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Desk and bookcase

Object number



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


89 40 1/4 22 1/4 in. (226.061 102.235 56.515 cm)



Current location



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


Mahogany (primary); mahogany (linings of interior drawers); yellow poplar (back of bookcase, linings of exterior drawers, bottom board of desk); chestnut (back of desk, strips on top of desk)




"A[?]," "B[?]," "C," "D[?]," "E," and "F," in graphite, on interior bottom of valance drawers; "A" through "K," in graphite, on exterior backs of interior drawers with some letters indistinct or missing; "Bottom," in chalk, on underside of desk; "A[?]," "B[?]," and "C," in graphite on exterior of vertical bookcase back boards


William Greenleaf Boardman (1853–1908), Hartford, Connecticut. G. K. S. Bush, Inc., Washington, D. C., 1990. W. Forbes and Jane Ramsey; consigned to Sotheby's, New York, January 17 and 20, 2019, lot 1641

Associated names

G. K. S. Bush, Inc.
William Greenleaf Boardman
W. Forbes
Jane Ramsey


The roof of the bookcase section consists of large thin boards shaped to align with the serpentine pediment and nailed with brads to the top of the single-piece pediment backboard, the tops of the single-piece scrollboard, the tops of the single-piece case sides, blocking within the pediment, and to a rabbet in the board which encloses the pediment front. A single-piece beaded cove molding is fixed to the scrollboard with wood-filled fasteners and nailed through its upper surface to the tops of the case sides. The lower ?nose and cove? portion of the crown molding continues ? ?doubled? ? in a three-quarter-round circuit around oculi flanking a fluted plinth with molded cap and base. The ?doubled? portions meet the crown molding in an extended mitre joint just short of its upper terminus on the proper right side, and differently on the proper left; they are each pieced together at several points along their segmental courses. Some portion may be replaced. The plinth is a solid block; its cap and base moldings are mitered at the front corners and its finial is of later date. The thumb-molded scrollboard plaques are attached by invisible means. The bookcase back consists of three vertical half-lapped boards, nailed into rabbets in the case sides and directly to the bookcase ceiling and floor. Within the bookcase are fixed vertical uprights, to which the backboards are nailed with brads. The uprights? sides are V-grooved, as are the bookcase sides? interior faces, to receive fixed shelves, routed themselves to receive fixed vertical dividers with serpentine front profiles. The bookcase?s bottom rail is fixed to its case bottom with nails in its upper face and wood-filled fasteners in its front face. The single-board bookcase bottom meets its case sides in dovetail joints having thick-necked pins of varying configuration, with half-pins in back. At the center of the bottom rail is a single candleslide. The doors are of the full overlay sort, with extended outer rails and one extended inner rail (on the proper right door) to simulate partial overlay doors. The rails are half-lapped, tenoned and through-wood-pinned to the stiles; both are thumb-molded, and both have integral ogee moldings enclosing a panel fielded on the outside and flat on the inside. The connections between the single-board top of the desk section and its single-board case sides are hidden beneath lateral transverse flat, narrow, rectangular blocks. There are mitered to a similar longitudinal block at the front, and they are all nailed to the desk top. A small ogee molding is face-nailed to the desk top and sides at the blocks? outside edges. The hinged, thumb-molded lid consists of a large horizontal board tenoned into flanking vertical boards; the joints between them are visible at the bottom of the lid when it is closed. The top rail of the case below is the front longitudinal board of the writing surface; it meets the case sides in half-blind dovetail joints, as do the drawer dividers below. The writing surface?s lateral transverse boards are tenoned into the back edge of the front rail, fixed with (later) screws into the rear rail from below, and routed to receive the edges of the sliding well-cover. The routed edges also receive the ends of a rear longitudinal board (below the desk interior) also joined to the lateral transverse boards with (later) screws. A longitudinal rail, fixed to the inside face of the case?s backboards, supports the ends of the writing surface?s lateral boards. The desk interior?s (replaced) prospect door opens to three concave-blocked small drawers and is flanked by double-beaded stiles and banks of three beaded, quarter-spherically concave-blocked scallop-skirted valance drawers separated by scrolling uprights, over convex-blocked drawers. At the lateral extremities are banks of three concave-blocked drawers; the upper ones shell-carved. The slightly kerf-marked drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, arched-top sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins, with half-pins above and half-pins with rabbets below. The single-board small-drawer bottoms, perpendicular to the fronts, are glued into rabbets in the elements above. The interior sits upon a conformingly shaped ogee-molded base. The back of the desk section consists of three horizontal half-lapped boards fixed with rosehead and other nails into rabbets in the desk top and sides, and directly to the bottom board. Two nails in the upper board are fixed to the stiles which flank the interior?s prospect section. The stiles beside the half-height, thumb-molded loper-fronts meet their horizontal neighbors in half-blind dovetail joints. The lopers have replaced supports and guides. The upper-drawer divider and loper supports are half-lapped to the drawer divider in front and screwed to the case sides in rabbets in back. The lower drawer supports are replaced. There are three longitudinal chamfered glue blocks behind the bottom rail. The thumb-molded, graduated long-drawer fronts meet their slightly shorter, arched-top, formerly full-height sides in dovetail joints having finely cut, narrow-necked pins of slightly varying construction, with half-pins and grooves below. Each front corner of the upper drawer is fitted with a locking mechanism consisting of a carved wood bolt extending from the brass pull?s inward screw to the drawer side, and a carved wood cleat. Each has a carved finger hole at its inner terminus, a rectangular bolt at the locking end, and carved ?wings? which serve as stops for the drawer side, where a square hole locks the drawer, and the cleat which attaches the bolt to the drawer front allows the drawer to be unlocked. The single-board drawer bottoms are parallel to the front and chamfered there and at the sides, where they fit into grooves. The bottoms are fixed to the flat-topped drawer backs with a variety of nails. A single-piece ogee-shaped base molding is fixed to the case sides and bottom rail with wood-filled fasteners. The single-board case bottom meets the case sides in dovetail joints having large, thick-necked pins of slightly varying spacing and configuration. There are nails in the front portion of the case bottom fixing it to the bottom rail. The feet consist of shaped horizontal blocks, butt-jointed at each corner, to which are attached shaped vertical blocks, the whole faced with ogee brackets. The rear feet are similarly configured, but for the back brackets, which are simple straight-profiled, slightly serpentine boards, set into grooves in the side-facing ogee brackets. Their ogee-shaped back edges project beyond the case back, and are accompanied by conformingly shaped blocks fixed to the straight-profiled back brackets; on the proper right a single piece, and on the proper left, two pieces. Examined by P.E. Kane, J. N. Johnson and A. Ward. January 20, 2019; notes compiled by T.B. Lloyd.

See also


"G. K. S. Bush, Inc., advertisement," Antiques 137, no. 6 (June 1990): 1244, ill.
Irving W. Lyon, The Colonial Furniture of New England: A Study of the Domestic Furniture in Use in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), 123, fig. 51 facing p. 124.
Sotheby's, New York, Important Americana, sale cat. (January 17 and 20, 2019), 291, lot 1641, ill.
Irving W. Lyon, The Colonial Furniture of New England: A Study of the Domestic Furniture in Use in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1891), 128, fig. 51.