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From: Gronning and Coes, "The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition,"American Furniture(2013):23
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High chest of drawers

Object number



Maker John Townsend, American, 1732/33–1809
Maker Christopher Townsend, 1701–1787


Height: 88 1/4 in. (224.155 cm) Height, lower case: 38 1/2 in. (97.79 cm) Height, upper case: 49 in. (124.46 cm)


ca. 1755

Current location

Philadelphia Museum of Art


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


Mahogany (primary); yellow poplar (backing for muntins and drawer dividers, top of upper case, drawer supports, top of bonnet, and drawer linings); chestnut (blocks under upper case, back of lower case, and some blocks on legs); white pine (back of upper case and pediment and some blocks on legs)


"John T" and "Christopher Townsend," in graphite, on a drawer divider in lower case


"Thos.Robinson" engraved on one brass; "D," "E," and "F," in graphite, on exterior backs of long drawers in upper case; illegible red chalk on undersides of small drawers in upper case; "1" and "2," in red chalk, on two drawer dividers; "B," in graphite, in one deep drawer in lower case; "C," in graphite, on middle drawer in lower case; "M" within loops, in graphite, on back of pediment and of lower case


Possibly Sarah Richardson (1733–1817) and Thomas Robinson (1731–1817), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to their daughter, Mary Robinson (1757–1829) and her husband John Morton (1734–1828), Newport, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia; by descent to their daughter, Esther Morton (1797–1865) and Daniel B. Smith (1792–1883), Haverford, and Germantown, Pennsylvania; by descent to their son, Benjamin Rapier Smith (1825–1904) and Esther Fisher Wharton (1836–1915), Germantown, Pennsylvania; by descent to their son, Edward Wanton Smith (born 1875) and Dorothea Atwater, Germantown, Pennsylvania; by descent to their daughter, Sarah Anne Greene Smith (1905–1997), Philadelphia and Jamestown, Rhode Island; given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1975

Associated names

Thomas Robinson
Sarah A. G. Smith
Sarah Richardson
John Morton
Daniel B. Smith
Esther Fisher Wharton
Benjamin Raper Smith
Mary Robinson
Esther Morton
Edward Wanton Smith
Dorothea Atwater


The pediment roof comprises multiple boards shaped to align with the serpentine pediment and nailed with brads to the pediment backboard, the pediment scroll board, blocking strips behind the crown molding of the open pediment, and transverse battens within the pediment. Shaped supports (three on each side) are visible within the open pediment. The side crown moldings are attached to the upper two-board case sides with plugged nails. The front crown moldings are held on with screws. The thumb-molded scroll board plaques center a fluted plinth block with fillets above and below. The plinth supports a removable urn form and corkscrew-carved finial. The upper case back is comprised of six horizontal boards. The upper two make up the back of the open pediment. The upper one is shaped to reflect the pediment in front, the lower board is attached with rosehead nails to the case sides and top board of the upper case. The four remaining boards are half-lapped together and nailed with rosehead nails and brads in rabbets to the case sides. The molding at the bottom of the upper case is nailed with brads to the case sides and bottom rail. The bottom board of the upper case is joined to the case sides with dovetails and fitted with two cleats, attached with rosehead nails, which fit it into the topless lower case. The upper case contains three small drawers, each fitted with touch latches (now missing) above three long lipped and thumb-molded graduated drawers. The flanking upper drawers have supports nailed to the case sides and medial supports half-lapped to a longitudinal drawer support attached to the backboards and half-lapped to the drawer divider below. The dividers between them are set into grooves in the top board of the upper case and nailed with brads to the underside of their horizontal drawer divider. The joints between the top rail and case sides are concealed. The joints between the horizontal drawer dividers and the case sides is a half-blind dovetail. The bottom rail fits into a groove in the case sides and is reinforced with three horizontal chamfered blocks. The long drawers have supports fixed with rosehead nails to the case sides. The drawer fronts exhibit dovetail joints with finely cut pins, half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The drawer sides have arched tops, shy of the drawer fronts, which bear small kerf marks. The drawer back tops are square inside, and chamfered outside. The small drawers have single-board bottoms perpendicular to the front. The long drawers have single-board bottoms slightly chamfered at the sides, are parallel with and set into grooves in the front, and have applied runners. The bottoms are nailed to the drawer backs with brads. The lower case contains a long shallow drawer over three- one shallow flanked by two deep small drawers- above a double-serpentine skirt centering a shell carved within a half circle. The lower case sides are single boards with serpentine skirts and joined to the single board lower case back with dovetails. The lower case back has a square-edged, flat skirt. The top rail of the lower case is rabbeted to fit into a groove in the corner post, which is veneered to conceal the dovetails which join it to the case sides. The rail behind is dovetailed and nailed with brads to the case sides. The long drawer has full depth drawer supports and nearly full-depth drawer guides. The supports are lapped into the drawer divider, glued to the case sides, and set into grooves in the case back. The guides are glued to their tops. The small drawers have drawer supports dovetailed into the front skirt and set into grooves in the case back. Their vertical drawer dividers are set in grooves in the horizontal divider above and held in place with trapezoidal chamfered vertical glue blocks. Behind the vertical dividers are drawer guides butt-jointed to the dividers and set in grooves in the case back. The tops of the detachable legs are secured to the case with shaped glue blocks containing screws and rosehead nails, and have carved knee brackets attached with glue and nails. The knees of the rear legs extend beyond the backboard. The square-sectioned cabriole legs have angular knees, vigorously carved tendons and claws with prominent knuckles and undercut talons clasping ball feet. Examined by P. E. Kane, April 25, 2008; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.



Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 184, fig. 3.102, 3.102a–b.
Sotheby's, New York, The Exceptional Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold Mahogany High Chest, sale cat. (January 21, 2012), 14, 16, fig. 7.
Erik K. Gronning and Amy Coes, "The Early Work of John Townsend in the Christopher Townsend Shop Tradition," American Furniture (2013): 22–24, fig. 48–52.
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), 451, 453.