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Photo: Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The M. and M. Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts 39.155
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Desk and bookcase

Object number



Maker, probably by Daniel Spencer, 1741–1796


99 39 7/8 23 5/8 in. (251.461 101.283 60.008 cm)



Current location

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


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


Mahogany (primary); pine (linings of interior desk drawers, runners for lopers, some horizontal glue blocks of feet, original vertical glue block of proper-right rear foot, blocks at exterior top of desk sides, pediment backboard, sides of pediment opening, and top boards of pediment); chestnut (board under desk interior, linings of exterior desk drawers, backboards of desk and bookcase, some horizontal blocks of feet, drawer runners, and bottom of pediment opening); cherry (linings of valance drawers, lopers, blocks around lopers, bottom boards of desk, top of desk(?), and bookcase interior); yellow pine (drawer divider backs of desk)




“I” through “III,” incised on interior sides [at front corners] of proper-right interior desk drawers; “IIII,” incised on interior sides [at front corners], on drawer to proper right of prospect; illegible graphite, on interior back of drawer marked “IIII”; “V,” incised on interior sides [at front corners] and stamped interior back of upper prospect drawer; “VI,” incised on interior sides [at front corners] of middle prospect drawer; “6,” in graphite, on interior back of middle prospect drawer; “VII,” incised on interior sides [at front corners] of lower prospect drawer; “8,” in graphite [or ink?], on interior back of drawer to proper-left of prospect; “VIII,” incised on interior sides [at front corners] of drawer to proper-left of prospect; “9” through “11,” in graphite [or ink?], on interior backs of proper-left interior desk drawers; inventory [including plates, shirts, sheets, and towels], in chalk, on proper-left exterior side of drawer marked "VII"; “/,” incised on exterior bottom of interior desk drawers [towards front edge]; “I” through “VI,” stamped on interior backs of valance drawers; “B,” in chalk, on interior back of middle exterior desk drawer; “C,” in chalk, on interior back of lower exterior desk drawer; “Bottom,” in chalk, on exterior desk bottom; “D B,” in chalk, on interior back of desk; “To Top,” in chalk, on exterior top backboard of desk; “T/1” through “T/3,” in chalk, on exterior of three vertical backboards [at upper edge]; “Charles Wild / Boston,” written in ink on a paper label glued to back of pediment


Marsden J. Perry (1850–1935), Providence, Rhode Island; sold to Martha Codman Karolik (1858–1948) and Maxim Karolik (1893–1963), Boston, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island; given to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1939

Associated names

Marsden J. Perry
Martha Codman Karolik
Maxim Karolik


The bookcase section?s ceiling boards are shaped to align with the serpentine scrollboard in front and the three backboards behind ? one lower horizontal and two approximately triangular ? to which they are fixed with brads. The vertical walls of the open pediment are nailed with brads to the edges of the "triangular" pediment backboards. The pediment backboards are nailed with brads to elements within. Within the open pediment, a rectangular vertical plaque is fixed with a countersunk screw to the back of a pedestal at the center of the single-board scrollboard?s three-quarter round cutouts. The pedestal consists of a molded base and a fluted rectangular capped block supporting a fluted ball finial with corkscrew flame. At the edges of the scrollboard cutouts are moldings fixed with wood-filled fasteners mitered to the bottom of the central pedestal. They are also mitered to the base of the scrolling pediment?s crown moldings, and to themselves, as they form the cutouts? edges. A crown molding is fixed to the scrollboard and case sides with wood-filled fasteners and at the case sides with additional nails at its upper face. Round foliate-carved plaques are fixed with countersunk screws from behind to the pediment?s circular termini. Small plain capped blocks with fluted ball finials and corkscrew flames occupy each outside corner of the pediment. Molded plaques with raised panels are fixed to the scrollboards with wood-filled fasteners. Three vertical, chamfered, half-lapped boards fixed with rosehead nails into rabbets in the bookcase ceiling, case bottom and single-board case sides comprise its back. The inside faces of the upper-case sides are fitted with narrow horizontal plaques which align with routed grooves in the intervening double-bead fronted stiles (set into grooves in the floor and ceiling) to accommodate movable shelves. Of the three thumb-molded bookcase doors, the center and proper left door are hinged together. The center door is a single, concave-blocked, shell-carved board. The flanking doors consist of upper rails double-through-tenoned, and lower rails single-through-tenoned to their respective stiles, enclosing convex-blocked panels and applied carved shells. A small ogee molding is nailed with brads into their interior frames. The scrollboard?s outer edges meet the bookcase?s front stiles in miter joints. Above each of the bookcase?s quarter columns, which consist of separate abaci, turned capitals, fluted shafts, turned bases, and plinths, are two rectangular vertical blocks; below each one is a single block. The two-board top of the desk section consists of a narrow mahogany strip in front and a wider board in back. The front strip meets the case sides in half-pin dovetail joints; the joints between the larger board and its case sides are obscured by a single-piece nose and cove molding fixed to the top with wood-filled fasteners. Within the lateral sections of molding are rectilinear blocks fixed to the desk top with a variety of nails. The hinged lid consists of five boards; one is large, thumb-molded and horizontal, with a concave central shell, tenoned into vertical "bread-board" ends. The joints between them are visible at the bottom of the lid when it is closed. Two convex-carved shell-panels are applied to the hinged lid. The lid opens to an interior centering a concave-blocked, shell-carved prospect door flanked by double-beaded stiles. On either side are quarter-spherically concave-blocked small drawers with serpentine skirts above open compartments separated by serpentine uprights over convex-blocked drawers. At each end of the interior is a bank of three concave-blocked drawers, the upper ones shell-carved. The interior sits on a blocked, molded base. The prominently kerf-marked small-drawer fronts meet their somewhat shorter, arch-topped, scribe-lined drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut narrow-necked pins with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The two shell-carved interior drawers show slight variations in their drawer sides? height and joints? configurations. The single-board drawer bottoms are perpendicular to the fronts, where they are nailed with brads into rabbets, and glued into rabbets in their drawer sides and backs. The tops of the drawer backs have rounded ends and backs. The front edge of the writing surface, the drawer dividers below, and the bottom rail all meet the single-board case sides in half-blind dovetail joints. The horizontal cockbeading appears to be integral, the vertical cockbeading is nailed into the case sides. Lopers are short; their supports are fixed with rosehead nails to the case sides, and the ends are chamfered. The end of the proper left loper consists of two vertical pieces, now joined by screws. Two-part vertical blocks, nailed into the case sides, surround the fronts of the lopers. The long-drawer supports are tenoned into the backs of the drawer dividers and are notched at their interior ends, where they are fixed with rosehead nails to the case sides. The upper long-drawer front meets its slightly shorter, arch-topped, scribe-lined drawer sides (set inward from its extremities to allow for the lopers) in concealed joints. The drawer fronts below integral, and they meet their slightly shorter, arch-topped drawer sides in dovetail joints having finely cut pins of varying size and configuration, with half-pins above and raised half-pins above. The single-board drawer bottoms are parallel to the fronts, where they are fixed with rosehead nails into rabbets, and are slightly chamfered at the sides, where they are set into grooves in the full-depth sides, and accompanied by longitudinal glue blocks. The bottoms are nailed with brads to the drawer backs, whose flat tops are chamfered at the back edge. The case back?s half-lapped backboards are fixed with rosehead and other nails to rabbets in the top and sides, and directly to the two-board case bottom, which meets the case sides in dovetail joints with large pins of varying size and configuration. The front feet consist of vertical blocks attached directly to the case bottom, flanked by horizontal shaped blocks nailed to the case bottom, the whole faced with ogee bracket feet attached with screws. At the rear, the vertical blocks are attached to the horizontal shaped blocks, and the rear brackets are simple, straight-profiled incurvate boards set into shallow grooves in the side-facing brackets. The rear-facing edges of the back feet?s side-facing brackets project slightly beyond the back edge of the case and its single-piece base molding. Examined by P.E. Kane and J.N. Johnson, December 4, 2014; noted 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): 134, fig. 20–21.
Edwin J Hipkiss, Eighteenth-Century American Arts: The M. and M. Karolik Collection (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950), 30–32, no. 19, ill.
Michael Moses, Master Craftsmen of Newport: The Townsends and Goddards (Tenafly, N.J.: MMI Americana Press, 1984), 330–331, fig. 8.18, 8.18a–c.
Luke Vincent Lockwood, Colonial Furniture in America, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), vol. 1, pp. 248–249, fig. 272.
Albert Sack, Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (New York: Crown Publishers, 1950), 158, ill.
Mabel M. Swan, "The Goddard and Townsend Joiners, Part I," Antiques 49, no. 4 (April 1946): 229, fig. 1.
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.