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Photo: Courtesy Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Bequest of Commander William Davis Miller, 59.251; photo by Erik Gould
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Chest-on-chest


Object number

RIF1089

Maker

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

Dimensions

86 45 24 1/2 in. (218.44 114.3 62.23 cm)

Date

probably 1784

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 (outer pediment boards); yellow poplar (linings of small drawers of upper case, sides and backs of long drawers of upper case, drawer runners, one tip bar for upper drawers of upper case, horizontal support for upper drawers of upper case, drawer divider backings of upper and lower cases, some drawer supports of upper and lower cases, some drawer guides of upper and lower cases, vertical braces of back of upper and lower cases, sides and backs of drawers of lower case, and bottoms of middle two drawers of lower case); chestnut (bottoms of long drawers of upper case, bottom and top of upper case, blocks behind front rails of upper case, some drawer supports of upper and lower case, one tip bar for upper drawers of upper case, some of drawer guides of upper and lower case, bottoms of top and bottom drawers of lower case, bottom board of lower case, backboards of lower case, horizontal blocks of feet, and brackets of rear feet); maple (spring locks); pine (back boards of upper case and inner pediment boards)

Marks

None

Inscriptions

“A” and “B,” in graphite, on interior bottoms of top drawers of upper case; “I,” incised on interior front, back, and sides of drawer marked “B”; “II,” incised on interior front, back, and sides of drawer marked “A”; “1 [later?],” in graphite, on interior bottom of upper long drawer of upper case; “2 [later?],” in graphite, on interior bottom and proper-right side of middle long drawer of upper case; “3[later?],” in graphite, on interior proper-right side of lower drawer of upper case; possibly “43 [later],” in graphite, on exterior back of lower drawer of upper case; “A” and “B,” in graphite, on tops of dividers under small drawers of upper case; mathematical calculations, "W," "M," or "VV" [three times], possible doodle of face, "John Tillinghast," and other illegible words, in graphite, on sub-top of lower case; two columns of mathematical calculations, "March 23 1784 6-9," and probably "g M $ half," in graphite, on exterior back of lower case; “B” and two loops [cut off], “C” and two loops [cut off), and “D XX,” in graphite, on exterior backs of three bottom drawers of lower case [from top to bottom]; “5” and “6” [later?], in graphite, on proper-right interior side to top two drawers of lower case; “6” and “7” [later?], in graphite, on interior backs of bottom two drawers of lower case; “A” and “B,” in graphite, on tops of dividers under top two drawers of lower case; “I,” “II,” and “III” [original?], incised on tops of dividers under top three drawers of lower case; random loops and possibly letters, in graphite, on exterior back of pediment; various doodles and possibly letters, in graphite, on exterior bottom of lower case

Style

Chippendale

Provenance

Elisha Reynolds Potter (1764–1835), Kingston, Rhode Island; by descent to his son, Elisha Reynolds Potter, Jr. (1811–1883), Kingston; by descent to his brother, William H. Potter (1816–1908), Kingston; by descent to his niece, Mary LeMoine Potter (1860–1938), Kingston; by descent to her cousin, Commander William Davis Miller (1887–1959), Wakefield, Rhode Island, by 1936; bequeathed to the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1959

Associated names

Judge Elisha Reynolds Potter
Elisha Reynolds Potter, Jr.
William H. Potter
Mary LeMoine Potter
Commander William Davis Miller

Construction

The upper-case roof consists of several thin boards nailed with brads to the top of the pediment backboard, the top of the scrollboard, and to blocking within the pediment. Separate corkscrew flames are doweled into double-reeded uniform finials (their backs are plain) doweled into rectilinear plinths. The side plinths, toe-nailed with brads through their back, front, and outside faces into the blocks above the upper-case quarter columns, have five flutes on their front and outside faces. The central plinth is secured by invisible means from within the pediment and fluted on all three faces. At the top of each plinth?s front and side face is a small, single-piece molding. The single-piece crown molding is toe-nailed into the case sides and fixed from within the pediment to the scrollboard. The thumb-molded scrollboard plaques are also attached from within. The lower nose-and-cove portions of the crown molding (with an additional outside cove profile) frame, and are flush with the three-quarter-round voids which flank the central plinth. These lower portions are let into the crown molding near its upper termini above and into the molding beneath the central plinth below in miter joints. The upper case-back consists of three half-lapped boards?the upper arched pediment backboard is nailed with brads to the upper-case ceiling within and into rabbets in the case sides, and the two lower rectilinear boards nailed with brads into those rabbets as well as to horizontal and vertical battens within the case. The lower board is also nailed with brads to the back of the upper case-bottom. Within the upper case are four longitudinal chamfered glue blocks at the joint between the longitudinal two-board ceiling and the scrollboard. There is a longitudinal batten fixed to the inside of the backboards just below the ceiling. Inside the case sides are tip bars nailed to blocking and to the vertical case stiles which are nailed to the case sides. The upper small drawers are held up by a longitudinal support at the back of the case to which is half-lapped a medial support (also half-lapped and nailed to the underside of the upper drawer divider) to the top of which is attached a drawer guide. A vertical batten held in by nails from the outside sits below the medial support. The drawers rest upon supports notched out at the back and nailed with brads to the case sides. On the top and bottom of the supports are guides also notched and nailed with brads to the case sides. Inside the bottom rail are longitudinal chamfered glue blocks. The vertical divide between the upper small drawers is set into grooves in the ceiling and scrollboard above, and nailed and tenoned through the drawer divider below. The scrollboard and drawer dividers meet the case stiles in half-blind dovetail joints; the bottom rails sits in grooves in the case sides. Set into the front corners between the case sides and stiles are quarter columns, each consisting of an upper rectilinear block, abacus, capital, stop-fluted shaft, base, plinth, and lower block. The lower block is revealed through the underside of the two-board upper-case bottom, which is dovetailed to the case sides with finely cut, thick-necked pins, with half-pins in front and half-pins with rabbets in back. The bottoms of the case stiles are also held in place with brads through the upper case bottom, as is the case?s bottom rail. A single-piece waist molding, rabbeted slightly to fit over the lower-case top, is toe-nailed through its underside into the case sides and bottom rail. The two small and three long lipped, thumb-molded and graduated drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter arched-top sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins with half-pins above and half-pins with grooves below. The small-drawer bottoms are perpendicular to the front and fitted with touch latches held on with brads and rosehead nails. The multi-board long-drawer bottoms are also perpendicular to the front, where they are chamfered to fit into grooves. They are chamfered also at their sides, where their runners are glued to their undersides with brads. The drawer bottoms are nailed with brads to the bottoms of the flat-topped drawer backs. The top of the lower case consists of two longitudinal boards separated by a generous gap and half-blind dovetailed to each single-board case side with finely cut pins of varying configuration, including large half-pins in front, small half-pins in back and a central pin the full width of the gap between the top boards. At the ends of the upper face of the lower case?s top rail are rosehead nails joining it to the tops of the case stiles below. The lower case-back consists of two half-lapped horizontal boards fixed with a variety of nails to the rear top board, the bottom board, a vertical batten within the case, and rabbets in the case sides. The case and drawer construction of the lower case are similar to those of the upper case. One exception is the slightly more regular arrangement of pins in the dovetail joints between drawer fronts and sides in the lower case. The feet consist of horizontal chamfered blocks mitered at each corner, to which are fixed rectilinear vertical blocks, the whole faced with ogee bracket feet. The rear feet are configured similarly except for their backs, which are straight-profiled ogee boards set into vertical grooves in the side-facing ogee brackets. On each outside face of the ogee boards is a shadow of a vertical glue block. The back-facing edges of the side rear brackets have an ogee profile which projects beyond the plane of the lower-case back. Examined by P. E. Kane and J. N. Johnson, October 27, 2014; notes compiled by T. B. Lloyd.

Bibliography

"Kingston Mansion is Treasure Trove," Providence Sunday Journal (July 7, 1935): 9, ill.
Christopher P. Monkhouse, "American Furniture Recently Acquired by the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design," Antiques 118, no. 1 (July 1980): 126, pl. 1, ill.
"Museum Notes," Museum Notes (1980): 14, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 166-167, fig. 3.90, 3.90a, 3.9.
Christopher P. Monkhouse and Thomas S. Michie, American Furniture in Pendleton House (Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1986), 86–87, no. 32, ill.
Morrison H. Heckscher, John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005), 138–39, no. 31, ill.
Jack O'Brien, "A New Bedford Masterpiece," Antiques 171, no. 5 (May 2007): 142–143, fig. 9, 9a.
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), 58n17, 233n3.