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From: Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), 168
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker, probably by Daniel Spencer, 1741–1796


113 42 1/2 25 in. (287.021 107.95 63.5 cm)



Current location

Private Collection


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


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (bonnet boards, backing for blocking on lower two exterior drawers, linings for interior drawers); pine (back of pediment, top boards in well on pediment, back of lower case, drawer sides, bottom of bookcase, vertical blocks on front feet and rear feet, dust boards, drawer stops and supports for upper drawers); yellow poplar (rear feet brackets, block on proper-left front foot); maple (top of desk section, bottom of desk, drawer dividers); chestnut (drawer bottoms of exterior drawers, horizontal blocks on front feet, supports for lower drawers; cherry (interior of bookcase including bottom, sides, and top boards, dividers, shelves, and back boards)




“B” and “C,” in chalk, at center of interior backs of exterior drawers; illegible chalk in center back of upper drawer; “1” through “11,” in graphite, on interior drawers at center back and interior front corners; “Bottom,” in chalk, on underside of bookcase and desk; mathematical calculations, in chalk, on underside of desk; Roman numerals, in graphite, on interior backs of valance drawers and Roman numerals incised on interior edges of fronts of valance drawers


Nicholas Brown (1729–1791), Providence, Rhode Island; by descent to his son, Nicholas Brown (1769–1841), Providence; by descent to his son, John Carter Brown (1797–1874); by descent to his son, John Nicholas Brown (1861–1900); by descent to John Nicholas Brown, Jr. (1900–1979), Providence, Rhode Island; by descent to his son, Capt. Nicholas Brown USN retired (born 1932), Providence, Rhode Island and Baltimore, Maryland; consigned to Christie's, New York, June 3, 1989, lot 100; sold to Israel Sack, Inc., New York

Associated names

Nicholas Brown
Nicholas Brown, Jr.
John Nicholas Brown
Israel Sack, Inc.
John Carter Brown
John Nicholas Brown
Nicholas Brown


The roof of the bookcase section consists of multiple transverse boards nailed with brads to the tops of the horizontal and sloping pediment backboards, the tops of the single-board bookcase sides, and the top of the scrollboard. The pediment back consists of three boards?two nearly triangular, sloping boards above a horizontal?to which are nailed the vertical and horizontal boards behind the open pediment. There are two nailheads in the outside face of the horizontal pediment backboard and an empty nail hole at its proper left extremity. Each of pediment?s rosette-carved termini is fixed with two screws to the circular ends of the scrollboard visible in the open pediment. A vertical rectilinear block behind a central pedestal (which consists of a plinth, fluted on three sides, with molded cap and base) is fixed with two countersunk screws. At the bookcase top?s outside corners are simple rectangular capped plinths; all three plinths support ball-turned, partially fluted finials with corkscrew flames. The bookcase back consists of three vertical boards, fixed with a variety of nails into rabbets in the bookcase ceiling, sides and bottom boards. Vertical strips of tape conceal the joints between the boards. A single-piece beaded cove molding is fixed to the scrollboard and bookcase sides with face-nailed brads and wood-filled fasteners. Each convex-blocked and thumb-molded scrollboard plaque is a single piece. The moldings above them?double versions at the crown molding?s lower profile?are pieced at irregular intervals in their segmental courses, meeting the crown molding in miter joints. At the forward edge of each bookcase side is an engaged stop-fluted quarter column with separate abacus, capital, shaft, base and plinth, with two-part blocks above and below. The vertical bookcase walls, separate from the outer walls, meet the scrollboard in mitre joints on the outside above and below and are fitted with vertical plaques routed to support adjustable shelves on the inside. The vertical bookshelf supports have double-beaded fronts; the shelf fronts are single-beaded. The two-board bottom of the bookcase section meets the sides in dovetail joints having narrow-necked pins of slightly varying spacing and configuration, with large half-pins in front. At each rear corner of the bottom is a small thin block nailed with brads. The bookcase?s bottom rail is in two parts?the upper mitered to the bottom of the front rail, the lower slightly extending below the plain of the bookcase bottom. The proper left and central bookcase doors are joined by brass hinges; the rails of the proper left door are tenoned without wood pins to the stiles (there is a large round pin in the lower right corner of the upper stile), and its convex-blocked central panel is secured in part by an ogee frame molding held in with brads. The proper left door, like the proper right, has a separate convex-blocked carved shell atop the convex panel. The center door is a single concave-blocked, shell-carved board. The joints between the desk section?s single-board top and its single-board case sides are concealed under a small, single-piece nose-and-cove molding held on with brads. The desk?s back consists of two half-lapped horizontal boards, chamfered at their top and side edges where they are fixed with rosehead and other nails into rabbets in the top and case sides. The hinged, thumb-molded lid consists of five boards?two narrow vertical ends into which is tenoned a horizontal board whose concave-blocked, shell-carved center panel is flanked by applied convex-blocked, shell-carved panels. The joints between the horizontal and vertical boards are visible when the lid is closed. A horizontal strip across the upper edge is an old repair. At the center of the interior is a concave-blocked, shell-carved, single-board prospect door which opens to a bank of three graduated, concave-blocked small drawers and is flanked by double-headed stiles. On either side are groups of three beaded quarter-concave-blocked valance drawers over open compartments, separated by serpentine uprights and convex-blocked small drawers, in turn flanked by banks of three concave-blocked small drawers, the upper ones shell-carved. The interior sits upon a conformingly blocked ogee-molded base. The prominently kerf-marked drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter arch-topped sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins of varying spacing and configuration, with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The tops of the drawer backs are rounded to align with the drawer-side tops. The bottoms of the larger interior drawers, parallel to their fronts, are glued into rabbets in the vertical elements above. The valance-drawer bottoms are similarly attached, but perpendicular to their fronts. In the case below, the writing surface/top rail, drawer dividers and bottom each meet the single-board lower-case sides in half-blind dovetail joints. Behind each drawer divider is a two-piece dustboard, flush with the divider on top and chamfered at its front, where it is likely set into a groove in the back edge of the divider. These joints are accompanied by thin, longitudinal glue blocks. These dustboards are also chamfered at the sides, where they are supported by lateral transverse strips, fixed to the case sides with rosehead nails. Vertical drawer stops are fixed in the corners with rosehead nails. The upper corners of the upper drawer-front are cut out to accommodate the small lopers and the case-wide dressing slide. The lopers are supported by vertical blocks at the front of the case; the front portion of the proper left block is missing. Vertical blocks support the dressing slide in front; behind them are loper guides above and drawer guides below. There are thin rectangular (probably later) wood strips, acting as drawer guides for the lower drawers, glued to the case sides below. The horizontal cockbeading is integral with the drawer dividers; the vertical cockbeading is nailed to the case sides. The top drawer front is routed, inward of its lateral extremities, to receive its flat-topped drawer sides. Its inner face is straight, and its outer face is concave-blocked. The kerf-marked drawer fronts below meet their slightly shorter, scribe-marked, arch-topped sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins of slightly varying spacing and configuration, with half-pins above. The center, concave-blocked portion of each lower-drawer is reinforced within by a full-height rectangular block whose chamfered ends are nailed with brads to the drawer front. The single-board drawer bottoms are parallel to the fronts and set into grooves in the full-height drawer sides, where they are accompanied by full-depth runners. They are nailed with brads into rabbets in the drawer fronts and directly to the bottoms of the drawer backs, whose tops are rounded in back. At the front of each drawer bottom is an assortment of long, narrow wood strips held on with brads. The proper right end of the bottom rail is set into a groove in the case side. Its proper left end meets its case side in a half-blind dovetail joint. There is a full-width narrow block behind the bottom rail and full-depth runners for the bottom drawer. The top of some wood-filled fasteners are visible in the upper face of the bottom rail; the bottom ends can be seen in the forward edge of the front bottom board. The single-piece ogee base moulding is toe-nailed through its back ends to the case sides; it is also attached with wood-filled fasteners. The feet consist of horizontal shaped blocks (some replaced) fixed to the case bottom, to which are fixed vertical shaped blocks, the whole faced with ogee brackets, the forward-facing front ones convex-blocked and scroll-carved. The back-facing brackets of the rear feet are simple (replaced) straight-profiled ogee brackets. Many later screws now reinforce the various parts of the foot assemblies. The back-facing edge of the rear feet?s side?facing brackets extend slightly beyond the plane of the case back. Examined by P.E. Kane, September 17, 2015; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.


This example is one of nine Rhode Island blockfront desk and bookcases onamented with six shells.

See also


Brock Jobe, "The Lisle Desk-and-Bookcase: A Rhode Island Icon," American Furniture (2001): 130, fig. 13–14.
"Israel Sack, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 194, no. 4 (October 1993): 382.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 328–329, pl. 1, fig. 8.17, 8.17a–c.
Sotheby's, New York, Property of the Goddard Family, sale cat. (January 22, 2005), 29, 34, fig. 5.
Albert Sack, The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993), 168-169, Masterpiece, ill.
Christie's, New York, The Magnificent Nicholas Brown Desk and Bookcase, sale cat. (June 3, 1989), 11–23, lot 100, ill.
Edward Wenham, The Collector's Guide to Furniture Design (New York: Collectors Press Lithography Workshop, 1928), 303, fig. 701.
Rhode Island School of Design Bulletin 15, no. 2 (April 1927): 8, fig. 6.
John T. Kirk, American Furniture: Understanding Styles, Construction, and Quality (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000), 157–161, fig. 189.
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), 301n1, 313nn1, 4.