with brads and rosehead nails to the case sides. There is a vertically arranged horizontal batten attached to the backboard at the top of the case interior. Atop this batten are transverse battens at the case sides. These enclose the lopers, and are nailed with brads into blocking above. The notably rough-hewn underside of the writing surface above is tenoned into them. A horizontally arranged horizontal batten sits atop the larger batten. Tenoned into the bottom of the larger batten is a vertical batten against the backboard at the midpoint of the case interior. Scribe lines and mahogany patches on the case side which do not align with existing drawer dividers and supports indicate that the case was substantially reconfigured. Just inside the front of the case sides are vertical strips, nailed on with brads. The four graduated drawer fronts in the case are lipped and thumb-molded, meeting their case sides in dovetail joints, having finely cut pins of slightly varying configuration, with half-pins above and half-pins above grooves below. The rounded tops of the drawer sides are just shy of the drawer-front tops. The arrangement of the drawer bottoms varies; some are parallel to the front, some perpendicular. The top-drawer bottom is a large parallel board, with a narrow strip at the back. They are chamfered at the front, where they fit into grooves in the drawer front, and at the sides, where they are secured by drawer runners. They are nailed with brads to the bottom of the drawer backs above. The tops of the drawer backs are flat. The base molding is applied with wood-filled fasteners, and is flush with the case bottom. The front feet consist of shaped vertical blocks attached directly to the case bottom, flanked by shaped horizontal blocks also attached to the case bottom, the whole faced with ogee bracket feet. The rear feet are arranged similarly, except for the rear brackets, which are simple, straight-sided incurvate brackets, set into ogee-shaped blocking inside the outer ogee face. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, March 28, 2014; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


Homer Eaton Keyes, "Two Branches of the Newport Townsends," Antiques 31, no. 6 (June 1937): 309, fig. 4.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 136–37, no. 30, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 172, fig. 3.95, 3.95a.
Morrison H. Heckscher, "Newport and the Townsend Inheritance," Antiques 167, no. 5 (May 2005): 103, ill.
"Cincinnati Art Museum Holds Loan Exhibition of Furniture: English and American Pieces from Sixty Local Collections Coverts Two and a Half Centuries," American Collector (June 1937): 11, ill.
Richmond Huntley, "An Antiques Primer: The Evolution of the Desk, Part II," American Collector 10, no.1 (February 1941): 11.